Review: Office 365 turns up the heat

Latest blend of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync servers in the cloud combines an excellent feature set with easier setup and management

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All told, initial setup was a fairly quick process for us, followed by screens for entering individual user info for both the contact database and access control. You can add users in bulk by downloading a CSV template from the admin portal, though you'll still need to populate that file yourself before uploading. Some of the steps were still manual for us, like transferring MX records, but Microsoft promises step-by-step versions in the final.

Thanks to the new additions in Exchange Online, Office 365 now integrates most of your email security needs. You get a series of check boxes that allow for custom spam filters, including both spam and malware policies with quarantine. You can mark message types you consider to be spam and set up automatic response actions if Exchange Online detects one of those email types. You also get the ability to control access by mobile devices through Exchange ActiveSync policies (to ensure on-device encryption, strong passwords, and so on) and remotely wipe devices that are lost or stolen. It's an easier interface, but with fairly sophisticated features.

Office 365 service health monitoring
The Office 365 admin center has full system health monitoring for all your Office 365 services, which are tracked over time. Just click to drill down to individual processes, or to view history for the past 30 days.

Service Health is another feature that will be big for IT admins. Service Health provides an at-a-glance view of Office 365 service performance over time with drill-down for each service. There's a log of recent and upcoming updates, as well as a solid reporting engine, including visual graphics. From these screens you can view and manage all back-end Office 365 resources, among them mail, voice and conferencing, SharePoint sites, and user privileges.

Office 365 brings to mind the old Small Business Server that looks like it's designed for non-IT folks to set up and manage, but requires an IT staff or an IT consultant for most scenarios. The steps are simpler, but most of the work is still there. Syncing Active Directory, transferring an MX record, interpreting health reporting -- it's all easier, but nontechnical users won't even know what they're looking at. Getting Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync from the cloud will certainly save on hardware costs, but staffing needs will remain much the same for both the smaller shops and the bigger shops with more complex requirements.

Still, when you weigh functionality against cost, Office 365 would be a big step forward for many businesses. It's definitely worth a close look.

This story, "Review: Office 365 turns up the heat," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Windows, applications, and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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