Soarsoft International Founder and Director, Chris Hathaway, debunks some of the common myths and misconceptions being spread about Office 365 from an archive, discovery and compliance perspective.

One of the biggest obstacles facing businesses who are considering migrating to Office 365 at present is the abundance of half-truths and misinformation being spread about the cloud-based compliance and archive services associated with Microsoft’s messaging and collaboration suite.

While some of this misleading information is merely outdated, much can be traced back to the ever-growing number of third-party vendors whose products are being threatened with obsolescence thanks to Office 365’s continued evolution. In their fight for survival, many of the niche vendors are muddying the waters in order to imply that Office 365 users will need to use additional third-party products to achieve the functionality they require.

In our experience at Soarsoft International (excluding a few extreme edge cases), this simply isn’t true, and the large majority of organisations can meet their collaboration, archive, security and discovery requirements with the enterprise class options in Office 365.

As a result of the unfounded claims being made, however, we’re seeing businesses avoiding migrations that could significantly benefit their productivity and cash flow, as well as Office 365 customers paying third-party vendors for functionality that Microsoft has already embedded in their chosen package.

In an effort to clear up the confusion and help prospective Office 365 users make informed decisions based on real facts, let’s take a look at a few of the more recent myths doing the rounds.

(Soarsoft International is a vendor agnostic information management and migration expert.)

  • Once your data is in Microsoft’s Cloud, you lose privacy and control, and won’t be able to get it out

Microsoft has very strict data ownership and privacy policies, as well as more certifications – especially for the European-based services – than any other cloud services provider. They were, in fact, the first cloud service provider to adopt the international code of practice for cloud privacy, ISO/IEC 27018 (see the Microsoft Trust Centre for full details).

 

You can rest assured that you will remain the sole owner and in complete control of any information you place within Microsoft’s cloud, and can, at any point, remove your data from their system entirely. It’s actually easier to move data out of Office 365 than it is to move it out of most third-party systems. These often require specialist tools and experience to “unlock” data – something Soarsoft International does on a regular basis during migrations for our clients.

 

  • Microsoft is behind the curve when it comes to functionality

This kind of thinking is a legacy from the Microsoft of old, which was renowned for lagging behind other providers in terms of specialist functionality. These days, Microsoft reacts a lot faster to enterprise requirements, with new functionality (especially for its cloud services where there are no legacy compatibility issues) being rolled out at a lightning-fast rate. If you need convincing, just take a look at the Office 365 Roadmap and keep an eye on how fast new functionality is announced and then released.

 

Some specific examples of where Microsoft has plugged gaps with regards to enterprise email customers’ governance and eDiscovery demands (and, coincidentally, areas that suffer from a lot of misinformation) include:

 

  • Immutable preservation of emails to meet retention and eDiscovery demands.
  • Advanced administrative controls for archiving
  • Indefinite storage of “inactive” user mailboxes
  • Preservation of vital compliance metadata, such as all staff members named in email distribution lists
  • The Compliance Center – a dashboard designed to enable non-technical staff to manage compliance-related activities

 

  • Migrating to Office 365 will have an initial, negative effect on productivity

Any new system, or migration to a new version of a system, will have some teething problems – including third-party solutions – but smart planning and intelligent migration management will ensure that productivity remains unaffected. Microsoft is actually fairly unique in that it facilitates gradual migration by means of hybrid deployments designed into their onsite software for this very purpose. This dramatically reduces the risks associated with “Big Bang” migration trauma for larger businesses.

 

There can, admittedly, be challenges when migrating from very old versions of Microsoft Desktop, Office and Server, but these issues are certainly not insurmountable and are probably unavoidable regardless of the system you choose. An experienced migration team will include this in the pre-migration planning and remediation phases, and it should not cause any major disruption.

 

  • Continual updates and bug fixes in Office 365 will negatively affect productivity

With the continual improvements taking place in Office 365, there are going to be updates and bug fixes – that’s a reality of any cloud platform, and one users will need to learn to accept. It is important to note, however, that small, ongoing updates are a lot less disruptive than the major overhauls necessary to upgrade outdated software and services that have not been maintained on an ongoing basis, as is common in onsite scenarios. The huge IT costs associated with these upgrades are also no longer your problem.

 

  • On-premises third-party archives don’t work with Office 365

Soarsoft International specialises in migrating on-premises and third-party archives to the cloud, but many of our customers also choose to co-exist and/or age out their third-party archives rather than take them through the migration process. These cases do require careful planning to ensure compatibility with Office 365 mailboxes, but most good third-party on-premises archive systems are Office 365 compatible and don’t have a problem operating in a hybrid environment. Those systems that are not compatible require a little more work, but are not impossible to use as part of a hybrid solution, either.

 

  • Microsoft Office 365 is unreliable and suffers from frequent downtime

With a 99.9% uptime SLA, Microsoft’s redundancy is considerable and includes local as well as geo-redundancy. That’s not to say downtime doesn’t happen, but the promised maximum of 8 hours a year is usually worlds better than any in-house IT can hope to affordably achieve. In fact, the only way to better those numbers would be to run two cloud service provider solutions, back-to-back, which is rarely financially justifiable for messaging and collaboration services.

 

In spite of this, you may well see “Microsoft Down Again” in headlines across the globe. Keep in mind that this usually only refers to a specific geographic region or “sub” service, and the vast majority of users, whose services are delivered from data centres across the globe, will be completely unaffected thanks to redundancy protocols.

 

  • Microsoft does not offer “true” email archiving, and emails can be permanently deleted by users at any time

Office 365’s archiving, eDiscovery and compliance functionality is exceptional, and anyone telling you it’s not available is either uninformed or serving their own agenda.

 

Deploying the comprehensive retention, eDiscovery and data leak prevention services provided by Microsoft is a standard (and simple) part of any Office 365 migration, which must be done prior to moving mailboxes in order for them to be protected from day one. If these services haven’t been put in place, a user could, theoretically, delete an email permanently. But then, expecting an archive to be able to protect information without being deployed is like expecting a wetsuit to keep you warm without putting it on.

 

In addition to its archiving abilities, Office 365 is also poised to make its mailboxes unlimited in size. That means you’ll never have to actively archive a single email again if you don’t want to. All your data will be protected by the In-Place Hold mailbox rules, where it will automatically be subject to any retention rules that have been put in place.

 

  • Office 365 requires third-party add-ons in order to provide all the functionality a business may need

Unless you have extremely advanced eDiscovery and sampling needs (generally only required in the USA and brokerages), specific data sovereignty requirements, or exceptional search performance requirements across a huge user base (20 000 users or more)*, Office 365 can cover all your needs.

 

That said, it’s important to remember that not all Office 365 packages are equal, and some will be more appropriate for your needs than others. We find the E3 package is the most popular enterprise solution, as it includes advanced compliance, DLP, archiving, basic rights management, eDiscovery, information protection and cutting edge security. Whatever your needs, make sure you take a good look at what is and isn’t included before you make a selection, or discuss your requirements with a migration expert. That way, you’ll get the most value from your package, and you won’t end up paying another vendor for functionality you already have.

 

* In these rare, edge cases, an onsite solution is almost always the preferred answer – no cloud platform or third-party add-on is currently able to serve these particular, specialised needs.

 

Interesting fact: Microsoft recently acquired Equivio as part of their ongoing investment and development in the eDiscovery arena – another sign of the company’s dedication to providing a comprehensive archiving, eDiscovery and information governance solution. Watch out for even more advanced eDiscovery and early case assessment features in the near future.

 

  • Mobile users cannot search or recover archived data from their mobile devices

There is currently mobile access to the user’s personal online archive via the OWA Mobile App. This App is overdue for refinement and is currently in development, however; with a 50GB mailbox (rumoured to soon be a 100GB) on “E” plans, this is usually a moot point as almost all the data is still in the primary mailbox, accessible and searchable via almost any device.

 

  • Using Office 365 alone is risky, since you’re entrusting all your data to one service provider

The risk involved in using a single service provider really depends on how trustworthy that provider is. Entrusting all your data to a global vendor with significant market share and unparalleled security is, in our opinion, far less risky than splitting it between multiple, smaller vendors who may each have their own vulnerabilities and potential problems.

 

Two extremely trustworthy service providers are better than one, but then you’re paying for the same highly redundant service twice and, in our experience, this has only been justifiable on very rare and specific occasions.

 

  • Third-party solutions offer more comprehensive functionality than their Office 365 counterparts

A few years go, this may have been true, but with the incredible rate of development we’re seeing from the Microsoft team, you’re unlikely to find a third-party solution that works better than its built-in Office 365 counterpart for long. Taking into account the fact that your chosen solution should last at least five years, it’s highly likely that whatever third-party option you select will be surpassed long before it ages out. What, then, is the point in paying extra for something that will, in all likelihood, become outdated in the long term and incur additional migration costs when the time comes?

We see too many clients paying more than they should, or not using the functionality they have paid for, because product ignorance or vendor “spin” has led them down the wrong path. That’s not to say it’s impossible for a third-party solution to be the right choice for you, and we do still deploy them as they have their place in specific scenarios, but make sure you have all the facts or a well-informed opinion before making that call.

 

 

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