Q and A: Introduction to Implementing Office 365

Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

May 15, 2013

Dan Callahan talks about Office 365

Dan Callahan

Here we interview CGNET’s Vice President of Product Management, Dan Callahan, about implementing Office 365. A 15-minute audio of the discussion below is available here.

CGNET:         Today our guest is Dan Callahan, Vice President of Product Management for CGNET, and we’re going to discuss implementing Microsoft Office 365.  Dan, what do you need to run Office 365?

Dan Callahan:           I guess the basic thing is you need a browser, and so you need whatever device you have that can run a browser. That would be a desktop computer, laptop computer, tablet, and in some cases just a smartphone.

CGNET:         That sounds pretty simple.  So what varieties of Office can you run with Office 365?

Dan Callahan:           Going back to what Office 365 includes, the basic components are Exchange Online which is your email, SharePoint Online which is document collaboration, Lync Online which is for instant messaging and presence, and in some cases voice. The last thing is the Office 2010 or now Office 2013 application suite.  And so, depending on which service we’re talking about, you might need one or another kind of device to run that.

If you’re going to run Office 2013, you need a Windows machine, laptop or desktop.  Office 365 also includes subscription support for Office 2011 for the Mac.  And then all of the other things can be run just in a browser.  In certain cases you also have the option of downloading and running a client for the service, so with regards to Exchange you can run the Outlook client as well as access your Exchange mail through the browser. It’s the same for Lync.  There’s a Lync client that runs on a variety of devices which you can use to access Lync, and you could also access Lync through a web page.

CGNET:         So why would you decide which one that you wanted to use? What are the pros and cons of the different systems?

Dan Callahan:           I think it’s really a matter of personal preference.  Some people are comfortable using the Outlook Client and would want to continue doing that. The other thing that comes into play is the device type.  So for instance if you have an iPad and you wanted to access Office 365 through the iPad then, you know, you’re not going to be running an Outlook Client there, in which case you’d be using Safari or another web browser to access your mail.

CGNET:         Are there limits on Office 365 that you have to think about, compared to what you’d get if you bought the software in a box?

Dan Callahan:           Well, there are some differences between the web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project and Visio compared to the functionality that you get in those programs if you’re installing the software on your desktop or your laptop.  But they’re fairly complete in terms of what you can do on the web.  A Word web app for instances has all of the document creation and editing capabilities that you’d get in Word running on your desktop.  The one set of capabilities that’s missing on the web app site is the reviewing capabilities so you can’t mark a document with comments and you can’t put in change bars for items that you might change.  So there are a few things like that.  But Microsoft is doing more and more to really make the web app versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint really on a par with what you can do from an installed software point of view.

Office 365 Implementation Strategies

CGNET:         Okay, so you’ve got the devices you want to use.  How do you plan on deployment, particularly if you’re an IT manager? How do you plan a deployment for an organization?

Dan Callahan:           Well, I guess the short answer is “very carefully.”

CGNET:         Okay.

Dan Callahan:           As with any kind of IT implementation you want to really understand from a baseline point of view where you’re starting from.  For instance, we find that a lot of organizations when we get to the point of migrating mailboxes often don’t have an accurate count of who their current user mailboxes are. They might often have user mailboxes that are for people that have left the organization, and there’s also not an accurate census of resource mailboxes or shared mailboxes.  So the first part of planning a deployment is to really understand kind of where you’re starting from and to do as much cleanup as possible in your environment before you start doing the migration.  Once you have that in place you can basically break the migration down into two pieces.  One is the migration of the user mailboxes for email and the second is the setup of the devices to be able to use the Office 365 services.

CGNET:         If we’re setting up the mailboxes, I guess it depends on what version of Exchange you’re running.

Dan Callahan:           Well, it’s not so much what Exchange version running on site. It’s going to be the version of Exchange that’s powering the Exchange Online, which for many if not most organizations is Exchange 2013.  Microsoft is changing over all of their Office 365 backend from 2010 to 2013, and since about February, anybody who signed up for Office 365 was put onto the 2013 back end right away.

CGNET:         Okay, but I’m assuming that you’re probably going have some mail that you’re going to want to migrate from the current users’ mailboxes to Office 365.

Dan Callahan:           That’s right.  And how you migrate that mail is where you get into needing to know what the characteristics of the source mailboxes are.  For instance, are you running Exchange 2003, Exchange 2010, some kind of iMap mail service such as Gmail or Lotus notes or what have you.  Depending on where you’re starting from, there are different migration strategies and different tools that can be used to migrate mail from your current system over to Office 365.

CGNET:         So it depends on what you have.

Dan Callahan:           Yes.

CGNET:         And I guess there’s a question about what kind of deployment you want.  Assume you’re migrating from 2010.  You could still decide depending on the size of your organization and your needs whether you were going to move them all over a weekend or whether you were going to take your time, or things like that.

Dan Callahan:           Right.  There’s, there are two main categories of migration.  One is called a cutover migration, and this is where you’re going to move everybody’s mailbox, typically over a weekend or something like that with the idea that on Friday afternoon everybody goes home, having checked mail on the current system.  And when they arrive at the office on Monday morning they’re going to log into the new mail system and, and from there forward start working with their mail on the new system.  So that’s great in a lot of instances as a migration strategy.

For larger organizations, however, you can’t really look at migrating hundreds or in some cases thousands of mailboxes all at once over a weekend.  So they’re typically going to do a staged migration under what’s called a hybrid configuration or a coexistence of strategy. In this case, what happens is you keep the email system that you currently have running, and you migrate users in groups onto the Office 365 email system, and you take certain steps to allow the on‑premise email system to communicate with Office 365 so that users can still find each other’s user names and a global address list and things like that.

CGNET:         This is sounding fairly complicated.  What is the best way to inform yourself about the situations, so that you can decide how to do it?

Dan Callahan:           You can certainly go to Microsoft’s TechNet website. They have tons and tons of material that describes these migration approaches, what you need to get ready for each kind of migration, what steps are required to conduct the approach and so on.  So that’s a very good way to educate yourself on what you’re doing.  And of course you can contact us here at CGNET since we’ve done a number of these migrations, and we can give you some advice as to what we would consider best practices for that, as well.

CGNET:         So how can you judge whether you should do it yourself or whether you should call in some help from somebody like CGNET? 

Dan Callahan:           I think it’s a couple of things.  One is you how big of a migration are you talking about.  The bigger it is the more likely you’re going to want to get some help to conduct the migration, particularly if it’s a cutover migration.

The other thing is to really understand what level of Exchange and Active Directory knowledge you have on staff.  Do you have the people that understand Exchange and Power Shell and those kinds of things? Do they understand Active Directory and how Exchange and Active Directory interact with one another? If you do, then you might well have the resources and capabilities to conduct this migration yourself.  If you’re feeling like your team’s skills in those areas is not as up to speed as you would like, then that might be a good reason for contacting somebody like CGNET who can come in and provide this service on your behalf.

CGNET:         One of the things I’ve heard people talking about is the use of federation with these migrations and with Office 365, what is that?

Dan Callahan:           Federation is a concept that involves connecting user identities from one organization or one domain to another.  In the context of Office 365, the idea is that for an organization that has Active Directory installed, which has the information on all their users and their user names and password and so on, you might want to set up your Office 365 service so that users don’t have to log on with a separate set of credentials in order to get at their mail, access team sites, and so on. In this case, what federation involves is basically setting things up so that when the user goes to connect to Office 365, Office 365 actually goes back to the Active Directory server and asks for the information on that user, verifies that it’s a current active user, and then logs them in using the credentials that are already available through Active Directory.

So it makes life easier for the user because they don’t have to remember a different set of credentials for Office 365, compared to just logging onto their computer or their corporate network.  And it has a benefit for the IT manager as well, because you can continue to use Active Directory to essentially be your first stop in managing users and managing what services they have access to.

CGNET:         It sounds like that would be another thing you’d want to consider in when you were planning your deployment.

Dan Callahan:           Yeah, and Active Directory in general is not for the faint of heart. So it’s certainly something, and particularly with federation and directory synchronization.  It’s something where you want to make sure you understand what kind of skills and knowledge are required and make sure you either have that on staff or you’re engaging people who have those kinds of skills that can help you get that set up.

CGNET:         Do you have any final advice for somebody considering an Office 365 deployment?

Dan Callahan:           I think the main thing is to take it in steps, to kind of go slow.  If you’re looking at doing a pilot before a complete deployment across your organization, it really helps to find a group to include in the pilot that is, in some sense, self-contained.  For instance, we’ve had customers who started out by putting everybody in one of their regional offices onto Office 365, got that up and running, ran that for a bit, made sure they liked how the service was working and so on, and then started moving other offices over.  So they’re able to it in kind of a step-wise manner.  I think that’s a good approach for consideration in the deployment.

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