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The Road to Office 365 – It’s Not ‘If’ but ‘When’ and ‘How’

If there’s one thing we can be sure about it’s that, at some point in the future, almost nobody will manage mailboxes on premises.  The dominant players look like being Microsoft with Office 365 and Google with Google Apps, though of course others may emerge.

Not surprisingly, then, pretty much every CIO in the world has taken a look at these platforms and adopted a stance.  The stance may involve proactive planning now with a rapid migration in mind, or it might be a case of keeping things as they are until the technology matures further.  Or there might be any number of interim steps that will make a migration easier at some point in the future.  I would wager that there is no CIO that hasn’t started thinking about migrating email, in its entirety, to the cloud.

The Road to Office 365 – It’s Not ‘If’ but ‘When’ and ‘How’

The Road to Office 365 – It’s Not ‘If’ but ‘When’ and ‘How’

For the last few years Mimecast has positioned itself as a companion technology to Microsoft Exchange, optimizing our cloud services to deliver maximum value to on premises or hosted Exchange customers.  And now, of course, we’re also providing services for Office 365 customers, in both cloud-only and hybrid environments.  Of our 9,000 or so customers, almost all of whom are on some form of Exchange, we are seeing a growing number using Mimecast and Office 365 together.  With Office 365, we support very clear use cases that address specific customer needs that can’t be met by Office 365 on its own.  It could be a particular compliance or eDiscovery need, or a desire for a ‘cloud-on-cloud’ High Availability solution to protect against downtime.

Office 365 may be the eventual destination for most businesses, but that doesn’t mean there is a crazy rush to migrate there or indeed that it’s the only short to mid-term option.  For example, we’re seeing the Managed Service Provider (MSP) market booming, as smaller businesses offload their Exchange infrastructures and move to hosted Exchange suppliers.  At the other end of the scale, Exchange 13 is an attractive option for companies who want to keep their mailboxes on-site.  And we’re seeing a fair amount of hybrid deployment, with IT moving a subset of users to the cloud, with an independent archive like Mimecast’s giving them the flexibility to toggle mailboxes back and forth between on premises and cloud as they see fit.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  These are all interim measures, albeit interim measures that will be very profitable for those organizations operating in the space for some years to come.

The point, I guess, is that we’re all preparing for an Office 365 world.  At Mimecast, we are building out and optimizing our Office 365-specific portfolio so the use cases are crystal clear.  It’s not simply a question of offering alternative tools to those that Microsoft includes with its Office 365 SKUs, but showing how we offer additional layers of functionality that support specific customer needs.  That way, over time, we actually see ourselves becoming an accelerator, or enabler for Office 365 adoption, since we effectively remove short-term barriers to adoption.

Naturally, Microsoft is working hard to add functionality of its own and make Office 365 as robust and feature rich as possible.  Many of the ‘gaps’ that Michael Osterman calls out in his paper, Office 365 for the Enterprise: How to Strengthen Security, Compliance and Control, will be filled by Microsoft over the coming years.  So does that mean third parties will find it hard to build businesses within this ecosystem?  No.  In fact, as the platform matures, more use cases will emerge just as happened with Exchange many years ago.

Microsoft will certainly want to make sure that the common elements of customer need are properly served by Office 365 off the shelf, but this is a company, unlike Google, that has always been committed to its partners, and to the creation of a vibrant community of ISVs around its core platforms. Office 365 will be no different, and there will be plenty of room for third parties who can help customers not only see over the short term hurdles, but enjoy a first class, zero compromise cloud experience in the longer term.

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From Good to Great – Why Office 365 Needs Mimecast

[Tweet "Office 365 is now the real deal and with Mimecast it goes from good to great"]

From the moment BPOS was first released about five years ago, we’ve consistently said on this blog that we welcome Microsoft’s move to the cloud, that it’ll be a great solution for some businesses, but that mature cloud services like Mimecast’s will play a major role as adoption begins to gain momentum. Well, if BPOS was Microsoft’s trial run, Office 365 is the real deal and it does now seem to be gaining serious traction in the market. But our position remains the same, and in fact the business case for Mimecast’s solutions to enhance Office 365 looks stronger than ever.

Office 365 is positioned by Microsoft as a one-stop-shop, and on the surface looks like something of a panacea for a business looking to outsource email and stop managing an on-premises Exchange server. For many businesses, particularly in the SMB space, it is.

But for larger companies, or those for whom email is a mission critical application, Office 365 may not be quite so alluring. In general, Mimecast customers fall into that category – they want to use best practice cloud services to protect email from threats, and store the data in a secure, highly available archive. And amongst our customer base we’ve seen a preference for keeping Exchange on-site – there’s strong interest in Exchange 13 – or moving to a hybrid model with some mailboxes on-site and others in the cloud.

The blockers to Office 365 adoption seem to fall into three categories.

  • Archiving doesn’t offer sufficient levels of compliance and eDiscovery capabilities
  • Uptime is a concern
  • Exchange Online Protection may not represent best practice email security

We also think a further need will emerge, for a single archive of multiple types of unstructured data, fully searchable both for eDiscovery purposes and for day to day use by end users from their laptops, smart-phones and tablets. An Enterprise Information Archive for Office 365, to use Gartner terminology.

For Mimecast, then, nothing much changes from how we position around on-premise Exchange, where we offer enterprise grade cloud services that remove complexity and cost. With Office 365, it’s less about cost and complexity, and more about the ‘enterprise grade’ piece. As Office 365 adoption gains traction, the ‘pain points’ will also crystallize, and the ecosystem of ‘supporting’ or ‘enhancing’ services will emerge.  It already is emerging.

Is this a bad thing for Microsoft or Office 365?  On the contrary. Businesses who want to go down this path will be reassured that there’s a third party ecosystem of mature cloud services that can enhance the ‘off-the-shelf’ capabilities of the various SKUs of Microsoft’s new cloud solution. We expect to find businesses buying Office 365 plus Mimecast for any one of the three issues above, or potentially buying our entire UEM suite if that’s what best meets their needs. And we also expect companies who’ve already moved to Office 365 to subsequently purchase add-on services to shore up functionality in those key areas, be they compliance or security related, or based on concerns about downtime.

So, to conclude, Office 365 comes in a variety of different shapes and sizes at different price points, ostensibly for businesses with different messaging requirements. It covers a lot of ground, and for many businesses the barrier to purchase is that one or other area of critical functionality doesn’t quite meet requirements. With Mimecast, which works seamlessly within an Office 365 / Exchange context, these perceived short-falls can be fixed, and the barriers to purchase removed. With Mimecast, Office 365 goes from good to great.

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Microsoft Moves to SaaS with Office 2013

Having been at Mimecast for many years championing the benefits of the Software as a Service model to customers, prospects and partners alike, I am well versed in the benefits that this model poses to organizations of every shape and size. Also, having been

involved with hosted services and cloud services, I have seen how vendors, customers and partners have all worked hard to deliver simple solutions to end users while maintaining levels of integration that make many sysadmins lose sleep at night. In addition, having seen this landscape evolve over the past decade, it’s truly refreshing to see a traditionally on-premise software vendor like Microsoft not only shout about the cloud, but actually surface a strategy that makes broad-based cloud computing part of everyday software consumption.

With Steve Ballmer’s announcement yesterday, came the first real view of what Microsoft’s long term strategy is. We all know that Microsoft is a huge company with massive amounts of resource available to do just about anything they want, but yesterday we saw for the first time just how long it takes to change direction for a company of this size.

When Microsoft announced BPOS, it was generally regarded as a tentative attempt to show presence in the cloud/SaaS market and was

experience across devices and the touch user experience (and a secure environment).

more of an attempt to deflect much of the criticism that was levelled towards Redmond at the time. That evolved and became Office 365 which was a much better service offering but it had some poor choices in terms of its distribution model. Last week in Toronto, Microsoft announced that Office 365 Open licenses would be available for delivery through its vast channel and its partner ecosystem breathed a collective sigh of relief and committed to more active promotion of the service.

For me, all the build-up around Windows 8 has always been about two key (and one key but not promoted) things: Ubiquitous

With yesterday’s announcement of Office 2013 preview, we can now see how integral that ubiquitous experience is to the long term plan, which appears to be – “get everything, get it now!”

Ok, what do I mean by that?

Well it’s simple really, with Office 2013 defaulting to storing files on SkyDrive, apps written for Office being available to users no matter what device they are connecting from or even if they are using the web-based versions of the applications and Microsoft’s massively increased push to move users into the cloud for its three biggest server platforms (Office 365 for SharePoint and Exchange and Azure SQL for DB), it now makes more sense than ever to start sipping the Microsoft Kool-Aid.

I mean let’s face it, they may not have invented any of these wheels but they have done a damned fine job of moulding and shaping them to what people are looking for.

Back to my title – Microsoft moves to SaaS with Office 2013 – and a little more on the service side of things.

Microsoft has said quite clearly that it wants to make adoption and upgrades far simpler for its customers and partners. Buy an Office 2013 license and it will provide over the wire upgrades because you are effectively acquiring the software as a service, whether you choose to deploy the full rich client of use the web-based clients. This means that you will always be running the latest version of Office.

Add to this that it only requires a single license for a user, rather than forcing a license per device, and you have a winning success story for people to seriously consider moving their computing across to the Microsoft way.

Microsoft laptop, tablet and phone (X-Box too…?), all using a common authentication mechanism to ensure ubiquitous experience across all three devices as well as pure play internet-based access to all of your apps and docs when you don’t have one of your own devices handy? It’s a compelling mix of cloud and client side applications delivering service to users where and when they want it.

Sounds like utopia to me.

Well it would, for years Mimecast has been working on the premise that customer choice in cloud adoption was an important part of allowing them to make the move towards cloud without it ever having to be a binary decision of cloud vs. on-prem.

In the coming months we are sure to see more features surfacing that will extend on this message, particularly in the server space but it all boils down to Microsoft finally flexing its muscle and demanding that both business and consumers take notice of its offerings and stop settling for second best.

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Migrating to Office 365 from BPOS without Mimecast

This is a Guest Post from a prolific blogger- Andy Kemp who has recently moved from a long standing customer of Mimecast and to a Microsoft Gold Partner UniTech, one that doesn’t have Mimecast in place but excited about what the toolset could do for them. One of the recent things he’s been tasked to do is their Migration from BPOS to Office365 both internally and for a number of serviced clients, and it’s interesting to see what life without Mimecast is like…

I finally took the plunge and migrated our primary email domain to Office 365 from BPOS the other weekend- we still don’t have Mimecast but we didn’t want to wait any longer! It could have gone better but on the other hand it could have been more painful like it was when I migrated one of our secondary domains.

The two issues I faced when migrating were:

  1. Migrating the data from BPOS to Office 365
  2. Migrating the Domain from BPOS to Office 365

1. Migrating the data from BPOS to Office 365

Unfortunately there isn’t a really clean automated way to do this, the only way possible which I found to do this was to attach the new Office 365 Mailbox using the unitech-onmicrosoft.com address to their exchange profile and copy/move the folders across.

This was pretty simple for the mail, contacts and task folders but the calendar folder was done in a slightly different way, you need to change the calendar view to a list and then copy and paste the entries into the new Office 365 Mailbox:

As the Exchange Folders were cached I needed to let the local folders sync up to the Online Exchange Server to then enable me to setup a clean outlook profile with only the 365 exchange account connected.

As this was all done pre migration it meant I had all my data in Office 365 when I switched over domains. This was the next step, although what should be a simple process proved to be my biggest worry with the migration even though I had done it before.

2. Migrating the Domain from BPOS to Office 365

As I have mentioned before this process although sounds straight forward is the most laborious part of the migration. If you are moving from an on prem setup or another hosted solution, then it is nowhere near as painful as moving from BPOS to Office 365.

The problem I had was with FOPE (Forefront Online Protection for Exchange) for BPOS although the Domain no longer existed in BPOS there were still artefact DNS records in FOPE which meant if I added the domain to Office 365 and then sent an email to an account using that Domain I would get an NDR immediately due to a possible mail loop. As the FOPE for Office 365 would see the DNS records in FOPE for BPOS and get a little confused and then just return a “Computer says No!” in the form of the NDR.

What I had to do was fill in a Standard Request form for removal of artefact DNS records and submit that as a Service Request via the BPOS admin centre and then call Microsoft BPOS support with the Service Request number and asked them to hurry the process up… well that made them sort it in 2 days as opposed to 6!

After a week into the move things have finally calmed down and users are running with no issues.  I have several Service requests open with Microsoft for Office 365 due to small issues that I’ve had in the admin portal but on the whole things are running well.

We are taking full advantage of Lync 2010 and the ability to federate with other organisations. We are now in the process of setting up our company intranet and extranet using SharePoint online.