Dave Kinsey 2013-05-03 00:14:56
Should I consider Office 365 for my firm? Microsoft Office 365 is being marketed as “your complete office in the cloud”. Is it right for you? Technology will be shifting more and more to the cloud over time. This is generally a good thing, but there are technical, financial, and ethical implications. I’ll be interviewing an ethics expert for an upcoming article; let’s start with technical and financial considerations. Office 365 is a subscription-based service from Microsoft, with various levels which can include hosted versions of: • Exchange – moves this from inside your office to Microsoft’s servers • Lync Online – communications tool • SharePoint – a company “web portal” • Office Web Apps – web based versions of Office • Additionally, full desktop editions of Office are available with the higher subscription levels Hosted Exchange- Confirm Compatibility Hosted Exchange has been around for over 10 years and Microsoft has been providing hosted Exchange for nearly 5 years. It’s a solid, proven technology. Some applications integrate directly with Exchange, and may need updates to support hosted Exchange. For example, the popular iManage Document Management system supports a toolbar integrated into Outlook which can “Send & File” email messages with a single mouse click. The process that files your email into the correct client & matter file does not yet work with hosted Exchange (an update to support this is expected before the end of the year). Docketing and other applications may also not be ready yet, but support for hosted Exchange is on the roadmap for most of them. Hosted Exchange- Backups & Data Retention Microsoft ensures that hosted Exchange is backed up to protect against general system failure, but ensuring you can recover accidentally deleted items requires a little more planning. With default settings, you have 30 or 14 days after pressing delete to get it back (depending on what you delete); afterwards it’s gone forever. With E3 & E4 plans, you can configure the dumpster to keep emails forever, but you should be careful with this, as the oldest emails will start to be deleted as the dumpster runs out of space. With E3 & E4 plans, you can configure “litigation hold” for specific accounts and retain all deleted emails, but this needs to be set on a mailbox-by-mailbox basis. At a minimum, review your intended retention and audit policy configuration on a regular basis. You may additionally wish to consider services such as Symantec’s Live Office for Office 365 or Cloud Ally Secure Online Backup for Office 365 for more comprehensive backup protection. Office 365 Plans & Pricing There are a number of plans, ranging from Exchange Online Plan1 at $4/user/month up to E3 & E4 plans at $20 and $22/month respectively. Cloud Ally is the least expensive office 365 backup I’ve found at $3/ month per mailbox. The largest potential downside I see on the E3 & E4 plans is that (on average), firms upgrade their version of Office about every 5 years. In a subscription model, you are paying for the latest version of Office regardless of whether you actually upgrade to that version. Additionally, you must pay every month or the subscribed software stops functioning. So, for a 50-user firm on the E3 plan you’d be looking at $1,000/month or $60K, plus potentially $9K for backup over 5 years. An additional factor affecting real-world Office 365 costs is procedures for dealing with mailboxes of former employees. With local Exchange, it’s not uncommon to leave older mailboxes around for a longer time by changing the password, eventually disabling the account, and finally someday deleting or archiving the older mailbox. With Office 365, you are charged monthly for each and every mailbox, so you will generally want to be more aggressive in retiring old mailboxes. Office 365 does not currently offer a convenient means to archive an old mailbox other than paying full price for it, so you would likely download the mailbox from Office 365 onto a very large local file on your PC. You could then save or upload it back to a folder in someone else’s mailbox if you wanted, but these are the types of procedures that cloud based solutions are supposed to avoid. From a practical budgeting standpoint, you may find yourself simply paying for additional months for at least some of those extra mailboxes for some period of time. Other Options The traditional purchase of perpetual licenses may be more cost effective for your situation. For example, the same 50-user office purchasing a perpetual copy of Small Business Server, CALs, and Office 2013 standard, would pay about $22K (1/3rd of 5 years of Office 365 E3 subscription). There are various subscription levels and perpetual license models to choose from. Microsoft will no longer sell new Small Business Server licensing at the end of June to encourage more people to subscribe to Office 365. With bundled Exchange, Small Business Server has generally been the most cost effective solution for offices with 75 people or less. If you do not anticipate having more than 75 employees within the next few years, consider your options before the June deadline Office 365 is worth considering, but don’t let access to your data be the driving factor. There are many ways to access your data remotely, including the free Skydrive service from Microsoft which includes 7 GB of storage per person, convenient sharing options, and free access to Microsoft Office Web Apps. Other solutions provide remote access to all your applications, both in a traditional configuration and in a cloud model. Be sure to evaluate all your options. Dave Kinsey is the owner and president of Total Networks. Total Networks is the technology partner to many law firms throughout Arizona. Services include document management, backup and disaster recovery, business communications, and general IT support (for firms with or without in-house technical staff).
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