News/Trends, Tech/Engineering

What Microsoft Won’t Tell You about Office 365 Subscription Plans

June 16, 2015 Originally posted June 2015, updated August 2019 Ed Bott

IT managers are by nature conservative. It comes with the job. So your first reaction to the thought of replacing traditional software installations with subscription services is likely to be, “What’s the catch?”

That’s especially true of Office 365, Microsoft’s subscription-based replacement for its traditional enterprise productivity services. Organizations worldwide run on Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, and other server-based products, with users using perpetual-license versions of Microsoft Office productivity programs on Windows PCs and Macs.

Switching to a subscription-based service means getting a more-or-less predictable monthly bill rather than writing huge checks every few years for company-wide upgrades.

There are other, less tangible differences, too.

Per-user licensing eliminates the headaches of buying, assigning, managing, and tracking individual software licenses and client access licenses (CALs) for server products. You assign a license to users based on their organizational email address. And when the user leaves the organization, you remove their license from the Office 365 dashboard. That straightforward process eliminates the cost and uncertainty of annual licensing audits for traditional licensing.

Office 365 plans that include the traditional Office programs – Word, Outlook, Excel, and so on – entitles your organization to install the software on up to five devices. Those installations are initiated by the user, with no product keys or installation media required. The user simply signs in using organizational credentials and uses the Click-to-Run installer. New product features, even whole new versions, are automatically installed as part of the normal background update process. That sure takes a load of work off the shoulders of any system administrator.

That doesn’t mean everything in the transition to Microsoft’s suite of cloud applications and services is self-evident. If your organization is considering an Office 365 migration, here are four key factors to consider.

Factor in all the costs

The simplest calculation for an Office 365 migration doesn’t require a spreadsheet. Just count the number of seats and multiply by the annual cost of your enterprise plan.

Chances are that number will seem high, perhaps as much as 30% higher than your corresponding budget for traditional server and desktop software licenses.

But the total cost becomes more reasonable when you factor in some of the savings:

  • Lower data center costs: You probably won’t be able to eliminate your server room completely, but you should be able to consolidate servers and cut your hardware budget.
  • Reduced IT workload: Because Microsoft is managing Exchange, SharePoint, and other servers, IT admins don’t have to plan for downtime to install patches each month.
  • Fewer help desk calls: Those self-service installations of Office apps on Windows, Mac, and mobile devices mean no lost product keys and no activation issues –both of which can cause serious support headaches and user angst.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match plans

Microsoft has a dizzying array of plans for Office 365. Plans in the Business group are intended for organizations with fewer than 300 users, while those in the Enterprise group allow you to provision an unlimited number of users.

The easy path is to choose the $20-per-month E3 plan for everybody, with Exchange email, OneDrive for Business, and the full suite of Office desktop programs and mobile apps. But you can squeeze out significant savings if you look past those all-in-one plans.

Do you want some users to have email only, without the full Office desktop suite? Then look at the two Exchange Online plans, which cost $4 and $8 a month, respectively. You can also trim costs by choosing individual services (such as Skype for Business online conferencing) from the a la carte menu.

Some judicious choices here can help reduce monthly budgets by 10% or more without impacting user productivity.

Take advantage of security options

Make sure to use multi-factor authentication, which significantly lowers the risk that user accounts will be hacked or phished. Authenticator apps are available on every mobile platform, which means your users can take advantage of the greater security afforded by multi-factor authentication regardless of smartphone platforms. There are also additional security features available from Microsoft and its partners for an additional cost.

Consider third-party data protection

While Office 365 comes with some native tools that can help when accidents happen, it may not be helpful in every situation. For example, if you delete or accidentally corrupt a file or two, Microsoft has tools to help restore that data for a limited time only. However, there are several scenarios where these tools may be insufficient. At worst, you may find important company data gone forever. If you’d like to completely protect your Office 365 data from malware, hackers, and rogue admins, then tools such as Druva inSync may be an ideal solution to securely backup your Office 365 apps.

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