Geek Speak

5 Posts authored by: matt.crape

One of the biggest complaints you'll likely hear after moving to Office 365 will be about its speed, or lack thereof. Now that data isn't sitting on your LAN, there is lots of room for latency to hit your connection. There’s no doubt that your users will alert you to the problem in short order. So what can you do about it?




If speed is the primary concern, one of the first things you should do is get a baseline. If someone is complaining that performing a task is slow, how long is it taking? Minutes? Seconds? When it comes to making improvements, you need a way to ensure that changes are having a positive impact. In the case of Skype for Business, Microsoft actually has a tool to help assess your network.


Along with speed, you'll want to be able to figure out where the problem lies. Now that large amounts of your data are in the cloud, you'll have a lot more WAN traffic. Be sure to check your perimeter devices. With the increased volumes, these could easily be your bottlenecks. If the congestion lies past your perimeter, you can take a look at Azure ExpressRoute. Using this, you can create a private connection to Azure data centers, for a price.




Although speed will likely be one of the first and loudest complaints, you'll also want to monitor availability. Microsoft offers service dashboards when you log into the portal, but you should also consider third-party monitoring solutions. Some of these solutions can regularly check SMTP to make sure it is accepting mail, or routinely make sure that your DNS is properly configured.


Routine checks like these can help keep the environment healthy. The benefit of going with a service for these sorts of checks is that they can alert you fairly quickly. Also, you won't need to remember to actually do it yourself. Be sure to know what your SLA terms are as well—depending on what sort of downtime you are seeing, you may qualify for credits.




Office 365 is a ripe target for hackers, plain and simple. Phishing attempts are the perfect attack vector because users might be used to logging in with their credentials on a regular basis. The point I’m getting at is that you’ll want to make sure you consider security when putting together a monitoring plan.


Office 365 has a Security and Compliance Center, which is a great place to start securing your environment. You define known IP ranges or audit user mailbox logins, and from what IP. Once again, there are plenty of third-party services that can yield additional reporting that isn't available "out of the box" (or should that be "out of the cloud").




In smaller environments, a lot of folks wear multiple hats. Reporting tools can quickly get folks the information they need. In larger environments, there are usually multiple teams involved. Similar to a point made in an earlier post, knowing who should be aware of problems is key. This also applies to users. If your monitoring tells you that a large portion of your users' mailboxes are offline, what's your plan to alert them?


Being able to monitor your environment's health is one thing, but taking actions is another. This doesn't just apply to Office 365. Hopefully, these past few posts and the fantastic comments from the community have helped with planning out a smooth migration. But don’t forget to also plan for disaster.

Risk Management is an important part of IT. Being able to identify risks and remediation options can make a huge difference if or when disaster strikes. If you've moved part of or all of your enterprise to Office 365, you now have no control over a large portion of your IT environment. But what sorts of risks do you face, and how do you deal with them?




It has happened in the past where Office 365 has become unavailable for one reason or another. There is also a very high likelihood of it happening again in the future. One of the great things about using a cloud-based platform such as Office 365 is that enterprise IT doesn't need to maintain large amounts of the infrastructure. One of the big downfalls is that is still their problem to deal with. But what sorts of implication could this have?


What is your organization's plan if, all of a sudden, Exchange Online is unavailable? Will it grind things to a halt, or will it be a minor inconvenience? The same holds true for services such as SharePoint. If all of your critical marketing material is in SharePoint Online and the service goes down, will your salespeople be left high and dry?




Not all risk is equal. Chances are that the risk of a user deleting a document won't have the same impact as something like inbound email coming to a halt. That is why you need to measure these risks. You'll want to consider the likelihood of an event occurring, and what the impact will be if it does.


Why is this step important? By performing an assessment, you'll be able to identify areas that you can mitigate, or possibly eliminate, risks. Knowing their impact is extremely important to justify priorities, as well as budgets.




As enterprise customers, we can't control how Microsoft maintains their services. But what we can do is understand what our critical business processes are, and build contingency plans for when things fall apart.


Let's use an inaccessible Exchange Online service as an example. How can you mitigate this risk? If you are running a hybrid deployment, you might be able to leverage your on-premises services to get some folks back up and running. Other options might be services from Microsoft partners. There are, for example, services that allow you to use third-party email servers to send and receive emails if Exchange Online goes offline. When service returns, the mailboxes are merged, and you can keep chugging along like nothing happened.


If you measured your risks ahead of time, you'll hopefully have noted such a possibility.




Service availability isn't the only risk. Data goes missing. Whether it is "lost," accidentally deleted, or maliciously targeted, data needs to be backed up. If you've moved any data into Office 365, you need to think about how are you going to back it up. Not only that, but what if you have to do a large restore? How long would it take you to restore 1 TB of data back into SharePoint? What impact would that window have on users?


Although a lot of the "hands-on" management is removed from IT shops when they migrate to Office 365, that doesn't mean that their core responsibilities are shifted. At the end of the day, IT staff are responsible for making sure that users can do their jobs. Just because something is in the cloud doesn't mean that it will be problem free.

So far in this series, we've covered setting expectations as well as migrating to Office 365. Now that your organization is up and running on the new platform, how do you measure your organization's health? Are you running as efficiently as you can, or were? Are there areas that you are being wasteful with? In this post, we'll cover some steps that you can take in order to give your organization a health check.




One of the great things about Office 365 is that there is no shortage of packages to choose from. Whether you are looking to host a single email account, or if you need to host your entire communications platform--including phones--there are packages that will fit. But how can you tell if you have "right-sized" your licenses?


Office 365 has an easy to understand activity report. Pulling up this report will let you see statistics on a lot of the services being offered. For example, you can see who is using OneDrive and how much data they are storing. You can also see how popular Skype for Business is amongst your users.


At a high-level, you can take this list and see who is or isn't using these features. Depending on the needs and the features, users might be able to be shifted to a lower tiered planned. Given the range of prices for the various plans, this can yield fairly significant savings.




Taking the same data above, you can find a list of folks who aren't using particular products or features. This is a perfect opportunity to find out why they aren't taking advantage of their license's full potential. Is it because they don't need the product/server? Maybe they aren't aware that they can access it. Or, maybe they don't know how to use it.


Taking this approach can be a great way to figure out what users need training and in what areas. Given how frequently Microsoft is adding new features to Office 365, it is also a great way to see adoption rates. Using this data, you can start to develop training schedules. Maybe once a month you can offer training sessions on some of the lesser-used areas. The great thing is, you will be able to easily tell if your training is useful by looking at the usage metrics again in the future.




One of the key points I highlighted back in the first post of this series was the value that this migration can bring to an enterprise. When planning out projects, we do so anticipating that we will get value out of this. Actually measuring the value after a migration is just as important. If reports and studies come back showing that your organization is, in fact, utilizing the new platform to its full potential, then great! If not, then you need to identify why not, and take the opportunity to fix it.


If you have been part of a team who migrated an enterprise environment to Office 365, how did you perform a health check? Did you uncover any surprises in your findings? Feel free to leave a comment below.


Back in the first post of this series we covered off the planning portion with regards to implementing Office 365. Knowing what you are aiming to achieve is critical to measuring the value and success of a project. Assuming the math checks out, now it is time to pull the trigger and start migrating to Office 365. A botched migration can easily compromise the value of a project, so planning should be done with care.




Office 365 offers multiple options for deployment. You can run fully in the cloud, which means you'll be able to remove large parts of your infrastructure. This can be especially appealing if you are nearing the end of life for some equipment. Saving on a large capital expenditure and moving it to an operating expense can be ideal at times.


Another option might be a hybrid approach. This approach is a mix of using your on-premises infrastructure and Office 365's infrastructure. This is commonly used as a way to get your mailboxes and data up to the cloud. It allows for administrators to choose which mailboxes run where. It can also be used for security or compliance measures: maybe you want all C-level executives to keep their mailboxes on-premises.




Have you opted to roll out any other Office 365 / Azure services into the mix? Maybe you are interested in using Azure Multifactor Authentication (MFA), or maybe Azure Active Directory to allow for single sign-on (SSO). How does that fit into the process? You'll need to see how any new service fits into your current environment. Using MFA as an example, will this be displacing an existing service, or is it a new offering for the environment? Either way, there will be additional work to be done.




As with any IT project, what will you do if you have a failure along the way? This isn't to say that Office 365 as a whole isn't working out but think about the smaller things. What if you move your CEO's mailbox and then something goes awry? How do you move it back? Identifying what needs to be migrated, upgraded, or installed based on the above gives you a list. You can use that list to start forming failback planning for each of those components.


A good tip for planning failback is don't just focus on the tech. Make sure you know what people need to be involved. Do you need specific folks from your team or from other teams? Make sure that is part of the plan so if you do need rollback, those folks can be available, just in case.




When it comes time to start moving data, make sure you don't blindside your users. You'll want to identify key individuals within your organization to liaise with (e.g. department managers). The goal here is to ensure that you minimize disruptions. The last thing you want to do is have an outage period overlap with the closing of a large sales deal.


Kicking off a platform migration can be a stressful event, but proper planning and communication can go a long way. I would love to hear any comments or experiences others have had when migrating to a cloud service such as Office 365. Did everything go smooth? If there were hiccups, what were they, and how were they handled?


For a lot of organizations, moving to Office 365 might be one of the first, or possibly biggest, migrations to a public cloud. There can be a lot of stress and work that goes into the process, with the hope that the organization will reap the benefits. But how can you be sure that you are, in fact, getting the most out of Office 365?




We typically don't carry out IT projects just for the heck of it. Enterprise IT departments almost always have a backlog to deal with, so deploying new technology just for the sake of it isn't very high on the list. Rather, most priorities are ordered by the problems that they solve or the value that they bring. Moving to Office 365 is no different. If you find yourself looking at making the move, hopefully, you have a list of perceived value it will bring.


Sitting down with business leaders is a great starting point. Ask them what--if any--pain points they have. Maybe it is the lack of availability. Do they always need to be using a corporate-issued laptop to access email or work documents? Would SharePoint online solve that? Another common complaint that I have seen is older software. Sure, 90% of the features from Word 2003 are the same in Word 2016, but that doesn't mean everyone wants to use 13-year-old technology. In some cases, it can even be for perception. If a salesperson shows up to close a big deal and they are running Office 2003, how would that look? They certainly would not come off as a cutting-edge company. Subscription-based licenses from Office 365 can solve this and ease the burden of managing spreadsheets full of license info for IT departments.




You've decided that the move makes sense. Great! What challenges do you foresee? This step is critical as there is almost always some cost associated with it. It might be soft costs, such as time from your salaried IT department. Or it might be hard costs; maybe you are looking at performing a hybrid installation and you'll need to increase your bandwidth costs.


How about regulations? Do you need to make sure some data stays on-premises (i.e. financial data) or is it all safe to move to SharePoint? If the former, how do you plan to track and enforce compliance? There are tools built into Office 365 for compliance and security, but will it be a challenge to get IT staff trained on them?


Another common challenge is user training. Lots of options exist for this, ranging from Microsoft-provided materials to possibly doing lunch and learn sessions with groups of employees over time. As most folks who have help desk experience in IT know, sometimes a small number of users can account for the majority of support time.




Now that you know what value you will be gaining, and the potential challenges, you need to do some math. Ideally, you can account for everything (monthly costs, infrastructure upgrades, lost productivity, etc.). Even better if you can assign dollar figures to it. Once you have that, the decision should become easier. Are you saving money? If so, how long will it take to reach your ROI? Are you going to end up spending more on a monthly basis now? Is the value worth it? Maybe your sales staff will be more agile and close more deals, increasing revenue and profit.


This is by no means a comprehensive list for such a big project, but it should be a good starting point. Do you have any tips to share? Maybe you've run into some unexpected issues along the way and can share your experiences. Feel free to leave comments below!


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