Why small businesses should switch from Exchange to Office 365

Get past the poorly chosen name and use this hosted service to eliminate deployment and maintenance hassles

I recently received a call from a California library with about 15 employees; they had a problem connecting to their on-premise Exchange environment. After a few questions, I determined it was a brand-new installation of Exchange, and there were connectivity problems through Outlook Web App involving certificates, as well as ActiveSync issues. What started as a simple pro bono assist turned into hours of troubleshooting to see where Exchange was improperly set up. It's clear that these small-business IT guys don't have the training to deploy a system as complex as Exchange.

At some point I asked the library head, "Why didn't you go with a hosted solution, like Office 365?" He'd never heard of it. That didn't surprise me, but I wondered if his IT admin had known of it or understood how it would've saved money on new hardware and software, along with the frustration that goes along with it. This incident marks the third time I've experienced such Exchange drama and Office 365 ignorance in just the past week.

[ Also on InfoWorld: J. Peter Bruzzese explains how to set up Exchange unified messaging without going insane. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

Unfortunately, the Office 365 name itself is partially to blame for the confusion over what it can do and for the service's obscurity in buyers' minds. The only decision worse than calling Microsoft's hosted Exchange email, SharePoint collaboration, and Lync unified communications servers "Office 365" was naming its predecessor "Business Productivity Online Suite" (BPOS). What's in a name? Simply put, if you call it "Office whatever," people get confused because they think it means the Office productivity suite. In fact, I'm constantly asked about the cool new version of Office and whether I like it. I have to explain there isn't a new version beyond Office 2010, and Office 365 is a hosted service. I swear I think people still don't believe me when they walk away.

It's imperative for small businesses to understand the value and benefits of a hosted Exchange service. Yes, you give up administrative control to a great degree, depending on the service offering. But you also forgo a great deal of administrative headaches. Disaster recovery, storage, and ensuring high availability are no longer your concern. In the case of Office 365, you get Exchange 2010, SharePoint 2010, and Lync 2010 without having to worry about the server infrastructure for any of these offerings.

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