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Office 365 enterprise users need to juggle features with costs

Microsoft's Office 365 enterprise plans continue to emerge as unified communications suites. The cloud-based service offers familiar Microsoft Office tools, among them Word and Outlook, while also weaving in UC features such as instant messaging, document sharing, video conferencing and calling capabilities.

Microsoft offers three enterprise plans with varying prices and applications. The top-of-the-line plan -- Enterprise E5 -- costs $35 per user, per month and features a variety of UC tools, including PSTN conferencing, cloud PBX and web conferencing. Enterprises can add PSTN calling to an E5 plan for an additional $24 per user, per month, which includes international and domestic calling plans. Domestic-only calling plans are available for $12.

The mid-priced Office 365 enterprise plan -- E3 -- costs $20 per user, per month, while Enterprise E1 is priced at $8 per user, per month. All three Office 365 enterprise plans feature Skype for Business and Yammer, the collaboration and messaging software.

But instead of committing to a set plan, business customers also have the option to pick a plan and add applications à la carte. But, with that approach, costs can quickly mount, said J. Peter Bruzzese, an Office 365 MVP.

Although Microsoft has loaded Office 365 enterprise plans with assorted apps, some users might be concerned about committing so much to the Microsoft menu. End users might want the flexibility of using other communication tools, like Slack or Google apps.

If migrating to Office 365, smaller companies could do a cutover migration to move mailbox data. But, Bruzzese said, companies typically deploy a hybrid migration, which starts by synchronizing Microsoft on-premises and cloud-based directories.

Bruzzese also offered these Office 365 migration tips:

  • Consider how much data you need to move and see if you can cull it. As you move to the cloud, determine what you're going to do with your legacy, on-premises archive data.
  • Ensure solid security. Layered, front-end security can provide companies with the same sense of protection as on-premises systems.
  • Work with a consultant that has Office 365 migration experience or use third-party tools -- such as Binary Tree, CodeTwo or SkyKick -- to help with the transition.

In the video above, Bruzzese, CIO of end-user training site ClipTraining, elaborates on Office 365 enterprise plans, bundling and migration. In a related video, Bruzzese discusses the differences between Office 365's cloud-based telephony and Skype for Business on-premises systems.

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Transcript - Office 365 enterprise users need to juggle features with costs

With regard to the cost for Office 365, there are different plans that you can choose from. So in the business space, we have an E1 plan, E3, E5. You say, "What happened to E2 and E4?" Well, typically we don't look at E2. E4 was just discontinued. So we're looking at a situation where you can kind of pick and choose a bundle, and you can choose a lower-level bundle, like E1. That will come with most of your email features and the things that you might typically want for a lower price point, but then you're not going to have your Office applications included in. 
 
So a lot of folks will then look at E3 and say, "Okay. Well, that's $20 per user per month, but I get my entire Office suite included and a couple of other bells and whistles." And then they have their E5 plan, which is $35 per user per month, and that includes everything but the kitchen sink. I mean, it's an all-inclusive. It includes all the new Skype features and a variety of other things, Customer Lockbox, and a couple of really cool features that are added in.
 
However, when you look at this, you say, "Well, is there a cheaper way to do this?" Well, some folks, what they'll do is they'll go with, like, a lower-level plan, like E1, and then they'll kind of a la carte it, and you can do that. You can a la carte certain features into your E1 plan. But oftentimes, what happens is very quickly the numbers start to add up to the E3 plan. And now you're saying to yourself, "Well, wait a minute. Maybe I should just choose the E3 plan." And that's where they've made it, you know, they've done this in a smart way, where the plan you choose typically has more than if you tried to pay the same price and do an a la carte method. So you just have to look at what features you need and then go from there.
 
With regard to being concerned about putting all of your eggs in one basket with Microsoft here...Because that's what you're doing, right? If you are going with their full Office 365 suite, then you have all of your eggs in with their application basket, you have their online cloud solution basket, you're all in. And that can scare individuals, but that's just the way things are going forward. I mean, this is the modern world. We have to kinda get used to that, that we are going to have to choose a single solution. Now some might look at Google apps, right, and other solutions that are out there. Some might prefer to have different vendors for their different solutions, so they might go with a Slack for their real-time communications.
 
The nice thing is that, even though you might go all in with Office 365, you can still use some of these external solutions. Like, you can still use Slack. It'll connect up with your Azure AD, and you can continue to work with that. If you go with a solution, let's say Office 365, and you use a company like Okta to provide the identity management, well, Okta allows you to connect to hundreds of other solutions that are cloud-based solutions. So yes, you are, to a degree, committing quite a bit to the Microsoft basket, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you can't still have a little bit of control over individual solutions that you want to provide in-house. 
 
What you're trying to eliminate is this shadow IT business that has been kind of, you know, confronting IT for a while now, where people are searching out their own solutions. They're saying, "Look, you're not providing me what I need, or you're not doing it in a timely manner, so I'm gonna go get Dropbox." Well, okay, so let's get that out of the way. Instead, use OneDrive, you know, because now you have this Office 365 subscription, and let's get everybody under one roof then. So that's your bigger concern, but you can still have some individuality by having other solutions connected in.
 
With a migration to Office 365, typically what we're looking at is, the most important thing is the move of your mailbox data, right, for the most part. So, how do you do that? Well, if you're a small organization, you can do a cutover migration. And in terms of small, some say, "What do you mean by small?" Well, Microsoft says if you have 2,000 mailboxes or under, you can do a cutover. But in reality, you have to look at the size of those mailboxes, you have to look at the bandwidth that you're currently dealing with, and you have to understand that you're dealing with a throttled situation. Office 365 Exchange Online, this is a multi-tenant environment, so they have to throttle how much server space and bandwidth and so forth you take up for your migration.
 
But typically what I'm seeing is most folks are doing a hybrid configuration. That's where they do a directory synchronization between your on-premises Active Directory and Azure AD. That's first. They make a decision as far as whether or not they want to do a single sign-on, and if they do wanna do a single sign-on, then they look at things like Active Directory Federation Services or perhaps a third-party solution like Okta or Centrify or one of those others. 
 
And so once they get to that point, then you look at your environment and hopefully if your Exchange is up to par, let's say Exchange 2010, 2013, then you can drop a server in Exchange 2016. And you can run the Hybrid Configuration Wizard, and then you can determine in just a few simple questions about mail flow and so forth. And ultimately, once you make that hybrid connection, now you can on-board and off-board mailboxes at will. So, that's the process, but the question is really, you know, how do we do this in a way that makes the most sense? What are the tips that go along with doing this, so that you don't get yourself into trouble? 

My tips, when it comes to making this move to Office 365, consider how much data you currently have, see if you can cull it, and see what your legacy archive data is going to look like and what you're gonna do with that. Once you have that in mind, the next thing is security, making sure you have a solid security solution in place, so that it's a one-to-one and you're not reducing your security when you move to the cloud. And the third thing is look for consultants, perhaps, or a third-party solution to assist you with the migration itself. Because you might have a lot of data there that you're looking at, and they can assist with configuring the hybrid and the start of moving that data over time.

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What concerns do you have about committing to Office 365 business plans?
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We were far better buying the software and upgrading it when work warranted. Now, MS wants to force everyone into a subscription that no one here actually wants. Or needs. Then we have to worry about integrating 365 with users who are still on 2010 or 2007 or.... I'm sure there are some users who are quite happy with 365; for us it's an expensive PITA and we're busy hunting for alternatives that take less fussing.

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There is also the issue that since it is cloud based, it is constantly losing it's credentials even though you are supplying it's credentials when you log in.  At least twice a week, I have to resupply the credentials. for it.  I know a number of people that have converted to open office because of this issue, and others.
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Good points, ncberns and bhannah, thanks for the feedback. Interesting points about credentials and OpenOffice, bhannah. Having to plug in your credentials frequently can be pretty annoying; I wonder if the Microsoft Support site can help with that: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2975918 -- and thanks for the heads-up about OpenOffice.
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Some good points mentioned here. We aren't a big fan of cloud services and we do not want a constant no essential expense. It's just another buggy Microsoft product. Most users here still on Office 2010 or 2013. Unless we have a business need to move forward and take on the added expense I think we are staying put. Open office may be a viable alternative when the need arises.
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We were far better buying the software and upgrading it when work warranted. Now, MS wants to force everyone into a subscription that no one here actually wants. Or needs. Then we have to worry about integrating 365 with users who are still on 2010 or 2007 or.... I'm sure there are some users who are quite happy with 365; for us it's an expensive PITA and we're busy hunting for alternatives that take less fussing.
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Thanks, as always, ncberns, for the great insight. The technology, like with many products, is one thing -- and yet the pricing models are another thing and perhaps just as convoluted as the technology itself.
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I think we are staying put. For what little benefit we would actually get from Office 365 it's not worth the investment. For most of our users, when it comes to Office 2010 or 2013 they only use Word,Excel and Outlook. A small handful may use Powerpoint and that's about it. Nothing is stopping them from doing their job today so why waste money.
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Good points, ToddN. Many workers just need the basics and not a bunch of other apps. I'm always reminded that every company has its own individual needs: If you don't need a bunch of apps, then don't buy them. Thanks, again.
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