Software Development

A stuttered start with Office 365

Weeks went by, and Tony McSherry was not able to finish his Office 365 set-up, all thanks to an intransigent domain registrar. One that was in the same corporation selling Office 365 subscriptions.

The growth of the now ubiquitous internet has caused many changes, as the widely reported woes of our traditional media and retail commerce have shown. For my company, it's changed the way we work, and reduced the need for both office space and on-site servers and their management.

My company produces e-learning, and has had offices for over 25 years. The current office used to be where work occurred, clients were met, and our staff and contractors gathered. We had around 12 workstations for developers, and various other workstations for office admin, as well as our in-house servers and our Microsoft Small Business Server.

When I added office rent, utilities, council rates, telephones, broadband, insurance, and the hours spent on server maintenance and management, I realised that I was paying more than AU$80,000 annually.

Our staff and contractors had begun to work offsite using their own computers, instant messaging, and our online servers. During the last few years, our clients, both old and new, had never visited our office and were, in fact, mainly interstate. We still required space for our servers and audio and video production, but a single room would suffice, rather than the 800 square metres that was being underutilised.

The availability of Office 365 for a monthly subscription provided the final impetus to close our existing office and move the remaining onsite business functions to a single-room office closer to home.

If you've used MS Small Business Server, Office 365 is very familiar. You have Exchange, Outlook, and a SharePoint team site. In addition, you have the Office web apps, Lync for messaging and conferencing, and a website. You receive a domain name in the form yourcompany.onmicrosoft.com, or you can move your current domain to Microsoft. I elected to keep my current website with my domain registrar, but transferred my name server records to Microsoft so my Exchange mail accounts were handled by Microsoft rather than my Small Business Server.

I initially signed up for a 10-user Office 365 Small Business licence with Telstra T-Suite (the Australian Office 365 provider) for AU$7.90 per user per month. The Office 365 Small Business Premium package (AU$13.50 per user per month) provided Office 2013 desktop applications for users, but since we still have Office 2010 licences installed, I thought I'd skip it for the moment. Unfortunately, when I later decided that I'd like to move to the next level, I was told I'd need to wait a few more weeks, as the plans were undergoing an upgrade that currently prevented me from simply upgrading. Hopefully, that'll be available soon. Telstra also offers Office 365 for Midsized Business at AU$16.50 per user per month for 11 to 250 users.

I also found that I could reduce my original 10 licences to the number of users I required, and when I could upgrade to the Premium package, I could also opt to only use these Premium licences for selected accounts.

Once you've arranged payment, you sign in to Office 365 as an admin to start setting up. I began the step-by-step process with creating user accounts. These will initially have a @companyname.onmicrosoft.com attached, but once you move your DNS records to Microsoft, you'll have your familiar email addresses.

If you can manage your own DNS and change your records and name servers, then I'm sure the process of setting up your email would be fairly painless. My current domain name manager is Telstra, and I expected the process to be fairly quick. How wrong I was. The department was apparently named WebCentral, but I have no idea whether it is outsourced or an internal Telstra department.

My first hint of trouble was proving I owned the domain. I accessed WebCentral's web console and placed a job in the support queue to add a TXT record, so that Office 365 could confirm that I owned the domain name.

When nothing happened for a day or so (the Office 365 set-up process will test if the record is there), I decided on a phone call. After a long wait, this ended up with the operator placing another job in the queue. I received notification that the job had been sent to a different DNS admin job queue (which I couldn't see).

For the next day or so, I fruitlessly tried the Office 365 set-up, and put some messages into the current support job, but with no reply. I finally placed a job with the Telstra T-Suite support, explaining that I couldn't proceed.

Happily, I was called in a few hours by a very helpful consultant who had confirmed my domain ownership, which allowed me to move to the next stage.

The next step was asking Telstra WebCentral to point my DNS name servers to Microsoft. Office 365 provides a handy letter to your domain registrar, explaining the need for the change and the required data. I copied and pasted this into the support job queue, and, knowing that DNS changes can take a bit of time to propagate, I thought I'd give it a day. A week later, though, I was getting desperate.

I needed to move out of my physical office, but I couldn't move my current Exchange server until I could switch it off. We'd finished the process of moving email accounts and documents across to Office 365, but they couldn't go live without the name server changes.

Repeated support job requests to WebCentral received no reply, and a phone call just seemed to create another job in the queue. I really couldn't believe this was happening, as Telstra was both my domain registrar and Office 365 provider.

In desperation, I returned to the helpful consultant at Telstra T-Suite, who promised to investigate the problem. In the end, he waited 2 hours on WebCentral's support line to find a solution. Apparently, WebCentral couldn't perform this action until I posted a statement that I would keep paying them on the job queue. This was the first I'd heard of this, as I'd had no replies to my many requests for information, but I immediately posted a statement and 15 minutes later, everything worked.

I'll cover the features of Office 365 and the details of our migration in a future column. During those two weeks, I received some of the best and worst customer support from the same company. I would recommend Telstra T-Suite support without hesitation, and I'm very happy with Office 365, but I think it may be time to change my domain manager.

About

Tony is the owner and managing director of Microcraft eLearning and is one of the creators of the AUTHOR eLearning Development System.

4 comments
gechurch
gechurch

It's almost the exact opposite of my first experience. The first customer I moved to Office 365 had their domain with Telstra too. I just logged into Mission Control and logged a job explaining the DNS change and why I needed it and it was done a short time later. The T-Suite/Office 365 end on the other hand was painful. This was in the fairly early days of Telstra reselling Office 365 and their integration wasn't great. I can't remember all the issues, but there were billing issues and a DNS issue (the change didn't get picked up due to a missing trailing "." from memory. I did change the DNS entry after figuring this out on my own (after asking for help online and calling several times without success). I still couldn't verify my domain though. In the end I got an appointment with someone from our local Telstra Business store and sat down with him. I watched him do the same thing I had done several times before and it just worked. Telstra must have made a change to their systems. I'm a consultant, so that was a few weeks overall time and several unbillable hours wasted. My favourite part of the whole process was when I first rang to sign up. I found the number on the web site - 1300 TSUITE. I rang it and asked to sign up for T-Suite and the person at the other end said "What's T-Suite?". She had never heard of it and had to put me through to another department!

Gisabun
Gisabun

Ever though of hiring a consultant who knows about Office 365?

info
info

...it's your decision to actually make. In most cases, like mine, I'm sure the IT Manager/Tech is just waiting for the 'call from management' that the office will be migrating to Office 365/Google Docs/other Cloud Services... because said management, or the company owner/president, had read that it was 'the' thing to do. At least my organization is used to being able to reach out, grab me by the scruff of the neck, and get me to do something NOW. They haven't liked the few times we've had to deal with outside providers for anything, because they're not used to being 'just another customer among many'. But it's coming eventually. You can be sure of that. Like it or not.

mdbizzarri
mdbizzarri

Office 365 is in reality, outsourcing part of your IT department. I have never been, or can I ever forsee letting go of control of all that I am responsible for. From what I can tell based off of your article, it appears that your provider's workflow, and systems of checks and balances was way below par, and it took you to go around their normal workflow to find one person who cared about your needs, which I think that is a hit or miss proposition. One problem that I can foresee you having is there are no repercussions with Telstra or Microsoft if they cause some issue. The response time to an issue happening is probably going to be a lot slower as well. I think that having all of this as a back up to owning it myself, may be a good idea if I needed redundancy. I would rather be able to hold people accountable have issues resolved quicker, as well as answers for customers when there are issues than save some money. Bottom line is important, but taking care of customers is crucial. It sure is funny how people who make the decisions think outsourcing is good, but I think most people who deal with outsourcing hate it.

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