Office 365 Plan for Pain

I don’t often dedicate space in the SharePoint Pro Update to discuss pain points for which I know no solutions. But this week, I’d like to share a story that’s very close to home, is painful, and illustrates some of the challenges we all face moving to the cloud.

While my story revolves around Office 365, the challenges it presents illuminate the gaps between business need and the capabilities of any cloud service. I apologize in advance to my friends and the other talented folks on the Office 365 teams at Microsoft, but I’m going to call it like I see it. And, if you don’t have time to read the entire column this week, at least know this: beware of Office 365 Plan P. The P stands for Pain.

First, the good news. I have to give Microsoft its due props for Office 365. The service, based on SharePoint, Exchange and Lync 2010 is what I consider to be “version 2.0” after Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), which was based on the 2007 products. While I tend to assume a Microsoft product will be really ready for prime time in version 3.0, Office 365 offers tremendous value in a number of workloads, from small to large business, and in every vertical.

That is certainly not to say it’s a silver bullet or that it’s good in every workload for every type of business, but it certainly does what it does well and can play an important role in the IT services portfolio of just about any enterprise. Email, particularly, is fantastic. Having examined the costs and the full security picture of maintaining email services, it is almost a no brainer to move email to the cloud.

My own business, Intelliem, started using cloud-based email services through Intermedia over a decade ago, if I recall correctly. I moved to BPOS as soon as it was in production, and moved to Office 365 soon after its launch. I’m super happy with the results.

The migration from BPOS to Office 365, however, was gruesome. As you probably know, Microsoft staged the automatic migration of BPOS accounts over a many-month timeframe. Because I feel it’s important to “dog food” the technology I discuss, I couldn’t wait, so I performed a manual migration to Office 365, which basically involved downloading all data from BPOS, uploading to Office 365, and re-establishing settings, customizations, views, categories, etc.

Unfortunately, as much work as Microsoft has done on their back end systems, the transfer of the domain/account from BPOS to Office 365 (both Microsoft services, of course) did not go smoothly, leaving me offline for awhile.

I had prepared for such an eventuality, and used IMAP accounts in the interim—a step that probably wouldn’t be manageable for a larger business. It took a lot of juggling, but eventually I got to Office 365.

A few months later, I started getting emails that my BPOS account was ready for migration. This, after I had performed a manual migration and cancelled my subscription to BPOS.

Another disconnect on the Microsoft side that required an hour or two of trying to connect with Tech Support to ensure that they weren’t really going to migrate my BPOS account and risk stomping on my established, production Office 365 account.

Now comes the real point of this week’s column: Office 365 plans. Office 365 comes in several flavors—there are small business plans (P), enterprise plans (E), and kiosk plans (K). Microsoft lays out the differences between the plans here at the Office 365 plans website.

But there’s the rub. This information is simply not complete or detailed enough to be useful, which can lead to significant customer pain—my own included.

A number of my colleagues simply say, “You should always buy an Enterprise Plan.” I live by requirements, however, and believe decisions should be made based on requirements, not on “best practice,” especially when money is involved.

When I examined the requirements of my own business against the Office 365 plan comparison chart, I immediately noted that if I wanted edit capability for Office Web Apps, I would need at least plan E2, at $14 per user per month, or I could actually use plan P1, at $6 per user per month.

I did not need any of the other features that distinguished the two plans, so I went with plan P1 which seemingly met my requirements and happened to be the cheapest plan.

Seemingly.

Turns out, there are some very subtle differences between plan P1 and the E plans that are not disclosed on the comparison page—nor on any other Microsoft.com resource that I could find.

For example, managed metadata is only available on E plans. This KILLS me.

As an ECM person, one of the first things I wanted to do was support tagging and navigation with managed metadata. Only when I dug in to the UI did I discover it’s disabled, completely.

Lync federation is also only available on E plans. Lync federation allows me to connect to Lync at vendors, partners, and customers, so I can chat across organizational boundaries.

What other differences have you found that are not discussed on the plan comparison page? Please do tell me by commenting on this article [link to comments]! I’ll work on compiling a list.

Now it’s frustrating enough to discover that I don’t have features I didn’t know I wouldn’t get. It’s more painful to know that I’m looking at more than doubling my per-user charges to get the features I didn’t know I wasn’t getting.

But the absolute crying-myself-to-sleep aspect of all of this is: there is no migration from P to E plans. That fact is disclosed, but I didn’t know I would ever care, because my requirements were theoretically going to be met by my plan.

Now, I have to care, and I’m looking at many hours of backing up data, moving to IMAP while Microsoft takes several days to de-provision and re-provision my domain—which I know from experience will be fraught with pain of its own—and then moving data back up to the “new” account, re-establishing settings, telling my users how to recreate master category lists and views. Time is critically valuable to me, and this is going to cost me a LOT of time.

Because of that, I’m very likely to avoid Office 365 until I see what’s available in the next version, at least for SharePoint and probably Lync.

I will probably opt to keep my e-mail on Office 365, with which I’m very happy, but move SharePoint to another cloud provider that can give me the flexibility I need to support my business, my workshops and sessions.

Back when I was on BPOS, I had a server at GoDaddy which I used for my development activities and work. I may go back there, or to Rackspace, FPWeb, or one of the other quality cloud services. I will keep you posted over coming months.

I’ve had a number of discussions with large enterprises about how to “govern the ungovernable”—where “ungovernable” is their public or private cloud service.

Now, I’ve experienced their pain first hand, in my own small business. I wish it hadn’t been with Office 365, because I like the service, the team, and where it’s clearly going. But it was.

I learned some lessons. Don’t trust what a cloud provider tells you that you get or don’t get. And, no matter how well you know your requirements, what you don’t know about your cloud service can hurt you.

And, seriously, be careful about Plan P.

UPDATES:

  • We're having some problems with the COMMENT functionality for this article, so voice your opinions and the "surprises" you've found on the Facebook page below, or by tweeting to me, @danholme.
  • Ian Moran (@ianmoran) reminded me that Plan P does not provide SSL on the site collection.
  • Randy Williams (@tweetraw) pointed out that SLAs are not described--for example, backup and restore. We know Microsoft *has* SLAs, and we believe they're somewhat different between plans, but there's no way to really know--at least not easily. 

What are your thoughts on Office 365, Plan P, and the Microsoft cloud experience? Go to the SharePoint Pro Facebook page to voice your views!

 

 

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

on May 16, 2012
Ian Moran (@ianmoran) tweeted a reminder that Plan P1 doesnt include SSL on the site collection. Thanks, Ian!
on May 16, 2012
Ian Moran reminded me of another Plan P missing feature: SSL on the site collection. Thanks, Ian! http://twitter.com/ianmoran

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