Thursday, July 21, 2011

Office365 vs Small Business Server


Any good business tries to do two things. Firstly, it tries to maximize returns and secondly it tries to minimize risk. It is important to note that one can generally never eliminate risk merely minimize it. With that in mind let's make a comparison of Small Business Server 2011 Standard (SBS) and Office365.

The elephant in the room when it comes to 'cloud computing' is generally security. However, it is important to keep some perspective here amongst all the pariahs. Most systems today, servers, desktops and mobile devices are connected to the 'cloud' and are as such subject to exactly the same risk. However, I would ask as to which systems have more resources dedicated to security and monitoring? An SBS server inside a business or the servers running Office365 maintained my Microsoft? Clearly it would have to be those of Microsoft. Importantly, this doesn't eliminate the risk of these systems but having servers and systems maintained by Microsoft would certainly reduce the risk to security.

When you run an internal SBS system you are totally dependent, normally, on a single Internet connection. If that fails for any reason then your connection to the outside world is severed. I f the same situation happened with Office365 workers could be up and operational again using wireless Internet cards or be allowed to work from home. Thus, there is a much higher dependency on your Internet connection if you select to run an on site network like SBS. With Office365 people can work where ever they have Internet connectivity, whether that be in your offices, at home, at a local coffee shop, the airport lounge or wherever.

Another reason cited by many for desiring on site servers is because they 'know where their data is'. If that is important to your business then that is what you should do but let me give you another real world analogy so we can look at this in perspective. Is it possible for you to ask your bank to see your money? I doubt it. We all trust the modern banking system, that whizzes money around the globe in ones and zeros, to store this valuable resource. Trusting our money to banks provides a significant amount of benefit doesn't it? It allows up to withdraw cash fro any ATM in the world. IT allows us to pay our bills from the privacy and comfort of our own homes any time we like. It provides us to a range of financial services that once was only the domain of the well to do. Sure you can keep all your money at home (on-site) but that makes things so much harder that for most people it isn't really worth considering is it? Most people appreciate the significant amount of benefit they receive, with minimal risk, for utilizing a bank so why is you data any different?

Following along with this analogy, most people still retain some cash locally for convenience and so it can be the same with data. The cloud is not an all or nothing strategy, especially in the Microsoft realm. Given some of the larger sizes of files and information in makes more sense to consider a hybrid strategy for your technology needs. We all know that bandwidth is not the same everywhere we go, however we all know that it is not getting slower. The SBS family is not limited merely to SBS Standard there is also SBS Essentials which is an onsite server that integrates closely with Office365, providing on site storage as well as access to all the features and functionality that Office365 provides. It is possible to do with the more onsite based SBS Standard system but if you have Office365 doing all the heavy lifting for Exchange, SharePoint, etc why would you need to replicate those features on site as SBS Standard does?

Importantly, in comparison between two potential offerings we should consider the feature sets. Now Office365 doesn't claim to do everything that SBS 2011 Standard does. Things such as SQL, patch management and third party applications are not currently handled by Office365 however that doesn't mean there isn't other options (especially from the fast developing Windows InTune for example). However, when you consider the core products such as Exchange for email and SharePoint for collaboration the biggest difference is the products that come with Office365 are the enterprise versions and importantly they are available from a single license. SBS 2011 Standard by comparison only contains the Standard editions of products like Exchange and SharePoint which lack features like legal hold and form services. Again, it seems to demonstrate that Office365 is offering more benefits than SBS 2011 standard.

In today's business environment flexibility to meet changing conditions and competition is important. SBS 2011 Standard requires a significant up front cost to implement and then continued ongoing maintenance. This means if you implement this and your business started to grow dramatically you'd have to invest more to scale up. Office365 by contrast (especially the enterprise SKU's) provide a far more flexible solution. If you only need 5 licenses this month, that's all you need to pay for. If however you need 10 next month you can scale up. If a certain group of users don't need all the power of Exchange then you can allow them to use the reduced functionality and costs of the kiosk workers licenses. With Office365 all you need to worry about is what features individual needs rather than guessing what features your whole business may need and being somewhat limited to that after the fact.

Unless you are an IT business your aim should be minimize the amount money that you spend on technology to provide you with business advantage. It means you also want the most flexibility and greatest range of features for your investment and on balance one would have to conclude that Office365 fits this bill much better than traditional on premises SBS. This doesn't mean that Office365 is the solution for all businesses and it doesn't mean that there things that Office365 can't do. What it does mean is that Office365 should be taken seriously as an option for even the small businesses that once only considered on site servers like SBS. Every business need to make its own decisions about risk and reward in regards to what works best for them, however the important thing is to these decisions based on solid information not the opinions of a vocal minority.