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Beware of these six Office 365 cons for IT shops accustomed to on premises

Office 365 offers many benefits, but there are plenty of cons to consider before leaping to this cloud-based productivity suite that includes Exchange Online.

IT departments will willingly give up the maintenance and support of email servers if it means they can focus on delivering value-add services for end users and customers. Does Office 365 fit the bill?

Microsoft promotes Office 365's ability to assist in that effort by enabling IT to eliminate a number of on-premises services. All they have to do is entrust Microsoft to run these services. But as IT decision makers make the case for what the platform can do for them, others have concluded that a number of Office 365 cons will create problems for services like Exchange, SharePoint and Skype for Business. So the question remains around some potential Office 365 cons and how to dodge these pitfalls.

Office 365 can do more in 2017 than even two years ago. The platform has matured and includes a significantly higher number of features, such as Data Loss Protection, Office Groups, eDiscovery and Planner. The most important question is if cloud-based Office 365 does a better job than its on-premises equivalent -- regardless of how many interesting features it offers.

No control over Office 365 uptime

Some IT executives who have not yet adopted the platform express concerns around uptime and what to do if the platform goes down, or they lose connectivity to the service. With on-premises Exchange deployment, the Exchange team can provide a detailed definition of what caused the outage and the estimated time to recovery.

"If our emails in Office 365 go down, who do I call to complain? And what do I tell our executives when they ask when the emails will be back online?" IT executives may ask. These are valid concerns, and apply to any as a service offering. The IT team is not in control of an outage or how the outage is resolved, which is one of many inherent Office 365 cons. On the other hand, Microsoft reported 99.99% uptime in the third quarter of 2016. That can be reassuring compared to on-premises uptime at an IT shop.

Email backups end at 30 days

Office 365 does not offer backup for email messages beyond 30 days: Any deleted emails, mailboxes or content more than a month old will be gone. Since it's unsettling or even outside of compliance for an enterprise to protect emails for only 30 days, IT departments must partner with third-party backup providers to address this gap. Do not mistake resiliency and uptime for backup, or be prepared to face data loss. Data protection and availability products such as Veeam Software, AvePoint and Spanning Backup for Office 365 by Dell EMC all address this Office 365 con.

Resiliency and uptime don't equal connectivity

In Office 365, it's easy to make a mistake that is hard to fix. Modifications to email policies and data loss prevention rules cannot be undone, nor can user changes.

Several early adopters noted issues with the data connectivity that offices have to Office 365. The platform relies heavily on the reliability of the internet connection for its end users. If a site does not have redundant internet connectivity, they'll experience serious trouble if the primary internet line goes out.

Bandwidth also creates issues. Office 365 requires a specific amount of bandwidth, calculated based on the number of users in an office. If upload and download speeds don't meet the minimum requirements, expect unhappy users dealing with delayed attachments and email downloads.

Licenses can get out of control

Office 365 comes in various flavors for different types of subscribers. Poor license planning leads to enterprises significantly overpaying for user subscriptions.

Each of the categories for enterprises and small businesses come with a set of services bundled under few sets of prices. Some of the options deliver Office 365 ProPlus, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and few other productivity tools that can be installed locally; other packages offer individual services such as Exchange Online or SharePoint Online only.

Some users need only a minimum set of services, but IT organizations might license packages without evaluating the types of user profiles they have. For example, some corporate roles only need access to email and a web-based email client, which the Kiosk plan satisfies. The Enterprise 1 (E1) plan is overkill. The difference in cost can range anywhere from $4 to $6 per user per month. Assign hundreds of users to unnecessarily rich licenses, and the cost becomes significant.

Office 365 kicks you out of the sandbox

Centralized administration sounds more like an Office 365 pro than con, but it can lead to damaging accidents. The luxury of having a sandbox to apply configuration changes is gone once IT moves to Office 365. An administrator with on-premises Exchange Server can take a snapshot of the server and apply modifications to it to test the effects before performing these actions in production. In Office 365, it's easy to make a mistake that is hard to fix. Modifications to email policies and data loss prevention rules cannot be undone, nor can user changes. IT shops can mitigate this major Office 365 con with the appropriate change management policy and adequate training on the platform.

There is such a thing as too much choice

More features and options can lead to poor adoption and even mass confusion. Don't put in place new features without forethought. For example, a group of IT representatives in a large legal firm agreed to hold back several new features until a committee decided on value, planning and training. This firm relied on application support, systems administration, security and compliance and enterprise content delivery to evaluate new features before the IT leadership made decisions.

Most organizations face challenges because they do not take appropriate steps to adequately train teams on the full capabilities and administration of Office 365. Microsoft offers numerous resources to explain the platform and how to administer it, or IT teams may decide that formal training is not necessary.

Next Steps

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