Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Microsoft’s Hosted Solutions Bring Big Company IT to Small Business

by Robert Schley 
At the SharePoint Conference 2012, I was blown away by the ideas that Microsoft is putting out. In the past I've seen them as wanting to slowly creep into controlling every aspect of what IT folks want to do. It could just be that I'm in a different place now and not as directly involved with IT platform work. I think that may only be part of it, though. I am farther outside of the server farm than I have ever been, but I see the IT infrastructure more from a business perspective now. It's not, "Wow, that's awesome. I want it." I now see IT as, "What can it do for me and is it worth the money I put into it?

I know that not every IT professional sees their work as an opportunity for more toys. I do know that, just as in every field, there are more technical points that are really only appreciated by the professionals of that field. In the case of SharePoints new direction, there are a lot of finer points being addressed. The biggest take-away that I got was that Microsoft wants to push a more business-oriented experience. They want to get away from the IT folks wasting time trying to upgrade to the next version. In their minds, the idea of versions is becoming obsolete, and they want to push minor releases every 90 days. What this holds in store for major revisions, I'm not really sure. 
With this attempt to remove upgrading and the IT focus from their products, they are opening up a new market for their company. With Microsoft’s hosted solutions of Office 365 and SharePoint Online, the company is bringing big company IT to small business.
At this point, I'm on board. I'm not just sipping the Kool-Aid, I want to guzzle it. Beyond the point that Microsoft now gets to feel the pain of using their own product on a massive scale (one of the speakers at SPC declared that 13k+ servers are being used across their worldwide data centers!), I think they are seriously looking to change the direction of their product. It's a requirement in this day and age. Good enough computing, a term for computing power going way over the average users requirements, has replaced the need to have the next best thing. Coupled with the economic downturn and the need to get information anywhere, companies are pointing toward a reduction in IT costs by increasing their return on investment for any Information Technology.
As part of my desire to buy into Microsoft's plan, I am going to convert to their new scheme for everything I do. I have interest in creating webpages for some professional friends that need help. In addition, my crusade will be to find the line of benefit for small business having O365 and determine when having a dedicated IT section is a better choice. Lastly, my boss doesn't believe my evangelism, so this is partially to show him the benefits as well.
I will consider this a case study and record my journey, along with what I want to accomplish and how it gets accomplished.
The first thing I want to do is sign up for an Office 365 account, so I Google "Office 365 signup." The top sponsored link and the top returned match are both Microsoft's page for the service. I choose the top returned link as we all know that the top sponsored links are usually scams and not what we are looking for. I'm going to choose to look at the Pricing and Plans to see what I might want to sign up for. This page shows some pricing points that don't exactly tell me what I want; I'm looking to turn over e-mail, business files, and to start a SharePoint Online site. 
The lowest account of "hosted e-mail" is out the window as I want more than that. I think the P1 "small business" will work, but let's dig a little deeper; besides, it has a free trial. I fire up the plan advisor to verify my choice. It confirms my choice as far as email and my level of tech support. I choose no tech support because I don't want to work very hard on this, and leveraging my tech skills defeats the purpose of evaluating this for general small businesses. The plan advisor didn't ask me about SharePoint, though, so I'm skeptical. Let's give it a try. It's a free trial so we don't lose anything, right?
I hit the button for free trial. I expect the heavens to open up and shower free money on me for the smart move I have just made. No such luck. =) I get a trial signup page beginning with country of origin. This has a nice little explanation of using this choice to configure what data center I will be assigned as well as currency used for billing. The second choice, "Organization Language,” surprises and pleases me: My choices are English and Española, but this is still a huge step to even have an option
I fill in the rest of my personal information and enter my current email address for administrative purposes. And I have to finish up with a domain name of “ Hmm... my mind spins with attempts to be clever. My first attempts of "ComputerGuy" and "Apostle" fail, so I fall back to a default of I choose a username and set a password; acceptable security 8-16 chars and no limit on special characters. Some CAPTCHA, a spot to accept Microsoft marketing emails, and "I accept" button sets me up. Surely, heaven opening and accolades at this point, right? 
Nope, a quick note for account resets and recovery using a phone number I choose; I’m not sure how I feel about Microsoft not pulling my phone number from the previous form. I decide that it makes sense to have a separate number from my listed profile number and view my new domain. The interface seems pretty easy to look at and fairly logical from a System Administrator Standpoint. I'll have to get another opinion from a non-tech perspective or try to find my user glasses to give a better overview. The signup process seems very easy with a few pleasant surprises as far as unexpected customizations. So far the experience is not exactly trumpets from heaven, but I would say it is as easy as checking my email in the morning.
I'm going to play with it a bit and get back to you on my findings.