Early Office 365 adopters: what drove them and what have they learned?

By Martin Courtney
20 Mar 2012 View Comments
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A&N Media is the consumer media arm of Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), which owns a variety of UK newspapers, magazines and web sites. The firm’s IT services department is in the process of deploying Office 365 to 2,800 user mailboxes, initially in its Gloucestershire and Bristol offices, followed by a full rollout over the course of 2012. It is migrating its Exchange environment to the cloud and deploying the Lync (previously Office Communicator) unified communications client, which delivers instant messaging, chat, presence, video and social media functions to user PCs and smartphones.

“Our focus has been around email, which is our biggest use, but we will potentially put SharePoint on a cloud platform at some point. We use multiple migration platforms for IM and chat, including Chatter, so Lync is just one channel there,” says CIO David Henderson.

Further reading

iLUKA is an agency offering sponsorship management services for companies looking to associate their brand with large events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup. Its move to Office 365 was driven largely by cost savings – the company’s staff can shrink from 600 to 40 at any one time, depending on event-related activity, and the pay monthly approach has saved iLUKA thousands of pounds in application, operating system and licensing costs, and via the decommissioning of five on-premise Exchange servers.

“We used to use Office Professional Plus 2010, so a monthly payment is crucial for us because we do not have to pay licence costs for the full year, which were previously vicious,” says iLUKA IT director Tim Chambers. “We were able to shut down five on-premise Exchange servers – we now maintain just one multi-role server so there are several thousands of savings there.”

By subscribing to Microsoft’s InTune hosted desktop management service, which assumes remote responsibility for deploying Windows systems and security updates, iLUKA could also close down its Systems Centre Manager licence, as well and offload part of its IT department support burden.

Both companies trialled alternative online and cloud-based messaging and office suites, notably Google Apps, before electing to stick with Microsoft, though for different reasons.

“Most people are using Windows and Microsoft Office on a local desktop. The reason we went for Office 365 is we did a trial of Gmail and what the guys liked is the full flat client in the office, then web mail from a café or wherever they happened to be,” says Henderson.

“With Gmail the whole point was around usability and it was fun, but they preferred the rich client and we liked the fact that no training was required – we could just migrate the mailbox without changing the client.”

iLUKA also took a “brief look” at alternative cloud-based services, but rejected them on the basis of familiarity, security and reliability.

“Better the devil you know,” says Chambers. “We are a Microsoft shop, all our skills are Microsoft IT skills, and it was a bit of a no-brainer for us to go down that route. We also wanted to de-risk the business – our customer expectations of us around IT security are equal to our own, so we wanted our risk management policies to extend to our software.”

Henderson says the greater challenge at A&N Media was preparing the ground for the migration.

“The actual migration is the easy bit – the difficult part is all in the planning,” says Henderson. “The first phase is to prepare each site, find out what PCs they are using and perform a Windows 7 refresh, but before you do that you have to tell the users what is happening and why.”

Chambers’ advice for companies looking to migrate to Office 365 is simple: unless you are a greenfield site setting up from scratch, get yourself a partner that understands the process, as iLUKA did in specialist cloud IT consultancy AIMS Online Services. If not, and considering Office 365 is a relatively young product, it may be better for some companies to hold off implementation plans until potential issues are better understood by Microsoft itself.

“We did come across some issues with the deployment, especially with the Lync integration and hybrid model,” he says. “But this is early days: Microsoft is still correcting documentation and learning from customers’ experience.”

A&N Media’s top tips for a smooth rollout

• Desktop/laptop readiness is key to smooth rollout. Ensure that all machines meet minimum hardware and software requirements.

• Tidy up the on-premise environment prior to deployment, taking care to remove all stale accounts.

• All valid email domains need to be assessed and where appropriate registered on the new infrastructure. Remove unused domains ahead of time.

• Be aware that special characters allowable in Active Directory domains, user names and passwords are not supported within Office 365 and need to be changed.

• Pay attention to delegated access of Outlook accounts and make sure there is sufficient understanding and support available to manually change these once a user has been moved to Office 365. Many users will need assistance with the changes following the migration of their mailbox, so be certain to have adequate support resources available to handle the fallout.

• Advance notification and detailed communication of the migration – both internally to the project team and to the affected businesses – will help make all mailbox owners aware of the impact of the change.

• Public folders are unsupported in Office 365 and need to be moved over to a shared
mailbox (these have a 5GB limit).

• Assess whether there is adequate network bandwidth to migrate all data within the requisite timescale without impacting mission-critical data traffic. Factors to be considered here should include mailbox sizes, shared mailbox sizes, public folders sizes, local PST files and any archived data.

Office 365 pricing plans and features

Microsoft’s Office 365 platform features Exchange Online email server supporting Outlook Anywhere access via the Outlook 2010 email client, or alternatively the Outlook Web Access internet portal, with ActiveSync handling synchronisation of messaging on mobile devices. Other elements include the Lync Online collaboration tool, supporting instant messaging, audio/video conferencing and online meeting features using elements of both; SharePoint Online for document sharing, which works alongside both on-premise versions of the Office 2010 Professional Plus suite and access to Office Web Apps; the cloud-based equivalents of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

Pricing plans are split into four categories: Enterprise (E) plans; Office 365 for Professionals and Small Businesses; Kiosk Worker (K); and Office 365 for Education. The E plans boost mailbox space to 25GB, with email available offline through the Outlook 2010 client, with full access to Lync and SharePoint 2010. The E3 plan also provides on-premise licences for Office 2010 Pro Plus, with up to five copies per licensed user to install on multiple devices. Prices start at £6.50 per user per month for Exchange, Lync and SharePoint online, rising to £17.75 for Office Web Apps, on-premise versions of Lync, SharePoint, Office Professional Plus and Visio, and enterprise voice services.

The K plans are designed for employees with no dedicated desktop PC of their own, but who might share systems or terminals with colleagues or others. They can only use Outlook Web Access rather than the Outlook 2010 email client and are limited to 500MB of mailbox space. Nor can documents be updated in SharePoint. Prices start at £2.60 per user per month for Exchange, rising to £6.50 for the inclusion of Office Web Apps.

A useful guide listing all Office 365 pricing options is available from UK systems integrator ICS Solutions here.

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