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Office 365 Compared with Competition by Michael Epping [Podcast]

Author by Michael Epping

Michael Epping, an Infrastructure Engineer with Concurrency discusses the following topics about Office 365:
  • How Office 365 stacks up against the competition
  • In depth discussion of different Microsoft Exchange migration methods
  • Description of the Lync Online service
  • ADFS and Dirsync vs. not using these tools
  • Migrating to SharePoint Online from SharePoint on-premise or Exchange Public Folders
[display_podcast] Office 365 – Interview with Michael Epping 10-29-12

Welcome to another episode of Concurrent Currency experts podcast. Where we are about real Microsoft expertise, real value. Let’s get started.

Marek: Welcome to another episode of Concurrent Currency podcast. Today I’m interviewing Michael Epping from Concurrency. Michael is one of concurrency’s engineers. Hello Michael, how are you today?

Michael: Good.

Marek: Michael! Last time we spoke was through Microsoft 365, and I’d like to have some “photo opt” time regarding Microsoft 365. My first question, and you can elaborate on this a little bit more, is how Office 365 stands against the competition.

Michael: Well Office 365, its primary competitor would probably be Google services. And I think 365 stacks up pretty well against Google; especially for the price. You get a whole range of feature: Office 365, as you know, comes with SharePoint, Lync, and Exchange; basically all the enterprise-grade products Microsoft produces. And in comparison Google has products that are developed for free – like Gmail and Google talk. They weren’t developed with enterprise in mind, and they were just sort of ported over without any thought to enterprise. As a result I think they just aren’t really designed with enterprise in mind. Like I don’t think they scale very well to larger organizations. They don’t provide the privacy that you might want. And then they don’t integrate with the productivity suite most customers are used to, which would be Microsoft software.

They allow you to use a plug-in that allows you to use your corporate Gmail account with Outlook, but it’s just not a seamless experience. SharePoint integrates so well with Office 2010, and it’s going to work even better with Office 2013. Google services also tend to be fairly expensive. It starts off pretty cheap, but as you access more services the costs adds up pretty quick. With Office 365 you pay one basic price and it’s good for all the services. So say you just want users to have SharePoint, Lync, and Exchange – that’d be the E-1 plan which comes out to eight dollars per user per month. Say you have need Office 2010 licenses that’d be the E3 plan and that one is about 20 dollars a moth I believe.

So it’s pretty – I think Microsoft’s pricing is more straightforward. You don’t need to pay extra to get additional features like Direct Sync or Active Directory Integrate. To set up to use ADES you don’t have to pay anything extra. You don’t need to pay extra for Office functionality if you already have Office installed. So I think 365 has a lot to offer. Not to mention, you know, it’s the full Microsoft enterprise suite. I just don’t think Gmail compares when it comes to corporate email.

Marek: Are there any competitors in addition to Google?

Michael: Google is definitely the main one. You’ll find some other services – they’ll be hosting services. Probably exchanging services that will allow you to get your exchange information into the Cloud. And they just tend not to be as full-featured as Office 365. And with 365 you get the full benefit of Microsoft running this service. So it’s very stable, downtimes are extremely minimal, they have financial-backed SSL for all their services and Microsoft is a huge company. They have data centers all over the world. They won’t say how many, but you do know that your data is being replicated and backed up. With some of the hosting services you may not get the same security. It gives me peace of mind to know that Microsoft runs the exchange. That’s something compared to the other hosting services.

Marek: Exactly, and it seems to me that Office 365 is in the lead because it is based off the desktop edition of Microsoft tools that people have already been using for many, many years.

Michael: Microsoft has been running the 365 long enough that it’s given them a lot of insight into their parties. So with the coming release of the 2013 edition a lot of insight into their products. So with the coming release of the 2013 edition, a lot of what Microsoft has learned from running these experiments and the Cloud, they are putting back into the products themselves so users can get the most out of them. And so that companies that do want to have those services on premise to run them in such a way that they can be automatic.

Marek: That sounds interesting. So, I’m assuming that if someone is interested in Office 365 they can contact you at I’m sure you’ll be glad to offer some trail of 365?

Michael: Microsoft has a 30-day trial with Office 365, and you get the E3 license for those 30 days, and that includes all the Microsoft services plus Office 2010 licensing. And along with that you get the full functionality – so if you want to set up directory syncing and ADFS so you can login with your domain credentials, you can do that within the trial environment.

Marek: So Michael we talked about trying 365. What is the advantage of trying 365 contacting you at Concurrency versus them going directly to Microsoft?

Michael: So the Office 365 trial includes 30 licenses – or it’s a 30 day trial and you get E3 license, 25 of them I believe. And one of the benefits of coming to Concurrency and having us assist you with the trial is that you can really get a good feel of our client environment. Because you really get a good feel for if you’re willing to explore the full range of services. And that would be direct re-syncing, to sync your AD objects to 365 so it’s easier to manage accounts, distribute lists – those sorts of things. And then there is ADFS, which is Actual Directory Federation Service, which allow you to login into 365 with your domain credentials and that’s with your domain password being synced to Microsoft services.

The benefit of that - one of the benefits of coming to Concurrency for this is a lot of businesses are a little wary of trying this or haven’t used it before. So they come to us and we can help you set up a pilot environment. And say you run 2010 Access on premise already; along with service pack 2 you can install a system that will allow you to move mailboxes to and from the Cloud. Say your company has IT people or business leaders who you want to temporarily move to Office 2010, During this license period you can do that using Exchange 2010, and that’s one of the things we can assist you with; because we’ve done it before. So we can share that expertise with you.

Marek: So we encourage you to go by, and contact Concurrency by filling out their request form. Mention that you would like to get a trial of 365, and you will get some more benefits for doing so – that is going through them rather than directly to Microsoft. Thank you for answering that question Michael, now we’re going to switch gears here now. I was wondering if you could give us a bit more depth on the different exchange/migration methods.

Michael: So exchange – migrating from exchange on premise to exchange in the Cloud is probably the most difficult part of the Office 365 migration experience. And the reason for that is, is because exchange is a pretty complicated product and mail flow is not always a simple thing. So Microsoft offers a couple of ways for companies to migrate workers to the Cloud. Small companies (50 users or less) would be what's called a “cut-over” migration. And in this migration you aren’t using directory sync or ADFS. You just want Cloud accounts, and users have to make their own Cloud passwords. There is no password syncing between 365 and Pomade. And in this migration method you need to migrate all the users over at the same time, and then then cut-over the MS manually to Office 365. So there is no coexistence period. Just one reminder –you want to migrate all your user content, you know, create all the BES modules that you need. That’s pretty much it.

The second method Microsoft offers is similar to the “cut-over” method in that both the “cut-over” and this next maneuver, called the “staged cut-over” use mapping in order to migrate over mailing content. So that could be Microsoft’s exchange server impersonates an Outlook client for all your users. So they basically reach down from the Cloud to your exchange server to grab all your mail content and move it to the Cloud. So the user has a totally new mailbox when you use either of these two methods. The difference with the “staged” method is that you have directory sync in the environment. So when you have directory sync in the environment there’s AD objects that match your on-premise objects. So when you move these AD objects get mapped to one of the AD objects you sync to the Cloud. And one of the benefits of using this method over the former is that you have the option of a co-existence period.

 I would not recommend a long period over months, but it does give you a little more flexibility – say you have 50-200 workers. With this method you can move them over in batches – perhaps by department or whatever, and then they’ll have new Cloud boxes that are synced to their on-premise accounts. And then the final method for migrating content to Office 365 is what’s called the “Hybrid” method. And what this method requires is Exchange 2010, preferably service pack 2 rollup 4. That rollup seems to be far less buggy than just the normal service pack 2 installation. And what this allows you to have is basically a cross forest exchange between your AD forest at your company and Office 365.

So when you migrate mail content in that kind of environment, you actually use the same request(s) as when moving from one server to another 2010 server. When you migrate a user’s interface using a move request it basically copies the mailbox, and then one of the benefits is you are having real-long coexistence – basically permanent coexistence. Cloud uses consensual browsing information, because there is trust between the environments. It’s the smoothest migration method. So similar to doing everyday mailbox migration from exchange server to exchange server - all the user will see is that they need to close out and reopen, because the administrator has made a change. One of the benefits to this method is that while you can move most workers over, you can keep a subset on the premise. So you can keep these users in the exchange on premise, and there will really be no difference between those on Cloud and those not. They would all be able to interact with each other.

Marek: Let’s talk about Lync. Would you describe – what are the Lync online services? That’s part of the Office 365.

Michael: So Lync online services is basically – it’s a full link environment on the Cloud in that you get IM and you also get ad hoc web conferencing and can have scheduled web conferencing using the Lync Outlook program. And that allows users to join Lync lines. So all your users in the conference can join form the Lync line on their desktop, and it’ll travel over the internet. And the really nice thing is that the conferencing experience is really seamless. You can basically stat the conference form Outlook or from any Office document that you’re collaborating on from SharePoint. There one thing that is different between Lync on premise and Lync in Cloud is that right now Lync on the Cloud doesn’t allow full PSTN functionality.

So if you decide you really like the conferencing feature of Lync online, but you want to have people call in by the telephone as well there is an expansion you can get for Office 365. And it’s a service where you can have PSTN access to your web conference, and one of the benefits is that users on the road who want to dial in can do so. If you have external people you want to dial in, but don’t want to install Lync Attendant client on their web station – or they want to dial in from a telephone that is not Lync -enabled they can do so. That service comes with an extra monthly usage fee, but it is a nice add-on.

And then the one feature that is still missing form Lync online could be full PSTN usage; where users can use their full client form their regular telephone. The really great thing about this program is how well it integrates with Office 2010. It’s much easier to collaborate when you can see everyone’s present status – who is in the office, who is out of the office. You can shoot people IMs, you can do video chats, you can do voice chats. It’s all over IP. It’s really nice; especially if you have a headset that’s Lync capable.

Marek: Lync online has some relation to how people communicate over phones, right? I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to say how it integrates with regular phone systems?

Michael: So, right now Lync online only has limited integration with traditional phone systems. There is a conference add-on that allows users to dial into the system, but there is currently no option for the Lync online system to be used as a phone system the way Lync on premise is. There may be in the future, but not right now.

Marek: Right, but you said that the Lync on premise does integrate fairly nicely?

Michael: Yeah, and you have one of the other benefits of Lync online is you can really cut down on phone costs in some situations. Because you can make calls over the internet, which obviously isn’t going to charge you phone rates, but Lync also allows federation with other organizations. So if you have close connections with another company that also has Lync you can IM, chat or video chat over Lync with them.

Marek: Alright, let’s move on to our next topic for today’s podcast: ADFS and Direct Sync versus not using these tools. Was wondering if you could touch base on that quickly?

Michael: So, AFDS and Direct sync are really valuable tools (especially if you’re a larger organization). 10-15 uses – they’re a bit overkill for these companies. Starting out directory sync is what you need to think about, and what Directory Sync gives you is it syncs users AD accounts to the Cloud. So if say you have a user on premise who has multiple MSTP addresses these all get sync'd to the Cloud. Basically anything they you define as the user’s objects gets sent to the Cloud. And generally when you’ve 10-15 users you don’t need that, because it’s easy enough to go in and add MSTP addresses.

But once you’ve gotten up to 50 users, 100 users, 200 users – you really want to do the Directory Sync route ‘cause you don’t want to be manually manipulating that many objects between two sources. And once you add in Federation services then users are able to login to their Cloud resources with their on premise credentials. Which can be fairly invaluable when you face a lot of users. Because when you have a lot of users helping manage their credentials can be difficult to set up in multiple environments.

You can set up one server in larger environments. You can do ADFS servers for resilience and reliability, and that requires a little more work. Because you need to set up network club balancing or Harvard-level balancing. I always recommend Harvard-level balancing, but there’s a lot of work that goes into this. One of the nice things about ADFS is that once you have it in the environment then it really enables users to really use all the Cloud’s services as though they were on the premise.

Marek: Great! Well we have one more topic for today: I was wondering if you can share insight on migrating from SharePoint on premise to SharePoint online or exchange public folders?

Michael: So, migrating to SharePoint online can be a pretty involved process, especially if you’re getting a lot of enterprise content. I’m not an n enterprise content guy – Concurrency has a whole team dedicated to SharePoint and they would answer any SharePoint online questions with a lot more detail then I would. I just have the basics of SharePoint, but SharePoint really enables a lot of collaboration and it gets users to stop sharing folders on their workstations. Or storing them on network drives, which is really flat. You can build intelligence around the way you store your files.

So getting away from using file shares and storing things in Dropbox to a place where the entire business can keep it and use that content is really valuable. So what I do is help companies – I generally do this with smaller companies. We’ll get SharePoint set up, kind of build up from the “out-of-the-box” experience, and then start uploading content. And then one of the other really nice things about SharePoint online is you can finally stop using public exchange folders... You know, public exchange folders are not really well implemented on Exchange 2010 or any previous version – although they will get better on 2013.

But public folders are just not a necessary technology any more when a better alternative is available so cheaply from SharePoint Online. You can have SharePoint calendars, SharePoint list, and you can integrate all this into the Outlook client so everyone can share the same experience in using public folders. But you don’t have to worry about all the replication problems of public folders, and you don’t need to manage public folder details. All of that kind of disappears when you move to Office 365, and then all of this can be done with these documents.

Marek: Well sure, and I see an additional benefit of backup already being there, right? If you store everything in the Cloud then that SharePoint environment everything is backed-up automatically.

Michael: Definitely, and Microsoft has SSLs around all their products so  - Microsoft says that if there is a catastrophic event a recovered document will never be more than an hour hold. So Microsoft has a really robust system backing SharePoint.

Marek: Sounds like they have a very robust redundancy built in there.

Michael: Yeah.

Marek: Well thank you Michael once again for your expertise, and weighing in on Office 365. We encourage listeners to visit – the official website of Concurrency podcast experts, and we’re looking forward to speaking to you again. Thank you very much.

Michael: You’re welcome.

Thank you for listening. Please connect with us at our website at We welcome any feedback on topics you might like to hear in the future. We wish you success until our next Microsoft concurrency podcast.


Michael Epping

Systems Engineer