Microsoft's Office 365 - a discussion with John Betz

Microsoft's Director of Online Services lays out the rationale and the components of Office 365.

After my first experiences with Microsoft's Office 365 (see Trying out Microsoft Office 365 beta. for my initial comments on the Office 365 beta), I had an opportunity to talk with John Betz, Director of Online Services at Microsoft. We had a frank discussion about what the product was and was not. Thanks for taking the time to reach out to me, John.

John wanted to present a small deck of slide to me, but we were never able to get Live-Meeting to work with my FireFox/Mac environment.  Since the nice people of Waggner Edstrom had thoughtfully sent along the sides, the Live Meeting failure wasn't much of an issue.

Creating the foundation

We entered Mr. Peabody's Wayback machine and visited 1992. We saw how enterprises started to use PCs as a way to create personal productivity environments for their staff members.

We bopped a bit forward in time to see how The Internet arose and became the backbone of company to company, company to customer and customer to customer communication. At this point, the folks at Microsoft started thinking about turning those personal productivity products into services available on the network. The goal was to provide the same experience for network-hosted productivity tools as for locally installed tools. Microsoft has been working on this ever since, I was told.

Three layers of Microsoft's solution

Microsoft looked at the problem and segmented the problem into three layers:
  • Physical infrastructure
    • PCs — Microsoft saw that nearly all access point devices (smartphones, tablets, PCs and the like) must be able to access Microsoft's services
    • Servers — Microsoft, of course, focused on their own server products and didn't invest much time thinking about competing platforms
    • Network — Microsoft focused on making its products work efficiently on all of the networks customers were using.

  • A platform as a service offering that provides the basic system software support structure needed for applications and services. This is Microsoft's Azure
  • Software as a Service offerings for different audiences:
    • a consumer-focused set of products
    • a set of products focused on commercial organizations, and
    • a set of products and services offered by Microsoft's partners and third parties.

Office 365

Once we had history behind us and a platform for cloud-based applications in place, John and I discussed Office 365, its target audience and the products offered in the Office 365 Suite.

Microsoft Office 365 is targeting small to medium size organizations that want the Microsoft productivity environment, but would rather not have to have their own data center,  staff to manage it, developers and administrators. Other Microsoft products are focused on the needs of larger organizations.

Office 365 is made up of several components:

  • Microsoft Exchange Online to provide Email, calendar and contact lists
  • Microsoft Office Plus that allows Windows PCs to run Office applications locally or in the cloud
  • Microsoft SharePoint Online to allow staff to share documents, spreadsheets, presentation decks and the like
  • Microsoft Lync Online to allow staff to send instant messages and hold online meetings

Microsoft is offering a 99.9% uptime guarantee. That means that Office 365 should be unavailable only 8.76 hours in any given year.

Snapshot analysis

I was impressed by the thoroughness of the thought given to the service. I was also impressed that this package is not aimed at either my company or me. Those who have standardized on Windows desktops, Internet Explorer and Windows servers would be most pleased with this service. Others using Macs, Linux, FireFox or Chrome will find that much of this package will work, but not at the levels seen by Windows-oriented folks.

When I was told that the beta test was made available in 38 markets, in 17 languages on day one, I was very impressed. Quite a bit of work was done before anyone could use this suite.

Is this suite for you? It could be very beneficial to the right people. Is it for me? No, not really.