Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Office365;Cloud computing’

Office365 Beta Review

Office365, which is the cloud based Office portfolio provided by Microsoft Online, has been available in beta and I’ve been using it for some time now. Since I’ve used Office Live Small Business” for several years I’m very familiar with the concept and was looking forward to the promising new release. The following post covers the major aspects of using the service and some technical issues and comments.

Summary

All in all I expected a much more complete service with better user experience, better customization possibilities, more standardized tools and better integration with other services and client installed rich applications. Even the “Public web site” publishing feature is more or less the same as it was in Office Live and does not use the SharePoint rendering engine.

Yes, it’s good value for money, but so is both Google applications and Windows Live and these services are free. OK, Google apps and Windows Live may not for enterprise use, but it gives an idea of what to expect from a commercial cloud based service.

This being said, I think the ideas behind is great and I’m certain this will become an important part of future use of technology. It’s maybe a bit too early?

The basics

Office365 is basically an upgrade to the previous “Office Live” with new releases of SharePoint, Office, Lync and Exchange. However, there is several new features which might be of special interest to professional users.

The service consists of an Exchange based e-mail service, a Lync based IM and presence service and a SharePoint 2010 site collection where the top level site is available to the public as a corporate official web site. Since Office365 is a subscription service it’s also possible to subscribe to a license for a locally installed Office Professional.

The service is divided into two major target clients: Small business or professionals and the Enterprise customer. The two editions are more or less based on the same technical architecture, but the Enterprise edition may be integrated with local Active Directory and is lot more customizable. Since SMB is the most likely target for early adoption, my focus on reviewing the service is based on the SMB edition. Enterprise customers may customize a lot more and may work around any issues.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

The SMB edition seems to be using a SQL database for managing users and is not connected to the Live ID service. The authentication is forms based and seems to be using Claims based authentication towards the online service providers. When it comes to easy user management this is a good idea, but when it comes to authentication you may run into lots of trouble.

Lets say you want to access your secured SharePoint data from another web service or application, the service or application will have to support Claims based authentication as Windows Integrated and Kerberos will not work. My experience is that most applications expect other authentication methods and will not work. Even the blog feature of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Live Writer does not work with the Office365 service.

Availability

Microsoft claims a 99,9 % uptime guarantee for the service, which is a nice guarantee. However, this is only a technical guarantee and other types of availability should be considered.

The SharePoint sites may be used offline with Office SharePoint Workspace 2010. Only a few content types are not supported and the synchronization seems to be working flawlessly. With the use of Exchange ActiveSync (EAS), any mobile device with the support for EAS may be used to synchronize mailbox content including contacts, calendar and e-mail. Outlook 2010 may also be used with RPC over HTTPS to get the rich Outlook experience in cached mode and the ability to transparently work in Outlook regardless of connectivity.

When it comes to web availability the support is a lot less than expected. With the use of Internet Explorer on a Windows based computer, the user experience is quite good, but if you try to use other web browsers on different types of devices, the service is more or less useless. Even simple rendering of the “public web site” is entirely messed up in Safari on an iPad. I would have expected that standard web rendering of content would work on any device and any browser. In addition, the mobile based rendering of content is not very good and should not be used unless you do some serious customization, preferably with an Office365 Enterprise license.

Since the service is still in beta, bugs and errors are more or less expected. However, I think the general stability of the service should have been better at this stage. Lots of features does not work as expected and none or strange errors are returned to the user. In some cases I’m actually not sure if the feature is supposed to be available at all.

User experience

In general the user experience is more or less the same as if you would install the different components on your own local infrastructure. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but users with little or no experience with SharePoint 2010 may find it very hard to use the service. A simple task of saving a locally created Word document to the team site’s document library will require the user to know the address of the document library – at least the first time. Even Live SkyDrive has resolved this by adding a “Save online” option in Office applications.

For the administrator it’s fairly easy to create and manage basic services as long as you don’t require any customization. If you want to customize the public web site or the SharePoint team sites, at minimum you will have to use SharePoint Designer and have experience with customizing SharePoint.

My guess is that the user experience needs a facelift and will require customization for effective use of the service. Since this isn’t the easiest task, I expect that there will be a nice portion of consultancy possibilities which I expect will not be entirely free of charge…

Features

The service is based on Office Professional, Exchange Server 2010, SharePoint Server 2010 and Lync Server 2010, and most of the features available in the back-end servers are available to the user. However, many of the SharePoint features are not available, at least not with the SMB license. Especially Enterprise features (such as Excel services, data connectors and mysite/personal site) and publishing features are excluded from the Office365 service.

In some cases, especially within SharePoint, it seems like the feature is available but when you try to use or enable it, nothing happens. This might be a beta issue and will hopefully be resolved before the service goes live.

If you have custom solutions or would like to use open source solutions within your SharePoint site collection, you will have to reconsider. It’s not possible to add custom solutions, but if you have web parts which doesn’t require special server-side components, you may upload the web parts on a page or into a library. With the sandboxed solution feature in SharePoint 2010 I’d hoped it would be possible to upload new features through custom solutions.

Licensing and Pricing

Microsoft has based the service on a very scalable licensing plan which enables the ability to only pay for actual usage. The SMB/Professional license starts at $2 per user per month and the full online license without the locally installed Office license is only $6 per user per month.

This makes the service very affordable and even the Enterprise licensing is very good compared to the cost of internal IT managed services. The cost of storage, antivirus and backup is probably higher per user than the Enterprise license. Any other cost, including labor and investments, is pure cost savings.

Productivity in the cloud

Office365 is a cloud based productivity service where all data is stored on Microsoft’s production servers. This is something to keep in mind when you start using cloud based services. Basically, Microsoft and it’s employees has a possibility to access all data stored on their servers. When you store documents, e-mails and other company internal content, you must be aware of this and be confident that Microsoft does not exceed their responsibility as a service provider.

Make sure you read the agreements and privacy policy statements before you go ahead with cloud based productivity services such as Office365!

Cloud security

As you might expect, Microsoft has not revolutionized the security concept of Cloud based services. However, they have enabled the possibility to use corporate internal Active Directories as an authentication source for the enterprise license (I think through Federation Trusts). This will increase the corporate control over data and access to it. But you still have to trust Microsoft and all employees with the ability to gain administrative rights and access to data.

Summary of notes

The following bullets is a summary of notes taken during the test and continuous usage of the service. Statements and comments have not been verified as correct and is only my personal experience and best guesses.

  • The setup and use of the service is not very user friendly and is most likely to cause problems for non experienced users.
  • The first registered user becomes the ever lasting admin of the site and services and should not be a person but a role. This is not communicated when creating the site and it’s not possible to change this user/role at a later stage. The admin will also take up one licensed user.
  • The Lync gateway does not seem to be installed. Therefore it’s not possible to add users in the Lync client from other IM services such as Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger or Apple Talk.
  • Offline synchronization with SharePoint Workspace and any EAS-enabled device seems to be working just fine.
  • The support for non-Microsoft web browsers and operating systems is very limited. The use of the services on devices like iPad and Galaxy tab is more or less impossible.
  • The client-side applications must be installed for a fully featured rich client experience. This include Office 2010 Professional, Lync 2010 and some custom additions for all applications and Internet Explorer. The web edition of Office is most likely to be used as a viewer and not an editor.
  • There are several publishing features which is not available. The publishing tools and rendering engine is based on the old office online service and does not use SharePoint features.
  • Even if SharePoint Designer is supported for customization of the SharePoint sites and the “public web site”, there are lots of limitations with the customization of the web site.
  • It’s not possible to use Live Writer with the SharePoint blogs. Probably because of the authentication algorithm in use. Not even the blog features of Word 2010 works with the SharePoint Blog Sites!
  • It seems like it’s not possible to add custom solutions to the SharePoint site collection and the online gallery is more or less empty.
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: