It is difficult to find a good, objective list of the pros and cons for Office 365. One size does not always fit all, but hopefully this article will help you better determine whether or not Office 365 is good for your organization.
There are a lot of things to consider when thinking of changing from traditional Office to the new subscription model of Office 365. Some issues can make a bigger difference than others, especially if your workflow is very dependent on the Office suite.
If you are a home or student user then this article is not for you: Microsoft has priced Office 365 so competitively that there is almost no way that buying the traditional suite is worth it. One possible way you can save money is by sticking with the traditional Office, buying it, installing it on one PC, using it only there, and then never upgrading to a newer version. Other things to consider are your existing on-premises versions of SharePoint and Exchange Servers and where they are in their lifecycle. If your SharePoint installation is dated, or if managing your Exchange Servers is getting out of hand, then take into account all the requirements for migrating from these on-premises systems to the cloud.
So with that said let’s go over the pros and cons, specifically for business/commercial users:
– Competitively priced – How much of a benefit this is depends on how many users/licenses your organization needs and, more importantly, on how often Office upgrades are performed (upgrades to new versions and not security patches). But compared to paying for licenses every upgrade cycle or two (around three years each), Office 365 will usually cost much less. Furthermore, the flexible, on-demand payment model will help businesses to only pay for what they use.
– Always up-to-date – Speaking of upgrades, plans that include the desktop Office apps will always have the latest version available to download (on up to five PCs or Macs per user).
– Email hosted in the cloud – Price and feature wise, it beats almost every major hosted Exchange provider. If hosted on premises, upgrading to Exchange online means less costs involved in licenses for Exchange Server and other internal maintenance costs. It also means the email won’t go down with the building the next time the power goes out.
– Easy administration of email – Speaking of email, administering it with Office 365 is a lot easier. Most settings and configurations are available through an easy-to-use web interface and, for IT power users, there’s also a PowerShell interface.
– Easy and simple file storage and synching – Each user gets a set amount of space via SkyDrive that they can use to upload all their documents and share it with very granular levels of privacy. Businesses can add additional storage when they need it instead of buying it ahead of time.
– Access your files anywhere – Most plans give you access to the web version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. This means you can access, create, and edit any of your files from any computer or mobile device with an Internet browser.
– Mobility – Most plans will give users access to mobile apps for a variety of mobile platforms (Windows Phone, iOS, and Android).
– Collaboration and Communication – With SharePoint and Lync Online hosted on the cloud, collaboration across your business will be easier than ever to set up, run, and use. SharePoint Online will allow businesses to manage documents, enable workflows, and participate in social platforms within their organization. With the new improvements of SharePoint 2013 and Microsoft’s new quarterly release strategy, functionality will only get better in this environment over time.
– Scalability, Security, and Stability – All of these pros benefit from the proven architecture of the Microsoft data center infrastructure. The hardware and software of these data centers were built for scalability, security, and stability to ensure continuity of business for all its customers (keep in mind that even Microsoft uses these same data centers internally). In addition, Microsoft offers high-availability options to their customers to ensure their infrastructure meets your business needs.
– Subscription based – Having yet another recurring fee to pay might not be the best for your business. If you have recently upgraded Office or the version you are using still meets your needs, then migrating may not always make sense. This is something that needs to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
– Less flexible infrastructure – Since email (and optionally SharePoint Online) infrastructure is hosted in the cloud, there is less flexibility in the configuration and customization typically experienced with on-premises options. Third-party packages and some customizations that are allowed on premises may be impossible to use or require workarounds. It is important to understand the constraints of the online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync.
– Software boundaries and limits – Some of the hosted offerings, like SharePoint Online and Exchange, are throttled and don’t allow for the same capacity limits that their on-premises counterparts provide. One example of this is the recipient rate limit, which is the number of recipients that can receive email (both inside and outside your organization) in the span of a day. Depending on your subscription, the numbers vary from 1,500 to 10,000. Also things like mailbox size and site collection quota can vary from on-premises versions and between subscription plans on Office 365. If you are considering using or switching to the SharePoint Online offerings, make sure to study its limitations very carefully before migrating.
– Data privacy – All your private business data will live on Microsoft’s servers. This might not be a concern for everybody, but for certain use cases it might be even impossible (due to legal reasons) to have your data hosted outside your organization. However, Microsoft does have federal and financial options that may be able to satisfy some of the more security sensitive business areas. You can expect these options to get better over time. Another caveat here is that Microsoft does offer a way to host certain parts of your data (Exchange and SharePoint mainly) and still have a subscription-based price with their Office 365 ProPlus plan.
Consider each of these pros and cons and weigh them against your goals before jumping in to Office 365. That being said, Office 365 is a very compelling choice, especially for new and growing businesses looking to cut costs or be more conservative with their IT spending.