First Look: Microsoft's Office 365 Will Shake up IT

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Microsoft’s Office 365 is such a radical shift in both technology and its delivery that there will scarcely be any segment of the IT industry that won’t be impacted in a big way.

Office 365 has now reached public beta, so let the questions and the discussion begin.

A one-week examination of Office 365’s beta by the CRN Test Center finds much more than just a simple, online suite of productivity tools. Microsoft has turned the heart and soul of day-to-day computing over to the cloud in a manner that every enterprise, business or government entity can access in a meaningful way.


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And it’s done so in a way that should embarrass Google, one of Microsoft’s primary rivals. Office 365, frankly, is to Google Apps as XBOX 360 Live is to Pong. It’s in a different league entirely and represents a leap into the next generation of computing.

To be clear: Office 365 doesn’t do it all, all by itself. For extended functionality, including single sign-on, the solution still requires a working knowledge of Active Directory. Several tasks like integration of existing, premise-based mailboxes with Office 365 are not automatic, either. When Microsoft executives briefed reviewers on Office 365 earlier this month, they were clear that the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant still considered the solution provider channel to be its strategic go-to-market plan – and with good reason.

But Office 365 is so radically different from other approaches we’ve seen from Microsoft in the productivity and collaboration spaces, that it will have a major impact all through the pipeline.

Office 365: What It Does:

• For $6 per month per user, Office 365 bundles Exchange, Outlook, SharePoint and Lync (formerly known as OCS) into a turnkey solution for up to 25 people in an enterprise;

• It integrates this technology with mobile platforms including iPhone and Windows Phone 7;

• It integrates both with Office 2010 and some earlier platforms, as well as Office Live, it’s free, web-based extension of its productivity suite;

• It works almost seamlessly with Mac OS X;

• It’s fast. We noticed almost no latency in working in Office 365 even in a 3G Internet connection as slow as 1.11 Mbps;

• It takes about 5 minutes to set up an SMB enterprise productivity and collaboration infrastructure on Office 365, and about a minute to add users and tailor their permissions and access;

• In a week of testing, we ran into no downtime. While this remains a concern for any production-quality business solutions in the cloud, and will remain an area to watch as the Office 365 installed base grows, for now it appears to be on a reliable network.

Office 365: How It Works

Once an account is opened up, a designated administrator finds a straightforward, easy-to-access management console. This console provides for license management, adding users, defining their security levels, creating “security groups” and creating levels of functionality throughout.

Administrative privileges also allow for porting an organizations domain name to Office 365. This is not difficult; Microsoft provides a three-step wizard for domain addition to Office 365 through Microsoft Online Services.

Users are provided with 25 GB of storage and security features (such as litigation hold on email deletion) can be controlled by enabling or disabling them via check boxes. In short: it’s largely enterprise capable administration.

Office 365 And Microsoft Exchange

There is no need to deploy a stand-alone, Exchange server or even integrate a separate cloud-based exchange (of which the CRN Test Center has reviewed several in recent years.) Because it is part of the overall Office 365 package, it’s ready to go once the account is set up.

As with Exchange, Office 365 provides an administrator with the ability to set user-by-user functions and features. From choosing whether to issue storage capacity warnings at 24.5 GB or 24.75 GB or 25 GB, to setting an organizations email archiving preferences, to enabling or disabling Active Sync and Unified Messaging (even whether to provide a “Mail Tip” to users), Microsoft allows for drop-down-box like control over what a user gets or doesn’t get.

If someone doesn’t have training in Exchange administration, it’s fairly easy through Office 365 to get started.

NEXT: Office 365 And SharePoint, Lync

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