Office 365 Questions Answered

Some of our clients have asked about moving from a server-based network to cloud-only and Office 365 in particular – removing the server(s) on-site completely – and the implications of doing so. Here’s a few of their questions and the answers.

Also see this article about why we believe Office 365 is the best hosted solution for the options they offer: http://www.lansalot.co.uk/office-365-best/

1. Can we mix and match Office 365 packages? For example, could we have 3 Business Premiums and 3 Business Essentials?

Yes you can mix and match packages. There are some exceptions but Business Essentials and Business Premium are compatible mix-and-match packages.

2. Can we upgrade the Essentials mid-year if we needed to? (assuming we took the annual rather than monthly package)

You can increase the number of either subscriptions part-term and upgrade a person, but you can’t decrease part-term so you won’t get credited. The Essentials license would still run unused till the end of the 12 months, but the new Premium would also only run to the end of the 12 months, so you pay pro-rata for the extra Premium license until the renewal. At this point you could reduce the number of Essentials licenses.

If you take on a new person, the same applies with the pro-rata subscription until the renewal.

You can re-assign licenses whenever you like so an existing Essentials user could be swapped to Premium, and a new user be allocated the

3. Do we need to be aware of anything in terms of internet upload/download speed? Are there any checks we should do to make sure we have the type of connection we would need to make sure it worked properly for us?

Yes, the faster the better. You can run an internet speed test using www.speedtest.net and see what your current speeds are like. ADSL connections have a limit of 1MB upload speed, so if you can’t get fibre aka FTTC aka VDSL then you may need to seriously consider your options, including remaining on-premise.

This link has information about broadband speed options, and much of it still applies if you are not moving premises but are looking to upgrade your broadband: http://www.lansalot.co.uk/moving-premises-check-your-broadband-speed-first/

3a. What is a good internet speed? Our internet is quite slow now, will working on the cloud be OK day-to-day?

Speed requirements are different depending on how many people and what services you plan to use. As a general guide, above 10Mbps download and above 2Mbps upload would be advisable for even 2-3 people. The upload is often the more restrictive since it is generally the slower number and becomes more relevant with cloud services because you are sending emails out or saving documents back to the internet, not just downloading them to view.

If the internet is slow now, it isn’t going to be any faster by using Office 365 through it. Depending on what services you will use (Emails and / or documents and / or other services) you are adding a lot of external data transfer where previously it was all local. Local is good because locally, fast is inexpensive. By contrast, externally fast can be relatively expensive, so you have to weigh this up.

The speed issue can also be in part down to the computer speed, and for Emails which version of Outlook you are using. Outlook 2010 or later works a lot better particularly with hosted services than Outlook 2007, which is likely to stop working with Office 365 shortly anyway. The point is, if your computer is slow now then changing the internet or the server setup isn’t going to fix this.

Email is the most common application we see moving to the cloud, because of the relatively low costs and simplicity compared to running Exchange on-premise now. Most often there is little difference in the end-user experience, unless they are using Outlook 2007 or if their offline cache file needs to be rebuilt and takes a long time to re-sync. In this case, re-syncing will likely slow down the internet and the affected individual for quite some time.

Similarly with documents in Onedrive, once they are synchronised you are working on a local copy so loading and saving is quite fast; the actual transfer back to the Onedrive cloud space happens in the background. This means consideration for how much data you are working with regularly and segregating it so you only sync what you need, as larger hard drives are replaced with smaller but faster SSDs.

Our experience is that 2-3 people using emails can be OK on a slower connection, but that with 5-6 or more people, trying to run cloud-hosted emails can cause speed issues especially if they are used to the fast response of on-premise Exchange. Therefore and by extension, we wouldn’t really recommend using the cloud for anything other than emails for more than 3 people unless you’ve got something faster than ADSL. On a good ADSL connection a 3-person office can use Onedrive for documents too, if they are synced offline to your computer using the Onedrive for Business software.

4. How do we use our existing server? Do we put everything in the cloud and ditch our server or should we use our server as a back-up drive?

It is possible to operate without a server, however there are implications for which you need to understand the role of the server in your network. Here’s a quick table of what roles a server performs and how you can live without them:

Role Explanation and Alternative
DHCP Server Gives out IP addresses on the network

Use the Router for this, or if required implement a linux-based unit to perform the same duties. Raspberry Pi is a cheap option that could do this.

DNS Server

 

Converts www addresses to IP addresses

As above, use the router or Linux.

Domain Setup / User Credentials The Domain setup is a central database of logins and passwords with access to any PC on the network. It also includes a list of the PCs and central control over those PCs.

You can’t really get around this. Without the server, you don’t have a domain. Without the domain, the PCs operate as standalone units. Any passwords setup on the PCs operate only for that PC, not any others IE you can’t login as yourself on another PC.

File Sharing A central location for saved documents.

Onedrive for Business includes personal and shared space for documents, but it has limitations and if your storage space requirement is high it can be costly. You can use an on-site NAS for large files but you tend to lose granularity in permissions, backup options, and monitoring of the unit and backups etc. Some larger NAS units can cost as much as a server anyway.

Sage now requires the on-premise shared data to be on a supported Windows server, as it requires the Sage Data Service to be running on it. I.E. Sage data on a NAS drive will not work; you would need to use the Sage Internet service instead.

SQL Server This is the database engine on the back end of most database software, for example Act! and many others.

It is possible to move an SQL database to the cloud, but you will want to discuss the implications with your database provider. Some applications are designed to run on a fast 100 or 1000Mbps LAN connection, and trying to run it on a 10Mbps or less ADSL connection (remember the upload speed is only 1Mbps on ADSL) will cripple the performance to an unusable state.

It is still possible to do this with remote-desktop type technology, such that the application doesn’t run on your local PC, it runs on a remote server and everything you see is happening on a server somewhere else. Again, the monthly cost implications of this may put you off.

Group Policies These set out what users are allowed to do on the computer. More typical in larger networks and schools where the requirement to restrict access to the PC is more prevalent.

No real alternative here, you need a domain to make these work properly.

Central Antivirus Management This is a handy thing to have available, particularly for larger networks. On slower connections the central management will download the updates once and distribute them to all PCs, saving download bandwidth.

You can set this up on a cloud server, but the downloads to site are not reduced with this setup.

Windows Updates Similarly to Central Antivirus, the Windows Updates are quite large and downloading them several times over, once for each PC, can cause the internet to slow-up significantly during the work day.

No real alternative for this, you need a domain for it to work.

Folder Redirection This is where critical folders such as My Documents and the Desktop are redirected, so they do not live on the PC and instead live on the server.

This is great from a backup point of view, and makes the PCs less important; if a PC fails we can quickly replace it with no concerns over loss of data or time to restore the data.

It also means you can log into any PC on the network and use the same documents and shortcuts that you are used to on your normal computer.

Folder Redirection relies on Group Policy and so requires a Domain and a Windows Server to operate correctly.

Central Backups Taking backups of your data is critical to avoid losing everything in the event of a disaster, whether large or small. Having a central location for all data means you only need be concerned about backups of 1 computer, not several.

Moving your documents to the cloud does infer some level of backup, but typically this means replication between multiple servers in different locations. The purpose of this is to ensure that your data is not lost in the event that the provider’s servers have a problem. If, however, someone accidentally, or maliciously, deletes a file or saves something over the top of it, there is no backup from yesterday to refer back to. Furthermore, if the provider runs into some financial or political difficulty then access to your data could be at risk.

Microsoft do state that data backups are the responsibility of the client, and there are cloud backup solutions available to ensure your data is never at risk.

It is possible to move some of the server functions to the cloud including Central Passwords, Group Policies etc but you are adding to the monthly expense so again you need to know why you are doing it.

It is also possible in some circumstances to retain the existing server rather than purchasing a new one, however the reason for considering moving to the cloud is most often related to the existing server and some problem with it.

5. Would you manage the change over for us?! And what happens about ongoing management – is there any?

We can manage the changeover. There are a number of complications and pitfalls you can have difficulty with, so we will plan and manage the changeover with as little downtime as possible.

One of the main issues can be your internet upload speed. Trying to move existing data into the cloud en-masse, although a one-time event, can be very tedious. The time required to manage this movement can quickly spiral, and re-configuring PCs can also add significantly to the time required.

Ongoing management and support is something we still believe is a valuable skill we can provide. As things progress in your business, we are able to understand your setup and your requirements, and action them quickly, instead of you having to spend time figuring out whether it is even possible to achieve what you want to.

Furthermore, ongoing support of the PCs and the users is still something we feel is a valuable resource that we provide. Familiarity of your setup, fast responses and a personal relationship with you and your staff mean you are not waiting on hold for hours whilst someone tries to understand your problem, which may be outside of the scope of their support anyway. Issues such as running out of disk space or connectivity problems still occur even when you have no server on-site.

6. What do you recommend?

Everyone is different but we typically deal with clients of 5-25 PCs and we believe the following is the best way forward for most people in this bracket:

  • Replace your on-site server with a newer but possibly less powerful one. Windows Essentials includes access licenses for up to 25 users, which is perfect for small businesses and allows us to keep control of your network for you.
  • Keep your existing documents on the on-premise server and retain the Windows Domain setup, retain the redirected folders setup and the support you are used to
  • Move the Exchange email service onto Office 365, it is typically cheaper long-term and requires less consideration about on-premise resources (except internet bandwidth which definitely needs consideration)
  • Look at Onedrive for future storage of documents but be aware of the backup implications.

We are happy to discuss individual requirements with you, please drop us a line if you would like to arrange a consultation.