A Quick SMB Primer for Microsoft's Office 365

Paul Mah

Is your small and mid-sized business considering Microsoft's Office 365? Having made the switch from a third-party hosted Exchange provider to Office 365's Exchange Online, I can understand that the various Office 365 offerings can be daunting and even cryptic to an administrator or IT manager exploring them for the first time.


To help you along, I've put together this quick primer to briefly introduce the various service plans and highlight important aspects of them.


Professional and Small Businesses


At just US$6 per user for a website, SharePoint, Lync and Exchange Online, the small business Plan P appears to offer the most compelling value at the first glance. And it does, provided you are prepared to accept only "community" support (Read: Forums only), and do not mind hosting your company's website with Microsoft. Of course, considering that most company websites and blogs are powered either by CMS engines or programmatically enhanced Web pages, this will obviously be a problem for businesses that use a scripting language not supported by Microsoft.


While it is possible to bypass Microsoft and host your website elsewhere, the procedure is rather convoluted, and not something I would readily recommend to SMBs. And yes, one important point to note is that Plan P only supports up to a maximum of 50 accounts. While higher-end plans do support a greater number of users, there is no upgrade path from Plan P to them due to differences in the underlying software architecture.


Mid-sized Businesses and Enterprises


The various Enterprise Plans in Office 365 are unimaginatively named E1, E2, E3 and E4 respectively, and incorporate premium anti-virus and anti-spam filtering courtesy of Microsoft Forefront Online Protection for Exchange. Other than the 24x7 email support not found in Plan P, the various enterprise plans also come with the license rights for on-premise deployment of Exchange Server, SharePoint Server and Lync Server. This effectively allows for mixed deployment scenarios for the greatest amount of flexibility. In addition, the more expensive E3 and E4 also come with the pertinent licenses to deploy full-featured Office Professional Plus on the client desktop. Note that the 30-days free trial is only available for E3.


Education Institutions


This is pretty self-explanatory - and not relevant to us today.


Other Plans


Scattered amidst the P1, E1, E2, E3 and E4 plans are a number of other plans geared towards specific niche groups of users. The K1 and K2 plans for the Kiosk Worker, for example, feature Exchange Online but with a dramatically reduced storage of just 500MB, SharePoint and email access using the Web or POP download.


Have no need for the bundled packages? Well, non-bundled services are available for even lower prices and can be found on the additional services product page. For example, Microsoft was able to charge just US$5 for the Exchange-only Exchange Online (Plan 1) with support for Microsoft Outlook. When stripped to just Web email and POP access, however, the Exchange Online Kiosk service costs just US$2 per user. Other standalone packages exist for SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Web Apps as well.


While I have focused on deciphering the various service plans offered under Office 365, do note also that a cloud-based service is not immune to outages or data loss either. As such, be mindful not to neglect making the appropriate disaster recovery and business continuity plans for your SMBs.


Have you deployed Office 365 in your SMB? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below.

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