When Microsoft launches Office 365 on Tuesday, the countdown will officially begin for current BPOS customers to upgrade to the new suite.
BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) customers will have to migrate to Office 365 within the next 12 months, and IT administrators would do well to start familiarizing themselves with the process.
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For starters, BPOS works with some older versions of on-premise software products that Office 365 can't connect to, so BPOS administrators must be aware of potential upgrades they may need.
This is especially important for customers that implement hybrid deployments, so that the cloud software can interact and sync up with Microsoft desktop and server applications -- Microsoft's "software plus services" concept.
While Microsoft highlights this as an advantage for Office 365 compared with pure cloud rivals like Google Apps, it means that customers need to ensure they have certain versions of on-premise products to achieve a successful migration and implementation.
To Microsoft's credit, the company has plenty of information already available detailing the technical requirements for implementing Office 365, including necessary software, instructions for directory synchronization, troubleshooting tips, and blog postings. There is also a discussion forum and a special Web portal for Office 365 transitions.
The abundance of BPOS-to-Office 365 information could be indicative that the migration process may turn out complex, especially for smaller companies with few or no IT employees and little or no resources to hire outside help, said Rebecca Wettemann, a Nucleus Research analyst.
"If you need an entire website dedicated to explaining to people how you transition to Office 365, you've made things pretty complicated for the customer," she said.
Since Office 365 will provide a variety of critical functions, including e-mail, the stakes are high.
"The process doesn't seem straight-forward. Microsoft is relying on the customer to do some things that particularly small businesses may not be in a position to do successfully," she said. "This is e-mail. It's important. It's not something people can take casually, even if they're a small business."