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Office 365 administrators must brush up on cloud skills

Are you prepared to shift from on-premises Exchange Server to Office 365? It's a different skill set, and admins must rethink how to deploy apps and protect end users.

Think you know how to manage and support that on-premises Exchange Server? Cloud will make you question your skills.

As enterprises switch to the Office 365 platform, admins must change how they work and what systems they work in. And this means understanding several areas in which most admins have little to no experience. Here are several must-have skills for Office 365 administrators.

Get familiar with PowerShell

Systems administrators have used PowerShell to manage Microsoft's applications and operating systems with console commands since its release with Windows Server 2008. Microsoft developed PowerShell to support everything from Windows Server and SharePoint to Exchange Server and Office 365. And Office 365 admins who have only dabbled with PowerShell need to get more comfortable with it, because there are many management tasks that cannot be resolved from the administrative web portal.

Understand licensing tiers

Exchange Online users have several add-ons, such as email security and collaboration features; administrators likely will need to manage different aspects of each. Understand licensing so the organization only purchases what it needs. For example, not all users need the full Microsoft Office productivity suite -- assign the less expensive Office 365 Enterprise E1 license or the Exchange Online plan, instead of the more expensive E3 or E5 plans. This helps budget for licensing and avoids unnecessary purchases.

Know your security needs

Microsoft stores hosted email in multiple highly available data centers, and many IT executives think Microsoft backs up email. While Microsoft explicitly states it protects mailboxes from accidental deletion, any deleted message is gone when it is removed from the Deleted Items folder -- unless admins apply litigation holds or create other retention policies. Therefore, many new Exchange Online administrators subscribe to Office 365 backup service providers for cloud-to-cloud backups.

Sharpen security skills

Thanks to the rise of cyberattacks and ransomware, Office365 administrators have increased safeguards to protect email -- a popular entry point for attacks. Microsoft has many security add-ons to fend off different attacks, including Advanced Security Management, Advanced Threat Protection and Advanced Threat Analytics. Research each service to understand what it covers, how to manage it and then determine if those security components fit your organization's needs.

Some scripting required

Are you an admin with strictly Exchange 2007 experience and want to upgrade to a new instance of Exchange, either on premises or in the cloud? It's time to brush up on your scripting skills, because those new instances of Exchange depend on PowerShell -- which, unlike the administration web interface, allows admins to perform a number of tasks in bulk -- for common maintenance and configuration tasks.

Here is an example of a PowerShell script to configure multiple mailboxes with specific retention policies where the users belong to a specific department:

Get-Mailbox -OrganizationalUnit "Finance" -ResultSize Unlimited | Set-Mailbox -RetentionPolicy "RetentionPolicy-Finance"

Keep the lines of communication open

Many enterprise IT admins hesitated to use Cloud PBX and public switch telephone network features introduced in the Office 365 E5 plan. Few cloud-hosted VoIP vendors could provide the full collaboration stack that includes conferencing, instant messaging, desktop sharing, video and voice. However, more companies have signed on with the E5 plan for calling and conferencing features. Admins who dropped on-premises telephony systems must adapt and manage the cloud version through the Office 365 admin portal.

Take an active role with end users

Office 365 offers so many apps and services -- with more arriving at a steady rate -- that it's challenging for IT admins to describe every tool to end users. To address this, be sure IT teams control the flow of new apps and improvements and become proficient with new services before introducing them to end users. This will give end users confidence in the IT team's ability to support them.

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