Office 365 SharePoint – Higher level observations

Previously I’ve discussed some of the technical observations I made while working with Office 365. I’ve also noticed some ‘higher-level’ features of the project, and some discussions we’ve had about other opportunities. Here are some the the things that might well need addressed…

“What plan do we need?”

It’s a simple question – what plan do we want to use? Sadly, in typical fashion, Microsoft have turned what should be a simple question into something that requires a PhD in quantum mechanics to understand.

On the face of it, it’s simple. There are 6 different plans. Oh, except for the 2 Kiosk worker plans. But this page says that it’s all the available plans, so that’s nice and simple. Except that those are the Office 365 plans, and we could also use the SharePoint Online Plans too. There are, similarly, Exchange Online plans (2 of. Or maybe 4 of. Not sure), Lync Online plans (2 of), Office Web Apps (2 of) and Office Professional Plus.

So, it’s pretty complicated. Really, the ‘six’ Office 365 plans are collections of the offerings of the other products. But then, the other products have different grades of offering. I’m pretty sure that you need a cube to be able to represent what you actually get with the different O365 plans.

This is made worse by the offerings not always being the same. For example, the ‘Office Web Apps’ offering appears to be different for each of the 4 ‘Enterprise’ (‘E‘) plans. And as for SharePoint – well, we know from internal SharePoint systems that there is SharePoint, and then there is SharePoint. Broadly…

  • SharePoint Plan 1 is ‘standard edition’. It doesn’t have BCS, Access services, Visio services, Excel services.
  • SharePoint Plan 2 is as Plan 1, but with all those goodies Think of it as ‘Enterprise edition’.

Now, it’s worth noting that if you go for an Office 365 Enterprise plan, the SharePoint plan that comes with that does vary.

  • E1 and E2 use SharePoint Plan 1, and therefore lack BCS, etc.
  • E3 and E4 use SharePoint Plan 2.

There are also plans for Dedicated servers, but you need a lot of users for those, and I guess you’d be speaking to Microsoft by then.

And it’s worth noting that there are Office 365 ‘P‘ plans, except…

“P-Plans are the spawn of the devil”

“Small Business” (P) Plans seem to use a different, bastardized version of SharePoint. I’d describe it as being akin to SharePoint Foundation, except that Foundation is actually still useful. The P-Plan is just painful. 50 users limit, and it uses a weird site template that exposes a public root site, and private subsites for collaborating in. No SSL encryption for traffic, so it isn’t secure. And it is phenomenally orange.

And here’s the kicker – there is no upgrade path from P to E. You have to get Microsoft to deprovision the plan, and reprovision it as an E plan. Avoid P Plans. For the price difference, get anE plan.

“It’s cloud, so you don’t have to worry about infrastructure”

Hmm. This seems to be a favourite thought among sales and manager types. Yes, that can be true. Unless you want to syncronise your user accounts from AD. Or have single sign on. You could have your users as entirely separate accounts in Office 365 – but I imagine that administering that could get tiresome, and then you do need to worry about how that sync or that single sign on (SSO) will work.

Also, you’ll need to think about your domain. Even if you don’t sync, or use SSO you’ll want to add users. By default, those users will have login names such as fred@somedomain.onmicrosoft.com. Note that although it looks like an email address, it might not actually be an email address. And I bet that your internal users have an email address, and would rather use that as their login.

Well, you can, but to do that you need to add your domain to your Office 365 account. Basically, this is adding some DNS records to prove to Office 365 that you own the DNS entry you want to use for your domain. This is fine, and sensible, but it does mean involving IT – which makes me ask is this…

“An end run around IT?”

Sure, they get a bad rep ‘cos your company is never using the latest version of Office/Windows/Internet Explorer/whatever, but that’s because they’ve got a lot to do. They actually plan things, and try to prevent a proliferation of different systems and technologies. And they plan for things going wrong, and try to prevent or mitigate them. If they succeed, everything keeps running and nobody says thanks. If they fail, the sky falls in.

Therefore, might be a good idea to involve the people who care about keeping things working. For example:

  • What happens if your Internet connection goes down? Could your organisation continue working?
  • What happens if the service fails? It does happen.
  • Do you have enough bandwidth if you start using Office 365 for all your documents/phone calls?
  • What about data protection legislation (see below)?
  • What if you ever want to migrate off this cloud service?

These are the sorts of questions that a good IT department will ask, and why I would advocate keeping IT involved, or at least informed. Then there’s always the question of…

“Who administers the damned thing?”

Just because it’s in the cloud doesn’t mean it doesn’t need an administrator . You know, someone who can reset passwords, add users, and has the power to do all the really useful but scary stuff you don’t want your users to be able to do. You know, the same as the administrators for all your other systems. Unless you’re proposing that you do that yourself, you’re going to need to get someone from IT involved (see above).

“Change management and Training”

Believe it or not, although Office 365 may be the greatest thing since slice bread, your users might not all be thrilled at yet another IT systems change. They probably won’t notice Exchange or Lync – these aren’t very different – but SharePoint might be new, or very different to what they are used to. Plan accordingly. Train them. Explain the benefits to them. Don’t just drop them in it.

The Patriot Act and Data Protection

And finally we have the fly in the ointment for cloud computing generally – how does it mesh with current legislation? Damned if I know, and it’s been much discussed before, so I’m just going to link to one of the more cogent and researched articles about it that I could actually follow.

Conclusion

Although Office 365 is touted somewhat as being “easy” and that you “just sign up and use it”, there are a number of issues that do need to be considered as a part of the project, even before you get into information architecture and site design. These are both the planning and management, and also technical issues. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t special to Office 365 – many of the above points could apply to any cloud service – but even so, adopting Office 365 isn’t something you can do in an afternoon.

So, to sum up:

  • Consider what Plan you need.
  • Involve IT.
  • Think about how users will log in.
  • Plan for the failure of Office 365 (or, more likely, your ability to connect to it)
  • Define who administers the system (as normal!)
  • Consider the information security of your data (as normal!)
  • Don’t forget to train/support your users (as normal!)
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Office 365 SharePoint – Higher level observations

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