Alistair Speirs is a senior operations program manager on the Office team.
We recently released an Office 365 Fundamentals online course through the Microsoft Virtual Academy. This course helps IT professionals understand some of the basics of Office 365. For more advanced learning, check out the Managing Office 365 Identities and Services course. These courses have the added benefit of helping you prepare for the MCSA: Office 365 certification.
In this new blog post series, we want to share some additional commentary that we couldn’t squeeze into the courses. First, let’s answer a common question we hear: “As an IT professional, how should I think about Office 365 as a product and cloud computing in general?”
The word on the street: Everything is awesome in the cloud!
Have you heard the news about cloud computing? Do you raise your eyes reverentially to the cloud as if computing were performed in literal, not metaphoric clouds? Do you know that The Cloud is full of rainbows, lollipops, unicorns, and promises of new features, ubiquitous access and reliability that will never ever let you down?
Those of us in the IT profession have heard these sort of big rambunctious claims before, and we’re disappointed, but not surprised when cloud computing is promoted as yet another silver bullet. As IT pros, we know that the cloud is not a big, fluffy, happy place in the sky. But at the same time, it’s easy to see its potential to free up time for us, so we can focus on the more important IT initiatives and seize the opportunity to leverage billions of dollars of infrastructure in well managed, geo-redundant data centers.
Cloud services already pervade our personal lives—for email, online gaming, social networking, sharing photos, downloading apps, buying or streaming music, or watching videos. We’ve all benefited from and willingly consumed these cloud services in our day-to-day lives, and often we treat these services as a black box, a system whose inner workings are hidden from us.
But as cloud services begin to pervade our professional lives, we should not approach them as another black box. As technology professionals, it’s our jobs to understand, manage, and implement the cloud services our users use. That’s what makes us technology professionals, after all.
The long-term view: The cloud is the beginning of ubiquitous computing.
There have been various computer-driven revolutions in the past: the introduction of the PC at work and at home, the invention of the graphical interface, and the rise of the internet—just to name a few. There have also been technology eras where one type of computer has dominated, having straightforward implications for whether the computers were shared or personal, and for whether they were specialized commodities or not (see diagram below).
These computer-driven revolutions did not affect every business at the same time. Likewise, some organizations will adopt cloud computing as their default IT architecture faster than others. In the wise words of William Gibson, “The future has arrived—it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
Cloud computing also represents the beginning of ubiquitous computing, allowing users to access the power of thousands of computers. Cloud computing is democratizing technology, giving the smallest business the same capabilities as the largest, breaking down barriers between departments, and allowing for entirely different productivity experiences between managers, staff, vendors, contractors, and customers.
Office 365 today: The latest productivity services run from the Microsoft public cloud plus the latest apps.
Office 365 refers to any and all of the Microsoft productivity services, such as Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online. But Office 365 is not just a cloud version of familiar server products; it also provides delivery and management services to provide productivity apps on PCs, Macs, and mobile apps for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. In fact, these apps are how most Office 365 users interact with the service today—some not even realizing that they are using cloud services.
In addition to cloud-delivered versions of traditional productivity services, Office 365 can also provide cross-workload services that provide a cohesive experience to loosely coupled services. Upcoming features like document collaboration enhancements, using machine learning to drive smarter inboxes, and unifying group discussions through Yammer and Outlook Web App are all examples of this.
We’re also delivering new unique productivity experiences that have no on-premises equivalents. Services like Yammer, the enterprise social networking service in Office 365, are developed to be cloud-first and take advantage of the scale of Office 365 infrastructure, and they can tap into other workloads to provide a unique user experience.
Behind the scenes, there are shared platform services that help manage and support the user-facing services and applications. These include the identity platform that helps you manage your users across not only Office 365 applications and services but other business services from Microsoft, and perhaps across any other services that you want to federate with Windows Azure Active Directory Service and system monitoring services to ensure that all services stay healthy.
As you can imagine, managing such a diverse set of service requires very stringent operations delivered by the Office 365 team. Many of these services are really software-automated processes to handle service incidents, update management, and compliance requirements. While these day-to-day operations are carried out by Microsoft, it’s important that they be transparent to the administrator through consolidated reporting services, service request processes, and control documentation.
What this means to you, the IT professional: Don’t worry, we got this!
Ultimately, Office 365 allows you to focus on your users, and that’s what we want to help you do. We want you to stop worrying—worrying about all that deployment stuff and maintenance and patch management, worrying about whether you have enough capacity or load-bearing structural capacity, and worrying about building to support another server or whether there’s too much humidity in your data center. We have experts that can take care of all that, and they can do it at a scale that is much more cost effective.
Patching maintenance, upgrades, and all of that is the responsibility of Microsoft. You’re paying a monthly cost to make sure that you always have the latest and greatest experience, rather than trying to do that yourself or trying to get budget approval for a massive capital expenditure every few years. Office 365 enables you to spend more time working with your users on getting the most out of new technologies and exploiting business opportunities that only IT professionals can truly grok.