(This article is part three of a three-part series. Please visit our other articles on this topic.)
One of the big changes to the software industry over the last 10 years has been the transition from on-premise, licensed software installations to cloud-based or Software as a Service (SaaS) deliveries, like Office 365. Large enterprises have been using cloud based services for many years; more recently, small and medium businesses (SMBs) have also begun moving to the cloud for their business software needs.
Office 365 cloud delivered productivity software is a prime example of this trend. For many years, businesses that used Microsoft Office products had to purchase a license for the applications and install them from a CD-ROM onto a single machine. For personal use, this might not have been too unwieldy, but for businesses with multiple users, this method of software delivery – although initially cheaper – had its drawbacks, especially when it was time to upgrade.
What is the Cloud?
“The Cloud” is a delivery model where instead of providing “physical copies” of a particular product, such as software, it is delivered as a service over the internet. Sticking with our example of Microsoft Office software, instead of purchasing the CD-ROM, businesses can now buy a subscription to Word (bundled into Office365). The software is delivered online; Microsoft hosts and maintains the applications on their servers and sells the rights to use it, along with the services required to maintain it.
This model of delivery has some distinct advantages, although they come at a cost because you are not just paying for the software, but for the maintenance as well. This is why, about 10 years ago, it was enterprise clients who first started moving to the cloud-based delivery model. Although the cost of cloud based software seemed higher when comparing license fees to the subscription fees charged for cloud based services, when overall management costs to maintain, upgrade and apply software updates are included, the cost for the cloud-delivered applications starts to look pretty attractive, especially for companies with many users that don’t have deep IT experience or an IT department.
As with most technology advances, costs have come down as more users have come onboard; the cloud has now made its way “downstream” to the SMB market. The cloud is now a more than $4 Billion dollar industry, including Saas, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), and this industry is expected to continue growing rapidly as businesses and consumers move to the cloud delivery model.
What is Office 365 on the Cloud?
Office 365 on the cloud is Microsoft’s suite of business productivity software for SMBs. Microsoft Office 365 enables employees to work anytime, anywhere, on any device by providing remote access to a company’s email and Microsoft Office products.
Office 365 consists of the entire suite of business applications offered by Microsoft. They are delivered via the cloud and maintained by Microsoft, hosted on their servers. Businesses no longer have to purchase individual licenses for each software application and install the software from a physical disc. Instead, Microsoft hosts the software on its own servers, maintains and upgrades it as needed and pushes maintenance and updates out to all users automatically. Security flaws are also addressed by Microsoft as they are discovered, and “fixes” pushed out to the users, ensuring businesses and individual users have the latest protection.
Receiving all these services automatically reduces overall IT management costs for SMBs and relieves much of the burden on small IT teams. Managed service providers (MSPs) like Tolar Systems are also leveraging the cloud to deliver and manage network-based services, applications and equipment to their clients, entirely removing the need for small and medium businesses to maintain IT staff.
For many SMBs, this change has freed them from the need to manage software upgrades and updates, and reduced the level of technical expertise required on a day to day basis to keep their software and applications running.
How Does Office 365 Work?
Installing Office 365 is easy: connect via the internet, set up an account, pay the subscription fee, download the appropriate files to your devices, and go to work.
Of course, as with any technology, you’ll need to make sure your devices are compatible. Office 365 requires a recent version of Window or Mac OS. You'll need Internet access to install Office 365 and to activate and manage your monthly subscription. You'll also need a compatible browser, and hardware with enough processing speed and available disk space to run Office 365. You may find that if you’re running older versions of these operating systems or browsers, or if you have an older machine, you may have to upgrade in order to get the most from Office 365.
With Office 365 on the cloud, you will have access to all your files and applications from any location on any device. You’ve paid for the subscription to use the product; how you use it and which device you use it from is up to you. You can also allow multiple users to use a single workstation simply by setting up remote desktop services in Office 365.
When it comes to saving files, that’s included in your subscription. Office 365 comes with and is set up to automatically save all your files to OneDrive, Microsoft’s fully secure file storage in the cloud. You can save in other locations as well depending on your preferences. The advantage of using OneDrive is that your files are kept totally secure and backed up so you never lose your work – even if something happens to your computer or device.
What About Security with Office 365? Speaking of security, many companies considering a move to the cloud have questions about how secure their files will be on the cloud. At the user level, Office 365 offers the same security options as the desktop version, including the ability to use encryption (although we’ll talk in a future blog post about some concerns around that) and to set your own permissions.
At the data center level, Microsoft maintains both the applications themselves as well as file servers in specialized data centers where security is the utmost priority. Most SMB’s do not maintain this level of security with their IT operations, so most SMB’s will actually find that they have better security using Office 365 than they ever did on their own.
Advantages and Considerations With Office 365 on the Cloud
As we’ve demonstrated, there are some pretty clear advantages to Office 365 for SMB’s, as well as some things to consider as you make your decision. The advantages include reduced hardware and software maintenance and upgrade costs with a cloud based model, better access across the multiple devices you use in your business and less IT burden, allowing you to focus on your core business rather than maintaining your applications. Considerations as you make your decision are mainly related to cost. You’ll need to look at total maintenance costs over time and take into consideration your staff’s time spent dealing with IT issues relating to your productivity software for an apples to apples comparison. You’ll also need to consider the compatibility of your current IT hardware and connectivity setup.
Are you considering making the move to the Office 365 cloud? Leave us a message and tell us about it.