When I first heard that Microsoft was going to be offering services in the cloud, I was mad. My initial thoughts were all negative and I didn’t see any good coming of this. I was concerned that small business clients that I was supporting would leave me and go to Microsoft. How can I compete with what they are offering?
It has been quite the opposite for me. Office 365 has helped to grow my business and opened more revenue streams. I not only resell Office 365, I plan, implement and support it as well. This has tremendous benefits for me as a single employee side business.
The benefits for my small business clients have been tenfold. Most of the companies (less than 50 employees) that I support would not have the resources and support personal to implement the services from Office 365 in a highly available fashion. This is where I think that Microsoft has the clear advantage over bringing the service in house.
What you need to know
The number one thing that you will have to choose is your plan. Microsoft breaks down Office 365 into two plans; P Plans and E Plans. Choose wisely as you cannot swap between the P and E plans once they are setup.
The P plan is geared towards small businesses that have no plans on implementing Single Sign-On (ADFS). Microsoft recommends no more than 50 users on this plan. You will get Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint, but these are limited in their capabilities. Keep in mind that this is geared for the small business. The draw back for this plan is that there is no support offered by Microsoft.
The E plan is built for the Enterprise clients. Depending on the sub-plan that you choose, the sky is the limit for services offered. This includes the ability to enable Active Directory integration (with ADFS and Directory Sync); single sign-on with local Active Directory credentials to services in Office 365 cloud. It also allows for hybrid configurations of Exchange, Lync and SharePoint. This allows your company to have some services in the cloud and some services on-premise.
The Setup Process
Tenant Account Setup
You will need to setup an Office 365 tenant account with Microsoft. This is done by simply going Microsoft’s Office 365 site and signing up for a trial (P 90 Days and E 30 days). All the trials can be converted to regular licensed accounts. Remember to choose P or E wisely as you cannot swap between the two, without removing your tenant account and starting from scratch. Once this process is complete, you will get a tenant domain assigned; @yourdomain.onmicrosoft.com
Public Domain Verification
Once your tenant account is created, you can now add and verify your public domain. This will allow you to move your services to Office 365. The verification is done through public DNS; with a TXT record. Basically, during the process Microsoft will generate a TXT record value that you add to your public DNS server. Microsoft can verify domain ownership by matching the value they provided with the value that you enter into your public DNS.
DNS is the glue that holds all this together. You need to understand DNS and there are multiple records that need to be entered publicly and privately for all the services in Office 365 to function correctly. Depending on the setup, this can get quite complex very quickly.
ADFS and ADFS Proxy Servers
The internal ADFS servers and external ADFS proxy servers are key for single sign-on to work. Setting up these servers correctly is critical for security and proper function. Both roles are critical if you want to allow local Active Directory integration.
– Placement of the ADFS role is critical. They should be on their own server and never on a domain controller
– ADFS Proxy Servers have to be placed in a DMZ network
– Port 443 is critical for ADFS. This is the port that is communicates over.
– Public IP address should be dedicated to ADFS
– Public SSL certificate is required for ADFS (one certificate can be used on all ADFS/ADFS Proxy servers)
– Consider redundant servers for both ADFS and the ADFS Proxy servers. Once
Directory Synchronization Server
This role is key to single sign-on functioning. This will synchronize your entire Active Directory (or a subset of) to your tenant account in Office 365. Think of this role as replication service to a virtual DC in the Office 365 cloud. Only one of these servers per domain and there is no highly available option for this role. If this server goes down, it can be configured on a new server and the sync will resume.
Assigning licenses is what activates services for the users. It will provision Exchange and Lync services and will allow you to permission the user for SharePoint. You can have a mix of E plan users under the same tenant account, but you cannot have P and E plan users under the same tenant account. Licensing synchronized users requires that ADFS be in place.
The flexibility of Office 365 is unmatched by any other cloud solutions provider. The benefits to my business and my clients are something that we cannot live without. If you are a company looking to move services into the cloud, you need to seriously consider Office 365. If you are a company that is looking to refresh local services, you need to consider the cloud as a real option.
Thanks for visiting and reading my posts. I am always looking for more ideas. Please comment or email me with what you would like to see.
Office 365 MVP