Four secrets of a successful Office 365 deployment

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Office 365 may alleviate some of your admin tasks — but you still need to take the right steps to ensure optimum results. Ed Bott shares a few tricks that will make your job a little easier.

You might be able to kick the server out of your office and move it to the cloud, but that doesn't mean your responsibilities as an administrator disappear. When you manage an Office 365 deployment for your organization, you still have plenty of work to do. The good news is most of that work can be done in a web browser or a PowerShell console.

In this article, I share four of my favorite discoveries for getting the most out of an Office 365 deployment.

1: Choose the right Office 365 plan

One of the biggest complaints about Office 365 is that it's difficult to understand the differences between plans. That's a fair criticism. You have a dizzying array of Office 365 plans to choose from, and sorting out all the options can, ironically, require a big spreadsheet.

So let me simplify.

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Office 365 is available in three families:

Office 365 Home, Office 365 Personal, and Office 365 University

Forget about these editions for business use. They're fine for your school-age kids or for installing on a home PC that you use strictly for family affairs, but they don't include the business-grade online services. (You get the free Outlook.com email and OneDrive instead.)

Even more important: The license agreement for all three plans specifically disallows their use for commercial purposes. If you have employees using any of these editions of Office 365, make sure you provide them with a business license through your organization so that their use of Office for work purposes is covered.

Office 365 Small Business and Small Business Premium

This family includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync. The Premium subscription includes the right to install the Office desktop programs and tablet apps on multiple devices. (For more details, see my earlier article "Set up Office 365 Small Business Premium in five steps.") While the price might be tempting, I suggest skipping this family as well. Why? Because although the core product is the same as the more expensive Enterprise edition, some key features are missing, including two we'll look at shortly: multi-factor authentication and upgraded personal storage.

Office 365 Enterprise

You get a few enterprise-specific features with the E3 and E4 Enterprise plans (such as archiving and discovery holds, which are useful if you're involved in litigation). But the biggest benefit they give you is access to the full Office 365 administrative interface, the one intended for IT pros. By contrast, the Small Business plans include a more limited set of administrative tools.

Once you set up an organizational Office 365 account, you can mix and match plans from the same family within your organization. But make sure you start in the right family to begin with. (For more details, start at the Office 365 for Business page or go straight to the Compare all plans page.)

And if you chose the wrong plan, don't despair: There's a Switch Plans wizard that allows you to migrate from one plan to another (from Small Business to Enterprise E3, for example) in as little as 10 minutes.

Figure A
Figure B

2: Set up multi-factor authentication

Protecting your organization's email accounts from compromise is incredibly important. An unauthorized person who breaks into an email account for your organization can wreak havoc with that individual's connected services and can potentially gain access to your network as well.

So how do you protect your users from phishing attempts, keyloggers, and other password-stealing techniques? The best strategy in Office 365 is to turn on multi-factor authentication. This option, which is available only in Midsize and Enterprise editions, lets you require additional verification before accessing an email account on a new device or performing a system action, such as changing your password.

To get started with multi-factor authentication, open the Office 365 Admin Center, click Users and Groups, and then look just above the list of users for the Set Multi-Factor Authentication Requirements line. Click Set Up and follow the instructions from there.

Figure C

When multi-factor authentication is enabled for an account, users need to correctly enter their password and then provide a second form of authentication — a code sent via text message or phone call to a number associated with the account or one generated by an authenticator app on a smartphone.

You can read more details in this TechNet whitepaper: Multi-Factor Authentication for Office 365.

3: Set up shared email accounts

This little-known feature is a great way to make sure important incoming email messages are dealt with promptly, without having to rely on a single person.

A shared email account is not assigned to a specific Office 365 subscriber and doesn't count against your pool of licenses. Instead, it functions as a mailbox you can assign to one or more people, who can access the contents of that mailbox and reply to messages using the same alias. You might set up a Sales@yourcompany.com mailbox, for example, and let customers and prospects send email to that address for a quick response.

When you set up a shared mailbox, you assign one or more individuals who can access that mailbox from Outlook. (It shows up at the bottom.) For instance, if you have five people in your sales department, you can give them all access to the shared mailbox. If George exchanges email messages with a prospect this week, Rose can handle follow-up questions when George goes on vacation, reading through previous messages to get up to speed quickly.

You set up a shared mailbox from the same location in the Office 365 administrative interface where you create a regular mailbox. Click the Shared Mailboxes tab, enter the email address you want to use, and assign access by choosing names from the Add Members dialog box.

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4: Add more storage to OneDrive for Business

As of this writing, every Office 365 user who has been assigned a license that includes SharePoint Online gets 25 GB of personal storage. Files stored in that location can be synced between devices using the OneDrive for Business utility (previously known as SkyDrive Pro).

However, that storage allocation is about to change. In early 2014, Microsoft announced it was increasing the allocation 50-fold, to 1 TB per user account. The change will be effective this summer, with the higher allotments being rolled out worldwide on a staggered schedule.

Unfortunately, those private allocations, as generous as they are, can't be moved between user accounts. Nor can they be used for company-controlled SharePoint sites. An individual can create and share folders based on your organization's policy, but what if you need shared storage where the organization is the owner? In that case, you can buy more storage. Microsoft buries these details, so follow along.

Every Small Business, Midsize, and Enterprise organizational account gets 10 GB of shared storage for use on SharePoint sites, with an additional 500 MB added to that shared total for each subscriber account in the organization. That shared allotment is separate from the allocation to each user for personal OneDrive for Business storage.

You can't buy extra storage for a single user account. Instead, you purchase additional storage that is applied to your organizational account; if you want to increase the personal storage for a user account, you have to buy more shared storage and then allot part of that total to individual users. With the increase in OneDrive for Business storage, it's unlikely you'll need to do this.

Each additional GB of storage costs $0.20 per gigabyte per month, so an extra 100 GB will set you back $20 a month. You purchase that storage as an option for an existing organizational account or as an add-on to an Office 365 license.

Figure E

At any time, you can check the available storage for your organization in the SharePoint admin center. The Buy More Storage button on the toolbar is the most convenient way to get to the options that allow you to add more bytes for your business.

Figure F

Switch to the OneDrive for Business tab to see how much space is in use and how much is available for the current logged-on user.

Note that this administrative interface is available only with the Midsize Business and Enterprise accounts.

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