Office 365 and the Microsoft Cloud: Questions Answered, Questions Raised

You can pick up an app on Office 365 Marketplace for less than what some people spend on their morning latte.  That lightweight, stop-by-virtually-and-pick-it-up ease of deployment is what is so enticing about Office 365 in general.  At least from an end-user’s perspective...

...And a developer’s perspective. We spoke to Dave Chennault, an IT auditor (CISSP) who writes about SharePoint, SharePoint governance, and SharePoint in the cloud. Chennault is also president of Skylite Systems, whose app is featured on Office 365 Marketplace: Skylite Systems SideKick 365XRM.  SideKick 365XRM was built using SharePoint 2010 and takes advantage of Office 365 to make sense of and manage the appointments, files, contacts, emails, notes, and practically everything you’d touch that’s associated with your organization’s sales and marketing efforts.

Chennault’s view of Office 365 and Office 365 Marketplace is, perhaps unsurprisingly, positive. “The really cool thing about Office 365 from our perspective is the entrepreneurial side of things. For people who want to deploy things, we have the best of the best running the infrastructure and delivering 99.99 percent uptime.”

Although recent concerns have been voiced about the strict requirements Microsoft has set for developers wanting to participate in Office 365 Marketplace, Chennault sees value in the time savings and high availability of a Microsoft-hosted offering.  “Microsoft’s value proposition is 'we will not only hire the best and ensure you this uptime, but we will put dollars behind it.' The time to deploy is a couple hours—there’s no more procurement cycle with hardware, software, test, and hiring personnel.”

What about security?
As an IT auditor, Chennault has heard the objections of  fellow IT auditors to Microsoft Office 365 and the cloud in general: What about security?

“Here’s one train of thought,” Chennault says to them. “In your personal life, you have credit cards on file, you use the cloud but it’s hosted by other companies. Why do you think Microsoft is going to be any worse than your own bank? Give me a good reason as an auditor—tell me why your security is better than Microsoft’s.”

He also notes that many who question the security of Office 365 are already using Salesforce. Why, he asks, would they have a problem with Office 365 when they’re already entrusting their crucial sales portfolio and marketing leads to a cloud solution?

What organizations might most benefit from using Office 365?
Aside from the obvious answer, that small businesses and companies not in the business of providing IT will benefit from using Office 365, Chennault says that organizations choosing to go to Office 365 will include “Companies in the deepest financial trouble. People under the most stress, whatever their verticals—[those with] the need to compete efficiently. The economic pressure is going to be so great [for those companies needing to cut costs and show shareholders profits] that most will move.”

How will IT’s role change?
This is where, if you know any Windows admins, or—surprise! are one--you might be forgiven for getting a little touchy. The elephant in the room, which is generally shellacked and covered with wallpaper when the talk turns to cloud computing, is the gray area, the question, What’s going to happen to IT in a cloud-computing world? More specifically, in an Office 365 world?

“What’s going to happen, in my opinion—IT will be last to approve Office 365,” Chennault says. “Decisions will be made from a financial perspective—it will come down the chain, not up.”

On a positive note, he adds, “The skills are not going to go away—it’s not going to be such a crazy change—you can still develop, for example.” Still, “the guys that should be worried are Windows NT guys.”

IT’s role will continue to evolve—that’s a given, even for those of us observing from the peanut gallery. You’ve likely seen the rise of “credit-card IT” where employers give a credit card to employees to purchase the computing equipment they need. Maybe you're dealing with the reality of trying to support consumer-oriented products such as the iPad, iPhone, and Droid into the workplace. You might even know a marketing exec or powerful end-user who singlehandedly dragged IT and the organization into adopting SharePoint.

Chennault’s view of IT’s role in regards to Office 365 is a somewhat positive, though ambiguous one that could be applied to most emerging computing fads and trends: “The role for IT will be to help the business make sense of it.”

Where will Microsoft go with Office 365?
Microsoft is not primed to take over the hosted environment world. At least, not the dedicated hosted world, Chennault says. But in the multi-tenant space? “Microsoft will crush the competition.”

To the ends of the Earth and beyond?
Chennault also noted that Microsoft is going to give Office 365 to students. Indeed, Microsoft has offered its free [email protected] service to educators for years. Now it will shift away from [email protected] and offer Office 365 instead, a transition which we’ll leave to the IT folks in education to comment about.

Cloud power--the power to strike nerves
One of the quickest ways to rile up an admin or IT pro is to talk about cloud computing. The old hands will tell you it's just a rehash of Thin Client computing. The younger ones will question security and deny their organizations would ever go there. Still others insist it's just a ploy by journalists and marketers to sensationalize a minor development in the computer industry.

In my hometown back in Wyoming, we had this Zen koan that could, in a Yogi Berra sort of way, relate to cloud computing, or journalists and cloud computing, if you mulled it over after a half hour spent at the Buckhorn Bar down by the railroad tracks: "A skunk standing on a highway about to let loose a spray cares not whether the intruder is a Ford or a Chevy--all he cares about is making things stink."

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