Office 365: Yay or Nay?

If your company isn’t in the process of implementing Office 365 by this point, there’s a good chance that some IT team members are at least giving it some serious thought. As with many aspects of Microsoft Azure, Microsoft is marketing Office 365 as the ultimate solution—and a good number of CIOs are drinking the Microsoft Kool-Aid without carefully considering some of the finer technical details.

After all, Office 365 promises no more Exchange administration, bundled licensing for Microsoft Office applications, OneDrive, Skype for Business, and additional options such as Visio, CRM, SharePoint, and Project. Offloading these Microsoft applications from the IT staff sounds like it would be nirvana, but how does that impact your enterprise environment?

Unless your entire virtualization environment is hosted on Azure, which is a very small percentage at this point, implementing Office 365 means that your back-end data is housed in an Azure data center. For example, if your company hosts a Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop environment in a data center located in New York, and your Office 365 data is physically hosted 400 miles south in Virginia, that means that Exchange-related data must traverse the network. In comparison, if your Exchange server is located within your New York data center, the distance between the Citrix resources and user data is probably just a millisecond or two away, which translates to an excellent user experience.

A cardinal rule for the implementation of an enterprise environment is to keep back-end data physically and logically nearby so that the user experience is optimized. This is true whether the data source is an SQL Server database, Project repository, file server, or any other type of data source. Considering that any application with back-end data must query and/or retrieve data and then present it to the user, the longer it takes for that data retrieval, the longer the user must wait. Retrieval of the data is based on processing time plus access time, and if the access time increases from one or two milliseconds to twenty or thirty milliseconds, the phones will be ringing. This is probably something that isn’t being considered as part of signing the purchase order.

Hands down, email is the most commonly used application in business, and disruption or slower user experience brings internal and external communications to a screeching halt. As such, any changes to email functionality requires careful consideration.

While there are some options for caching and OST file configuration, these should be carefully considered and tested before migrating to Office 365. If the user signature is located within the user profile that is hosted on a file server in the data center, the user data is located in a Microsoft data center in “the cloud,” and the Outlook client is housed on a Citrix XenApp server in the data center, how does that impact the user experience? Just to add a dose of reality, let’s put that user on an airplane to another continent once every few months and have that user access applications through your data center in Europe or Asia. Now, let’s once again quantify the user experience.

Also to be reviewed is whether OneDrive for Business is indeed the right solution for business. Yes, it’s free because it’s bundled, and in at least some cases, that in itself makes it the right solution. OneDrive has some limitations, such as the 2 GB file data transfer size, that may not be sufficient for some users or businesses. And does OneDrive provide the level of control and integration that your company requires?  Maybe; maybe not.

The point here is that mix and match, such as is the case with an Office 365 implementation, has numerous complexities associated with it that may not be considered initially. For the most part, the white papers and other information that currently exist are marketing focused and do not provide the details and clarity needed to answer many of the “how to” questions. Based on a number of queries in the technical community, there appear to be some theoretical answers but little quantifiable or solid if/then solutions. As such, hands-on testing and validation are needed in order to determine if/how Office 365 is the right solution and configuration for your organization.

Microsoft Office 365 has some compelling features and functionality. However, as far as implementation goes, one shouldn’t assume that just because Microsoft says it’s pretty, it really is pretty.

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