Confession: I use and sell Microsoft Online Services (amongst other things). There, I’ve said it.
Let me clarify by pointing out that I’m not anti-Google (I use their Chrome browser and their Android mobile phones, as well as their search engine and maps service). I didn’t fall into using (and selling/supporting) Microsoft ‘s Online offerings because I’m a Microsoft “fanboy” – like everything Microsoft that I use, I use it because it’s what I know.
Does that make me lazy? I don’t think so, I have, after all been supporting Microsoft products for the best part of 20 years now. I know their quirks – and more importantly I know how to work around them.
Does it make me wrong? No, as I’ve said in a previous post, the Cloud is personal – Microsoft’s offerings won’t be a perfect fit for all businesses. Likewise, Google Apps won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. It just so happens that Microsoft’s offerings work perfectly for my needs and most of my customers.
But like I say, the key point here is that I’ve never needed to use Google Apps. When I made the decision to move my business to the cloud I chose Microsoft initially for all the reasons outlined above and not out of some misguided loyalty. To be honest, I think the geek in me wanted it to fail so that I could justify spending time-out learning new techie stuff…
But the remarkable thing about Microsoft’s current online offering (the rather ridiculously named Microsoft BPOS – or “Business Productivity Online Suite”) is that there is nothing new to learn.
The migration process is simple enough for most moderately techie users to follow and the step-by-step guides provided are good enough, but it’s always worth having someone with experience of the process on hand – and this is where Microsoft’s Online Partners come in with assistance and advice, if you’re looking for one I can strongly recommend a small outfit in Salisbury by the name of Hill Data Systems! However, there is also an integrated helpdesk system with which you can contact Microsoft’s Online Support team directly.
The migration path is flexible enough that you don’t have to move everyone in one go – you could for example migrate one department or group at a time, make sure they are happy, and then migrate the next users.
So, once users have migrated across, what will they notice has changed? Well, they’ll have a shiny new “Single Sign on” tool that will pop-up when they first start their computers and will automatically sign them in to the service – but this can be set to minimise down to the system tray once it’s done its thing – and no user input is required once this is configured. Other than that, they probably won’t notice anything at all! And that’s the beauty, for me at least, of BPOS – there is very little user training to do at all. No need to learn a new word processor or e-mail client or whatever.
Your techies will probably be glad to see the back of your old e-mail server once migration has finished. And your users may find that they no longer need to use fiddly VPNs to connect up to use their e-mail when on the road: Outlook will have been reconfigured to automatically connect securely to the Exchange-Online servers from wherever you are. There you go: things actually get simpler for the user! And, if you don’t have Outlook to hand (because you’ve borrowed an iPad for example) you can just point a web browser to the Exchange Online servers and use the full featured Outlook Web Access client.
Other than Exchange Online, BPOS also offers Sharepoint Online – a cut down version of the full Sharepoint solution that you may have installed on your own servers and which offers very limited shared storage for files (250MB added to “the pool” for every user signed up to BPOS – so if you have 5 users, you get 1.25GB of total storage space for any use to utilise) but it still provides the important things you’d expect from Sharepoint: version control, search facilities, basic document workflow (the ability to forward a document from person to person as it is filled in and authorised), customisation, Wikis, team sites etc.
The other apps included are Live Meeting (which enables you to conference/collaborate/present with others across the internet) and Office Communicator Online which in BPOS provides Instant Messaging functionality (think MSN Messenger/AIM etc) and presence information (the ability to see if a colleague is free/busy/in a meeting etc).
Now don’t get me wrong, BPOS is a good, solid way to start moving to the cloud, free up IT departments from supporting troublesome e-mail servers and minimise training for users. It’s just not as glitzy as other offerings, such as Google Apps.
Even its name is a little embarrassing: “BPOS”. This is why it’s a good job that “Office 365” is just around the corner (it’s currently in the final stages of beta).
From what I’ve seen of Office 365 so far, things are about to get exciting…
Ken Hill is the owner of Salisbury based Hill Data Systems. Hill Data Systems specialise in providing IT services to start-ups and small businesses. We are experts in Microsoft Online (and on-premise) solutions but enjoy nothing more than finding the right cloud solution for our clients (Microsoft or otherwise). For more information on anything raised in this blog – or for a friendly chat about your current or future IT requirements – please call us on 0844 824 1918, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org/ or tweet us at @hilldatasystems.