Microsoft’s Office 365
Microsoft’s Office 365, now available in a public beta, as Microsoft’s business-centric “answer” to Google’s online services. I respectfully disagree. Yes, Microsoft is playing catch-up in the cloud services space with Office 365. However, to suggest that Office 365 is an answer to Google Apps is to imply that Office 365 is somehow in the same league as Google’s services. It isn’t. Office 365 is far more than simply a Web version of Office 2010. Office 365 is a service comprised of cloud-based versions of Microsoft’s four front-running business products. Of course, that does include Microsoft Office. But it also bundles in Exchange (the widely-used email platform), SharePoint (a platform for document sharing and collaboration) and Lync (a service that provides IM, video conferencing, PC phone calling and some enterprise social networking) all delivered through an interface that will make IT Admin’s happy, thanks to the granular level of control that can be imposed on a business, regardless of size.
With a 99.9% uptime guarantee, reasonable pricing, and the power of Exchange, Lync, SharePoint and Office 2010, Office 365 is a promising solution for Windows-based businesses. End-users have access to Office 2010 document editing via the cloud or through the included, locally installed, Office 2010 Professional Plus client, at $24 per user per month. This is also the way to go if you’re worried about your ability to function should your Internet connection go down. This is a cloud service, after all without Internet access, it doesn’t function, otherwise. Small businesses can save money by going completely “online” with only Office Web Apps (from $6 per user per month) and opt to not use the local office 2010 client. Either way, end-users also have access to a rich web-based Outlook client that retains many of the features of the desktop Outlook. Access to SharePoint sites for collaboration and Lync also provide users with a true, converged communications and collaboration experience.
Google Apps, while very useful in a stripped down way, simply can’t deliver the very granular administration side that Office 365 provides. Most businesses still have Windows environments and, unless they have very light productivity and collaboration needs, or operate mostly on-line, it makes far more sense (in terms of migration path and integration) for them to move to a hosted Microsoft platform than to Google Apps. Google’s applications are also not nearly as feature-packed—it was only recently that Google Docs got the pagination capability!
Depending upon an organization’s needs, Office 365 prices range from $6-$24 per user per month. Savings are obvious if you compare this monthly fee to the cost of hiring resources to build a unified communications system and manage and maintain local servers running Exchange and SharePoint. Plans scale from SMB to enterprise. Larger organizations with Windows networks can transfer Active Directory and domain information into Office 365.
- Provides cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint Server.
- Gives end-users Office Web Apps with optional Office 2010 desktop integration.
- Also delivers Lync for Unified Communications and a rich Outlook Web App client.
- Excellent Exchange administration capabilities.
- Integrates with existing Active Directory environments.
- Big cost-savings potential.
- Lots of screens to navigate.
- SharePoint administration could be better organized.
- SharePoint settings include quirks.
- Needs more robust mobile integration.
- Microsoft needs to keep pricing models and SKUs simple and easy to understand.
- Office 365 could mark the beginning of the end for traditional, on-premise Windows server administrators.
- With Exchange, SharePoint, Office and the unified communications service Lync all in the cloud, managing a Windows environment has never been easier or more centralized.