Posts Tagged Business
Robust email for business
Posted by Nick Bowyer in Cloud, Office365 on April 2, 2012
I may have a better appreciation of the things I can do within my Office 365 environment due to my past life as an IT administrator, but I thought it would be good to point a few of those features out and describe why they may mean something to the average business user. The application that is most attractive out of the Office 365 suite has to be Exchange Online. This hosted email service is available as a base component of all of the suites on offer and is probably the “first cab off the rank” when a customer looks to a cloud offering.
Exchange Online launched in New Zealand back in April 2009 and it formed part of what was then known as BPOS or Business Productivity Online Suite. This product was based on a multi-tenanted version of Exchange 2007. In the middle of last year Office 365 launched and with it came a better Exchange Online experience, offering some of the great features you would get with an on premise installation of Exchange 2010. As with any hosted offering the products get better over time and since the release of Office 365 certain features have been added to the suite. These features are make it easier for non-technical employees to administer the functionality of what would be normally complex back-end systems all via a web portal.
Mobile device management
One of the biggest advances in email technology over the past few years has been the introduction of Mobile access. Microsoft set the standard in my opinion with ActiveSync, blowing away the previous market leader RIM (aka Blackberry). With the RIM offering you needed middleware to connect and manage the mobile handsets, furthermore they needed to be Blackberry handsets. ActiveSync on the other hand is now licensed by Microsoft to many handset providers including Apple’s iPhone and iPad, Google Android devices and obviously Windows Phone 7 devices. ActiveSync allows the management of devices from the Outlook Web App experience, remote wipe etc as well as push notification and contact/calendar/contact sync. As an administrator you are also able to restrict access to mailboxes by mobile devices as well.
While Office 365 supports Blackberry devices, the “native” support is for ActiveSync devices as shown above. There has also been an announcement recently to introduce the ability to connect mobile devices via ActiveSync to the Kiosk Worker plan at $3.06 per user per month for a 1Gb mailbox. The kiosk worker plan is great for a mobile worker who is rarely in the office and doesn’t use a desktop PC on a regular basis, it won’t let you connect Outlook to the mailbox but the Outlook Web App is more than enough for occasional users. For more information on Exchange Online Plans visit www.office365.com
Legal Hold and Archive
Legal hold is something that I believe should be part of any email solution. In the press you hear often how emails can get people, and more importantly businesses into and sometimes out of trouble. The legal hold functionality of Exchange Online is provided by the premium product in either the Exchange Online Plan 2 stand alone product or the E3 and E4 suites. Do not confuse legal hold with the personal archive capability.
Personal Archive – Provides the ability for users to manage the retention of mail in their mailboxes. Personal archive is available to all suites and product versions of Exchange Online with the exemption of the Kiosk Plans. (Kiosk Plans are able to add the archive product separately). For P1 plans of Exchange Online the Archive and Mailbox capacity is a combined total of 25Gb, Plan 2 is unlimited.
Legal Hold – Provides legal hold capabilities to preserve users’ deleted and edited mailbox items (including email messages, appointments, and tasks) from both their primary mailboxes and personal archives. Administrators can use the Exchange Control Panel or Remote Power Shell to set legal holds on individual mailboxes or across an organization. The administrator can then choose to notify the user of the legal hold or not.
Deleted Item Retention – Provides the end-user with the ability to recover a deleted item from any folder for up to 14 days. This timeframe can be changed using remote Power Shell commands or via a Service request.
Multi-mailbox search is available in Exchange Online. This comes in useful when investigation is undertaken by Human Resources or a legal investigation takes place. This is a very powerful feature and can be accessed via a web portal (under the Exchange Management Portal from your Admin Site) or via remote power shell cmdlets. The e-discovery power shell scripts can also be used to find and remove email items from multiple mailboxes that match a certain criteria. For more information see: http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/en-us/email-archiving-and-retention.aspx
Exchange Online is protected by The Microsoft Forefront Service for anti-spam and malware. This product can be tuned via the Exchange Management portal which is accessible to administrators through the Admin Portal. Most businesses I have dealt with have paid an additional cost to filter un-wanted email from their inboxes using a product hosted by a third-party (ISP or other hosted provider) or in some instances another product sitting on a separate server. This feature comes with all product versions of Exchange Online and in my experience hasn’t failed me yet. The administrator is able to configure the Forefront product to alert users if any spam has been filtered by way of email or indeed turn the feature off altogether and let the spam be dealt with by the Junk Mail folder within Outlook.
Role Based Access
Exchange Online uses a Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) model that allows organizations to finely control what users and administrators can do in the service. Using RBAC, administrators can delegate tasks to employees in the IT department as well as to non-IT employees. For example, if a compliance officer is responsible for mailbox search requests, the administrator can delegate this administrative feature to the officer. It is important to note that many of the features above need to be restricted to certain people within your organization.
These are but a few enterprise features delivered by Exchange Online that expands the value email has to a business. Anywhere access, reliability and security are components of what a robust email solution needs to provide. The pricing for Office 365 Exchange Online products are below (New Zealand $).
- Kiosk (deskless) Users – 1Gb Mailbox for Mobile device access using ActiveSync and Outlook Web App – NZD $3.06 per user per month
- Exchange Online Plan 1 – 25Gb Mailbox for users connecting via Outlook and Mobile devices, includes personal archive – NZD $6.11 per user per month
- Exchange Online Plan 2 – Unlimited mailbox for users connecting via Outlook and Mobile devices, includes personal archive and legal hold ability – NZD $12.25 per user per month.
The products above are also available in select Office 365 Suites. For more information visit http://www.office365.com. Or click here : http://bit.ly/ProvokeTrial
The case for local cloud
Posted by Nick Bowyer in Cloud, Local Cloud Providers on March 25, 2012
I became a systems engineer for an IT firm back in the early 1990’s, back in the good old days when re-installing Windows was a regular piece of advice you would give to your customers in order to solve a software crash. Back in those days it was not uncommon to turn up to a customers site to find software that was installed incorrectly or misconfigured, worse still there was little or no documentation to assist you with restoring the server that had just crashed. Not to mention a tape “backup” that was of little or no value due to lost incremental backup tapes, cumbersome offsite storage or worse still a series of unsuccessful backup jobs leaving the customer with no restorable data.
Those kind of situations were of a regular occurrence and cost customers lots and lots of money. To prevent such catastrophes a customer would be asked to deploy resilient servers with redundant hardware and big capacity backup tapes. More often than not the customer would purchase part of the required solution but not be able to justify the “best practice” solution. Cutting corners was a recipe for disaster but at the end of the day it was what most small businesses in New Zealand could afford.
Technology didn’t come cheap back then, and today at the top end of the market it still isn’t cheap. Resilient server hardware still costs, even though I can buy a 2TB hard drive for under NZ$200 it’s not the same as a high performance RAID system that can cost 5 times as much for the same capacity. Lucky for us that cloud computing has started to take off, companies are now able to access a “best practice” deployment of their favorite software running on the resilient hardware we could only dream of in the 1990’s.
The software companies of today are very different to what they were in the 1990’s, they recognize the fact that their software may be installed incorrectly and cause a customer a great deal of pain. What used to be a few wizards used in the setup process has now become an entire suite of tools focused on management and monitoring. Microsoft is one of the players in the market that provides cloud solutions based on the software they have sold to their customers for many years, allowing them to not only provide the best experience of their software to their customers but also to their partners, IT firms, who also have the ability to run the software in a “best practice” environment. All of the tools Microsoft uses in their data centers in Singapore are now used by partners in New Zealand to run their hosted environments, providing a resilient and efficient service.
Microsoft’s hosted offering is price competitive and, as an economy of scale, it will only get cheaper. Recently Microsoft announced a 20% drop in the pricing of their Office 365 suite. So why would I chose to use a local partner to host my email, CRM or line of business software?
Local cloud providers matter, there are many reasons why you would choose a local cloud provider over a larger provider such as Microsoft or Google. It shouldn’t come down to cost of the subscription alone, there are other important factors to consider when working with a cloud provider.
New Zealand is a very small island in a big ocean and as a result our connectivity to the world is somewhat limited. This will change over time with other connections coming online soon however at this point in time there is only the Southern Cross Cable connecting New Zealand businesses to the internet. This will obviously result in some latency and moreover additional cost depending on the plan you have with your ISP. Local providers are usually connected into the local loop via high speed fiber: think latency of around 10 – 30ms compared to Singapore of around 180ms (what I have seen on a GOOD day). This isn’t a problem for 80% of most businesses and their requirements, such as email, however when you are dealing with applications such as CRM with integration into custom line of business applications the latency starts to have a negative impact on the end user experience. The advice I have is to run a trial of the software you intend to run before you purchase, something all cloud providers offer at no cost.
When you think of a local cloud provider don’t be surprised to know that there has been and will continue to be significant investment in large data centers in New Zealand. Over the past 3 years I know of more than three Class 3 data centers that have opened up in New Zealand, these data centers are bigger than a football field and are utilized by your local cloud providers. The photo above shows the inside of one of these data centers just north of Auckland’s CBD. They are built using the same guidelines that Microsoft and Google use and are usually helped along by the various hardware vendors; HP, EMC, Dell etc.
Most providers of cloud solutions are able to keep costs low because they do not provide any level of customization for the solution. To most small businesses this will not matter however when integration to an existing on premise solution is required or better yet that solution is to be pulled into a hosted environment a local cloud provider is the only sensible option to choose. Recently I worked with www.onenet.co.nz to host a customers CRM solution. The solution required a level of customization that OneNet was able to provide in-house allowing for tighter integration to their line of business applications. Furthermore the location of the OneNet servers gave the end users a snappy response when using CRM from within their Outlook client, this was a client requirement in a heavy use scenario.
Throat to choke
Local providers have one benefit as well that the likes of Microsoft and Google will never be able to provide, and that is a local “throat to choke”. Don’t get me wrong, the support I have had from Microsoft whenever I have had “challenges” with aspects of BPOS or Office 365 has been first class, however 100% of the time I am talking with someone in a call-center overseas. With local cloud providers, they are just that, LOCAL. If I have an issue with the cloud service or I want some customization I am able to visit local premises or have a representative visit me. As mentioned before this doesn’t matter to 80% of businesses but for those who seek comfort for knowing their service is coming from somewhere local its a deal maker.
Cloud isn’t just a product or a price point, to me it is a responsible way to provide computing capacity to businesses. Good riddance to the all night recovery processes to restore a crashed server and hello to reliable applications!