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What's New in Office 365? [Podcast]

Author by Michael Epping

Michael Epping, a Concurrency Engineer, discusses new features and changes in the February 2013 release of Office 365. He answers the following questions about the areas of Office 365: [caption id="attachment_11222" align="alignright" width="173"]Michael Epping Photo Michael Epping, Concurrency's Engineer[/caption]
  1. Why has Microsoft implemented changes in Office 365?
  2. What is new in the Office 365 Portal?
  3. What is new in Exchange Online?
  4. What is new in Lync Online?
  5. What is new in SharePoint Online?
  6. What is new with the Office client?
  7. How do I get the new Office 365?
  8. When will existing Office 365 customers get upgraded to the new version?
  9. What's the deal with SkyDrive?
  10. How can Concurrency help with getting Office 365?
[display_podcast] Transcript of this podcast:

Marek: Today we welcome Michael Epping back. Michael will talk about Office 365 and what's new in Office 365. Welcome back Michael.

Michael: Hey Marek. It's good to be back.

Marek: Tell us, why has Microsoft implemented changes in Office 365?

Michael: Office 365 as it was originally rolled out was based on all of Microsoft's 2010 technologies. Which are all great technologies Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, Lync 2010 and Microsoft has released new on premise versions of all of these products that they have and one of the nice things about Office 365 is they have this really massive environment to test the new products in first.

What Microsoft is doing with Office 365 is they create a side by side environment with all the new SharePoint, Lync, and Exchange 2013 servers and they slowly migrate first Microsoft partners then later new tenants and then finally existing Office 365 customers onto the 2013 technologies and what that does is it allows Microsoft in their massive Office 365 data centers to kind of do some quality control and testing and it's not that they're being reckless with user data in Office 365, but it's a really large environment so they're going to come across a lot of different issues with the product so it should hopefully make their patching for the on premise versions of the servers better, but basically Microsoft's got all these new tools that they came out with so they want to share it with everyone in Office 365.

Marek: Michael, What is new in the Office 365 portal?

Michael: So the Office 365 portal is getting a new look and feel. From a functionality perspective it's actually not changing too much. All your basic administrative tasks will take place there provisioning users, provisioning licenses, assigning licenses, resetting passwords all of that stuff, but it's been given the new modern new eye feel that Microsoft uses now in things like Windows 8 and Windows RT.

So it's just kind of a flatter experience and things have been moved around a little bit, but in terms of underlying technology it really isn't changing much and it still integrates with your same active directory synchronization servers. So if you're an existing Office 365 tenant who's being moved to the new Office 365 you don't need to redeploy active directory synchronization. You don't need to redeploy active directory federation services. Microsoft's really just gives the portal a face-lift to make it match the style that's being used in SharePoint 2013 and Exchange 2013 Outlook Web Access.

Marek: Now what's new in the Exchange Online?

Michael: There's a lot of new and exciting stuff in Exchange Online. It's based on Exchange 2013 so it's basically getting all the same features as the on premise version of Exchange. Some of the big ones are improvements to the way public folders are handled. In the past public folders were kind of a pain spot with on premise Exchange 2010 and Office 365 didn't support public folders. Well now in Exchange Online running in the new version of Office 365 public folders are supported and the way it's changed is public folders used to have their own database and it didn't work very well and what they've done now is in Exchange 2013 and Office 365 public folders will exist in special mailboxes that set inside of your normal Exchange databases. So they're replicated using the same methodology as normal Exchange databases in the Database Availability Group and there aren't separate databases to manage and one of the benefits of this new model is that Office 365 will now support the public folders.

Microsoft for awhile has been recommending people get away from public folders and one of the new features their offering for organizations that don't want to continue to use public folders is something called Site Mailboxes and Site mailboxes have some pretty neat functionality and they integrate with SharePoint 2013. Basically you can create a page in SharePoint 2013 and it's linked to the Site Mailbox and the Site Mailbox will show up in your Outlook and if you're using Outlook 2013 and what you can do is you can drag documents or whatever you want really PDF's, Word files, Excel documents and put them in that mailbox in your Outlook client and they will be uploaded almost instantly to the SharePoint 2013. There are a couple of other new features that are coming with Exchange 2013 some of which are more important for people who are deploying it on premise. There are some improvements to the Discovery Center, which is used to search across mailboxes, Lync archives and SharePoint to allow for organizations who need to find documents for litigation for example relatively quickly.

 Marek: Now about Lync, what is new in Lync Online?

 Michael: Lync Online is changing a little bit with Office 365 in 2013. There's more features that are on the road map that quiet aren't ready yet, but basically it's going to be built on the 2013 platform which supports the new Lync client and the new Lync client I believe is a big step up from the Lync 2010 client. It doesn't use Silverlight, any more which is really nice. It's integrated into the Office 2013 installer which I think is really nice and it's got a lot of new features and it's much flatter. It kind of matches the rest of the Office 2013 style. In terms of the Lync service itself what's going to be coming is Powershell access, Remote Powershell access.

Previously in Office 365 you had Remote Powershell access to Exchange well, that's coming for Lync as well and slowly Microsoft's going to be rolling out additional features like Enterprise Voice for users who are in the Cloud and it's not going to be quiet the same level as Enterprise Voice as what you would get if you just had Lync servers on premise because you have to partner with a Telco provider who's got access to the Microsoft data centers, but that's going to be a feature for companies that want to be entirely Cloud hosted for their Lync infrastructure. One of the other features is that Microsoft is going to be allowing for Lync Hybrid scenarios so basically you could have Lync 2013 on premise and Lync 2013 in the Cloud. So if you had users who just needed IM and presence you might want to throw them up in the Cloud and keep your Enterprise Voice users on premise or you can do a mixture with some Enterprise Voice users on premise some Enterprise Voice users in the Cloud and all the voice calls can be routed through your on premise PSTN gateway.

Marek: So you mentioned SharePoint before when you discussed the Exchange, now can you tell us what's new in SharePoint Online?

Michael: So like the rest of the products SharePoint kind of getting a face lift and it's going to have a much flatter style and it kind of matches the modern new eye that Microsoft's going with in a lot of it's products now. Like I talked about SharePoint's going to have the site mailbox features, which are going to integrate with Exchange and the new Discovery Center, is actually in SharePoint. In addition to that SharePoint's also getting some social features so basically SharePoint's already the corporate intranet site for a lot of people, but what it's going to have now are some SharePoint social features that are sort of like Facebook. You know. you can have timelines and comment on peoples walls and like comments that people make so it's going to become...Microsoft's working to add additional features for users who want to collaborate in kind of an informal way on SharePoint.

Marek: So what's new with actual Office client?

Michael: So the Office client it's...Microsoft's got a couple different names for it Office 2013 or if you have an Office 365 personal subscription they just call it Office 365. We'll just call it Office 2013 for the purposes of this, but like I said it's got a much flatter new eye style, there's less chrome to it. Everything's kind of white and in terms of actual functionality there's a lot of new features. So like I talked about the Lync client has a lot of...there's been a lot of changes since the 2010 one. It doesn't need Silverlight and it makes it easier to collaborate and drag people on a conference calls and drag people into IM conversations and it has new support for persistent chat rooms. Although persistent chat rooms as of right now are a Lync on premise feature only. Outlook has some cool new features.

One of the best ones is this new slider when you can figure you can figure your Outlook profile. In the past Outlook in "cash mode" downloads the NOST file or creates a NOST file and downloads all your mail into and for users with really large mailboxes that can suck up a lot of hard drive space on a laptop. So what Microsoft has done with Outlook 2013 is added this slider so you can set a users mailbox to only download say the last six months of mail and then the rest of it is kept online. They'll still see all that mail in Outlook as long as they have an Internet connection, but only the last 6 months or 12 months or how ever long you want to specify will actually be cached locally. Say a user didn't have an Internet connection they would still have the last 6 or 12 months of mail available.

There are a couple other new features with Word and Excel although those are slightly less important for the purposes of talking about Office 365, but they do have new...All the Office programs have new integration with SharePoint. That makes it a lot easier to save to SharePoint, to save to SkyDrive Pro, which is a new SharePoint feature for document storage. It's basically the replacement for My Sites or the rebranding of My Sites and then Office 2013 also has new integration with Microsoft's public SkyDrive service. It makes it a lot easier to save your files to the Cloud and never have to really rely on storing anything on your local workstation.

Marek: You mentioned SkyDrive, is that also part of the Office 365 or that's additional feature? How does that relate?

Michael: The SkyDrive branding can be a little bit confusing. Microsoft has a public service that's called SkyDrive and it's free to use for a certain number of gigabytes and you can pay for additional gigabytes and that's not really related to SharePoint or Office 365 at all, but what Microsoft does have an it's a feature of SharePoint both on premise and in Office 365 is this new tool called SkyDrive Pro. Basically what it is, is it kind of mimics the existing SkyDrive client were you can have a folder on your computer that's actually synchronized with server so if you went to a different computer you'd still be able to access your files because they're stored in the Cloud, but it's convenient because it's similar to having a folder just in your my documents for example. Sky drive Pro doesn't synchronize with the public SkyDrive service. It actually synchronizes with SharePoint 2013 and like I said it's kind of a replacement for My Sites so it makes document storage for users a lot easier.

Marek: Oh sure and I suppose you can share certain folders off of SkyDrive with a select group of people.

Michael: Yep.

Marek: Excellent. So Michael, how do I get the new Office 365?

Michael: The new Office 365 went live a week ago today and any new customers who are signing up for Office 365 will automatically be put in the new version. Microsoft's not putting anybody in the old version of Office 365 anymore. From here on out anybody who is looking to get Office 365 you'll be on all the 2013 technologies. For existing customers Microsoft is slowly going to be migrating people and you'll get an email notification before the migration. It'll be about 30 days before the migration and then you'll get another notification a few days before the migration.

If anybody went through the migration fro BPOS to the Office 365 service they would know that this migration is going to be a lot easier. The BPOS service in Office 365 was pretty much separate and Microsoft really had to transfer a lot of data between the two. In terms of migrating from the 2010 to 2013 version of Office 365 it's going to be much simpler. Microsoft is really using just native technologies built into SharePoint and Lync and Exchange for migration and it's going to go really smoothly. I haven't heard about anyone having issues really. For existing customers I think it...I don't think it should be a major stressor when you get your notification that your migration is upcoming.

Marek: So everyone just relax and watch what happens, right?

Michael: Yeah. That's one of the nice things about a Cloud service is that Microsoft handles it all for you really.

Marek: Absolutely. So Michael, when exactly will the existing Office 365 customers get upgraded to the new version?

Michael: Microsoft doesn't preannounce when anyone is going to be receiving their notification for the upgrade, but Microsoft just said they're going to start migrations right about now and they'll be going on for probably the next six months to maybe nine months. It's a little bit vague, but like I said Microsoft will send you a notification before your time to upgrade. There's not really a way to expedite the process and move it forward. Microsoft's just kind of handling it all in the background, but everyone should be on the new version of Office 365 by the end of 2013.

Marek: So Michael, if a new potential customer is listening to us right now who would like to have Office 365 how could Concurrency help them with the process?

Michael: Basically what happens when we have someone who is interested in Office 365 is we kind of sit down with them or talk with them on the phone and kind of have a chat about the existing environment. You know, what are you using for email right now? What are your needs for maybe Active Directory Synchronization? Do you need password federation with Active Directory Federation services. How many users do you have? What size mailboxes do you need? What are your SharePoint needs?

So we can kind of sit down and analyze all that with you and kind of recommend the best way for getting to Office 365 since there are a number of different ways that you can get yourself to the Cloud. For new customers whether they have looked at the old version of 365 or the new version we're set up to help them figure out the best way for them to get to the Cloud.

Marek: OK. How about existing customers if someone is interested in switching over to the new office 365, how does Concurrency help?

Michael: So existing customers things are a lot simpler. If you're already in Office 365 and your not really using any of the advanced stuff like Active Directory Federation or Active Directory Synchronization there's not really to much to worry about. You may want Concurrency to come in and just make sure that things are set up alright, that you're using your licenses to the maximum effect. For customers who are using some of the more advanced stuff and have ADFS and Directory synchronization you may want us to come in and just do like a quick health check on your infrastructure that's obviously pretty vital to carrying on your business in terms of using SharePoint and Exchange and Lync.

What we can do is check and make sure that the ADFS server is still configured, talk about do you need to expand on your ADFS infrastructure as you ad users. A lot of times people just want basic ADFS without high availability and they'll grow a lot and maybe highly available ADFS firms become more desirable for them. We can check and make sure Directory Synchronization is working properly, check the certificates on ADFS and we can check the hybrid configuration in Exchange. One of the things Microsoft wants people to do is make sure that they rerun the hybrid configuration wizard around the time of their migration to the new version of Office 365 just to make sure that any new values that might be necessary for populating in Active Directory get handled by that.

Marek: So those of you who are listening to Michael you can definitely realize how much value Michael and his colleagues, consultants at Concurrency provide. So you definitely can risk it and do it on your on, but we highly recommend you call the professionals and they'll be more than happy to help you out with this process. Michael thank you so much for your time and how will people contact you or get more information about Office 365, about Concurrency and potential any new topic in this space?

Michael: The best way to get any new information on Concurrency and what we do with the Microsoft technologies is just to visit our website at and there's also links to phone numbers for our front desk in case you have any needs to talk to anybody in person.

Marek: I also know that Michael and other Concurrency consultants are very active on the blog, as well as on the social media. Follow them on Twitter or LinkedIn and you will get a lot of good information, new information in the Microsoft technologies areas. Michael, thank you so much for your time and we'll talk to you soon.

Michael: Sounds good.


Michael Epping

Systems Engineer