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Considerations while you prepare to move from Microsoft Online BPOS to Office 365

As we get closer to the launch of Office 365, existing BPOS customers will need to start thinking about and preparing for Office 365.Office 365 comes with a significant amount of enhancements over BPOS.These enhancements will add great amount of value to the users and the company leveraging the new service.Some of the areas in which organizations will need to consider are desktop requirements, future service considerations, and general authentication/ security.Although Office 365 is still in beta, I’d like to start with covering what we know today.

End User Computers- Microsoft required a sign-on client to be deployed on all computers connecting to the BPOS service.This client is no longer used in Office 365 and has been replaced by the Office 365 Desktop Setup.The Office 365 Desktop Setup essentially deploys updates to the end user’s machine, ensuring it is ready for the services the user is connecting to.It also has the ability to configure key settings for Outlook, SharePoint, and Lync.The Office 365 Desktop Setup will not be the primary point of logon for the user, like the BPOS sign-on client was.Users will now have the option to either use their online credentials (similar to BPOS credentials) or Active Directory credentials.

I currently have both the BPOS sign-on client and Office 365 Desktop Setup on my computer(s) and have not had any issues communicating to either service.So this tells me the transition and preparation to move to Office 365 should be relatively seamless for the desktop software deployment teams.

The Office 365 Desktop Setup also requires that Windows XP machines be at Service Pack 3.Outlook 2010 also requires this.Something else to keep in mind is Internet Explorer (IE) versions.It’s documented that IE 8 is required for XP, but IE 7 will work for services like SharePoint and the requirements page indicates that it can use IE 7 on Vista SP2 machines.IE 6 will not be supported and, in fact, SharePoint 2010 will not display pages properly with IE 6.

Email- Office 365 offers email access through Exchange 2010.Exchange 2010 is robust email platform and was built keeping a shared model in mind.In order to take full advantage of Exchange 2010, it is recommended that client machines be upgraded to Outlook 2010.Outlook 2007 is supported on Office 365/ Exchange 2010, but some of the extended features will not be available.Office 365 will no longer support Office 2003 or older email clients… so if you are a BPOS customer getting ready to move to Office 365, you need to keep this part in mind. As you prepare for this move, you can easily upgrade Outlook 2003 to 2007 or 2010 while on BPOS.Outlook 2008 EWS and Outlook 2011 will be supported for the Macs, on Office 365.

Office 365 will also offer federation services for Exchange.What does this mean?Well, it means you will be able to have mailboxes both in Exchange Online and Exchange 2010 on premise.Users on either system will be able to communicate with each other and see services like Free/Busy, delegation access, etc.This is a great step forward, as this helps address any concerns around applications requiring direct access to on-premise Exchange servers.It also allows a company to manage and move mailboxes from on-premise to the cloud, by simply using the local Exchange System Management software.

IM/Conferencing- In BPOS, you may be taking advantage of Office Communicator and Live Meeting services.These services have also changed in Office 365.Both Office Communicator and Live Meeting have been combined in to Lync.So instead of having separate clients for similar functions, you will now be able to manage a single client for all functions like conferences, instant messaging, video, desktop and voice sharing.The good news is you can keep the Live Meeting client installed on all of your computers, as you may need this for other meetings you receive from external companies.You will also be able to extend additional services to your users like public instant messaging and federation with other organizations.

So here’s the challenge with this migration.You can leverage the Office Communicator client to connect to a Lync server, but you cannot use the Lync client to connect to Office Communicator.So when it’s time to migrate your accounts, you’ll have to update your desktops with Lync after they move to Lync.

SharePoint- Office 365 offers SharePoint 2010, which enables a significant amount of additional functionality over SharePoint 2007 in BPOS.SharePoint Online in BPOS was largely limited by not allowing organizations the opportunity to make significant development customizations in the way process functioned. This is a big change in SharePoint Online for Office 365 and opens to door for organizations to really be creative in what they deploy. Not to mention, many other features now exist as part of the service like Infopath forms (web based forms), cross site collection search, profile pages, Office Web Apps, etc.Be prepared to deploy Silver Light, so you can ensure all users get an optimal experience with features like the Organizational Browser.

User Authentication- Authentication is sore topic for many organizations.I’ve visited many companies that required their end users to maintain authentication credentials for various systems or applications in use.BPOS was not alone in this, as it does require users to maintain credentials to access all of the enabled services…Well there is good news on this front! Office 365 enables organizations to use the old method of maintaining separate credentials or you can deploy Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS.)ADFS enables organizations to provide these external services, but with the same logon methods your users are familiar with today for general internal network/ server access from Active Directory.Here is a diagram of how the new Authentication would work:

The same process would occur for external/ remote users; however, they would authenticate using an ADFS proxy server.

Ideally, most organizations should try to take advantage of what ADFS has to offer.This will simplify the maintenance of user accounts and enable organizations to maintain their security standards for authentication.As you work through your requirements, I highly recommend you consider both ADFS servers and ADFS proxy servers in your design.You should also consider redundancy of these servers, since this will be their primary mechanism for authentication.

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