I've used on-premises Exchange Server for many years. Last year, however, I made the decision to switch to Microsoft Office 365. Now that I've used the suite for a year, I thought it would be helpful to share my experiences with readers who may also be considering a move.
Why the switch?
Like many other companies, I invested a lot of time and money into my on-premises Exchange Server deployment. It's not a stretch to say that the decision to switch to Office 365 was a major one. The primary reason for my switch was reliability. But allow me to clarify that point.
My Exchange Server setup was reliable, but my power and Internet connectivity were not. Last year, I was in Europe on a business trip and I lost my Internet connection at home. As a result, I could not access my mail until I returned home and fixed things. Additionally, I missed a lot of important email messages while the connection was down. This was the major tipping point in driving me to Office 365.
Microsoft Office 365 is different from an on-premises deployment in that it is subscription-based. The cost varies, depending on which features your company needs.
Microsoft's current pricing ranges from $4 per user per month (just hosted email) to $22 per user per month. I opted for Enterprise plan E3, at $20 per user per month, because it was the only plan that offered unlimited archiving when I signed up.
During the time that I've been using Microsoft Office 365, the service has experienced outages, but none have affected me. I've lost power and Internet connectivity at my home numerous times since switching to Office 365, but have not lost a single email, because my messages are delivered to a cloud-based server.
I've also found that the Exchange server that hosts my mailboxes performs very well. On several occasions, I've made configuration changes using PowerShell or the Exchange Control Panel and always found the interfaces to be fast and responsive. Also, message delivery is usually almost instantaneous.
I access my mailbox from three main devices: a desktop computer at home, a Windows Phone 7 device when I'm traveling and a laptop with Outlook 2010.
I've found that all three devices perform equally well sending and receiving email via Office 365. Also, I did not experience any difficulties establishing the connectivity between the devices and the Microsoft Office 365 Exchange server.
I've also accessed to my mailbox using Outlook Web App (OWA). I have not used OWA with Office 365 extensively, but I can tell you that on the rare occasions I have used it, OWA has performed flawlessly.
One of the big drawbacks to using Microsoft Office 365 is that the Exchange servers are outside of your direct control. You can configure things like mailbox quotas, but Microsoft doesn't let you install anything new on the servers. This includes patches and -- more importantly -- third-party utilities.
This proved to be an issue for me for a couple of months. When I was using Exchange Server on-premises, I used a third-party product to control spam. When I moved my mailbox to Microsoft Office 365, I had no choice but to use Microsoft's built-in spam control.
The software gets the job done, but it took me a couple of months to configure and fine-tune the spam filtering mechanisms in order to receive all legitimate email messages while filtering out most of the spam. I still receive more spam that I did using the third-party anti-spam product, but the difference in spam volume hasn't proved to be problematic.
Thus far, I've been very happy with my decision to switch to Microsoft Office 365. I don't miss the chore of patch management, and it's nice to know that I'll still receive email when my power goes out. I've also discovered that the subscription price I'm paying now is actually lower that the annual cost of maintaining my on-premises Exchange Server instance.
About the author
Brien Posey is a ten-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien worked as a chief information officer at a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the nation's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.
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