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Office 365 removes the burden of server management and offers small businesses the convenience and simplicity that larger enterprises enjoy. This tutorial walks you through the setup process.
If you have a business to run, the last thing you need is a server to manage. That's the fundamental appeal of cloud services, which take away the hassle of paying for expensive hardware, managing licenses, patching software (and worrying about the consequences if you don't), and fielding calls from angry users when something goes wrong.
Office 365 could be the poster child for this new wave of cloud services. Instead of managing your own Exchange and SharePoint servers, you let Microsoft do the hard work in its data centers.
For large enterprises, this is a matter of shifting on-premises servers to the cloud, and Microsoft's online services were originally designed for this class of customer. But the latest release of Office 365 makes these same capabilities available to small businesses, even sole proprietors, in a subscription-based service that doesn't require any local servers or complicated license management schemes.
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In this article, I'll walk you through the process of setting up Office 365 Small Business and Small Business Premium. Small businesses typically don't have a dedicated IT staff, so all the steps I outline here can be performed by an IT consultant who has the requisite networking skills and then managed by a tech-savvy business owner, using the dashboard shown in Figure A. The entire process can be accomplished in as little as a few hours.
Before you begin
The best way to ensure that a move to the cloud goes smoothly is to do some homework first. To determine your business needs, start by asking five questions.
1: How many user accounts will you need?
The maximum number of users you can support with either of the Office Small Business products is 25. If you anticipate that your head count will expand beyond this size in the next few years, choose the Midsize Business plan (maximum 300 users) or one of the Enterprise plans instead.
2: How many users need email and cloud storage only?
Each one of these users will need a subscription to Office 365 Small Business. On a month-to-month basis, the cost is $6 per user per month. You can discount this price to an effective rate of $5 by paying in advance — $60 per user per year. The licenses are fully transferable, so if one employee leaves and is replaced during the subscription term, you can transfer the license with a few clicks and no extra cost.
3: How many users need access to the latest version of Microsoft Office?
The Office 365 Small Business Premium subscription includes the same email and cloud storage services as the Small Business offering but also gives each user with an active subscription the right to install the latest version of Office from the cloud on up to five PCs or Macs. The cost is $15 per user per month; an annual subscription costs $150, for an effective cost of $12.50 per month.
4: Do you need to migrate data from other servers or services?
The simplest scenario is a clean startup for a new business, without worrying about email archives or history. If you're willing to give your business a completely clean start, the setup process is extremely simple.
Most businesses, however, have email archives they want to maintain. For those scenarios, you have a variety of migration options, which I'll cover in a minute.
5: Do you anticipate that you will need any enterprise-specific features?
Most small businesses don't need to worry about this, but it's worth perusing the detailed feature checklists of all Office 365 editions to be certain you haven't overlooked something. In particular, you'll need to consider an Enterprise plan if you want to keep a mix of on-premises and cloud-based Exchange or if you want to use the Yammer social networking service. In addition, any business that is subject to statutory restrictions that require formal compliance and discovery regimens should consider the Enterprise offerings.
With those planning steps out of the way, it's time to get started.
Step 1: Create an Office 365 organizational account
This is a simple process that involves two steps.
First, you need to create your Office 365 organizational account. This is where you'll supply basic information about your business, including the crucial payment details. Start by filling in the required information here. (If you prefer to create a 30-day trial account for evaluation purposes, start here.)
Most of the details are straightforward: your name, company name, address, and so on. But two gotchas are worth noting:
- In the Email field (see item 1 in Figure B), be sure to enter an address that is not associated with the domain you plan to migrate. Otherwise, you risk losing important messages during the migration period. A free webmail account (Outlook.com or Gmail, for example) works well.
- Choose the subdomain name (item 2) carefully. The default entry is based on the Organization name you enter, but you can change it to whatever you prefer. After your account is created, you no longer have the option to change this value.
Figure BBe sure to set a strong password, one you don't use anywhere else.
You can log in to the Office 365 dashboard immediately by visiting Office.com and entering the username and ID you just created. For your first visit, you should go straight to the administrative dashboard. And be prepared to wait a while before commencing the next step. In my experience, it can take an hour or so before your services are available.
Step 2: Purchase licenses
Although you can skip this step until later, I recommend getting it out of the way now. Clicking the Licenses link on the dashboard takes you to a page that allows you to add licenses. (You'll assign those licenses to user accounts later.)
As you can see in Figure C, you have two options for adding licenses to your account:
- Enter a product key.
- Buy a new subscription directly from the dashboard using a credit card.
Step 3: Set up user accounts and assign licenses
The workflow for setting up a single user is fairly simple. Click the link under the Users & Groups heading on the dashboard and begin filling in the forms (Figure D). The steps involve entering full names and usernames for each user, assigning their location, and assigning a license, if you've purchased them already.
A few tips worth noting:
- You can add extra details about each new user, including their job title and phone numbers, by clicking the Additional Details link. Or you can set this task aside for later if you prefer.
- The second step of the wizard allows you to designate a user as an administrator. Note that your account — the one you created with your organizational account — is already an administrator. For Office 365 Small Business accounts, being an administrator is an all-or-nothing proposition, with the right to create and edit user accounts, reset users' passwords, and manage all service settings. This role should be reserved for only the most trusted employees.
- The Create User wizard allows you to assign an Office 365 subscription to a user, with Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync Online included. If you want to omit one or more of those services for an individual user, you'll have to go back after you've created the account to get the full group of settings.
Step 4: Migrate existing mail/calendar/messages
This is potentially the most confusing step, so it's worth studying these instructions carefully.
As I noted at the start, you can skip this process completely if you're willing to start your new email accounts from scratch. However, if you have existing email, calendars, and contacts to migrate, you'll need to move them from their current location to your newly set up Office 365 server.
There's a complicated process for automating this migration using the secret Exchange Control Panel, IMAP settings, and a CSV file. (I'll explain how to do that in a follow-up article.) But if you're migrating only a handful of users it's easy to accomplish this task manually.
Before you start migrating an individual account, I recommend that you forward all incoming messages from its current mail server to the new Office 365 address (email@example.com). This step ensures that the user associated with that account doesn't miss any messages during the migration process. (Don't worry, those forwarded messages will be there later when you change the default email address for the account to one in your custom domain.)
Next, you need to save the contents of your existing mailbox to an Outlook PST file.
- If you're currently using Microsoft Outlook (version 2007 or later) with a POP account, your email is already in a PST file. You just need to locate that file and use it for the import step I describe later.
- If you're currently using an IMAP account (including Gmail), you'll need to configure Outlook to connect to your mail server and download all messages from the server. Caution: Make sure you check the account settings carefully. If you want to migrate all your old messages, you'll need to ensure that Outlook's Mail To Keep Offline setting is set to All.
With all your existing mail saved in Outlook, follow these steps to save those messages for import:
- From Outlook's File menu, click File, Open & Export, Import/Export. That opens the dialog box shown in Figure E.
- Choose Export To A File and click Next.
- In the Export To A File dialog box, choose Outlook Data File (.pst) and click Next.
- Choose the set of folders you want to export from. If you want to save every bit of data, choose the top-level folder and make sure the Include Subfolders box is selected, as shown in Figure F.
- Choose a location and a filename for your PST file. Don't use the default file location or filename — those default settings are buried deep inside the logged-on user profile and are hard to find.
- Give the PST file a password if you want to add rudimentary protection to it and then click Finish. The save operation begins immediately. Be sure to leave your computer running and Outlook open until the operation is complete.
Figure FDo this for every user you plan to migrate. When you've successfully backed up all your email accounts, you can move on to the final step.
Step 5: Make the move
The final step is to attach your business's custom domain to your Office 365 account and assign email addresses in that domain to your user accounts.
Getting over this last hump requires that you have access to the nameserver and DNS settings for your business domain and the expertise to edit them. (If you don't have those skills, it's time to call in an expert.) It also requires a bit of patience, as you'll need to wait for your changes to propagate through the worldwide network of DNS servers.
Because GoDaddy and Office 365 have a partnership, the process for transferring a domain registered with GoDaddy can be done automatically, as shown in Figure G.
Figure GFor domains that are registered elsewhere, you first have to establish your ownership of the domain name by creating a single DNS record that Office 365 can use as verification. After this step is complete, you have a final choice to make:
- You can move all DNS settings to Office 365 and create any custom DNS records in the Office 365 interface. (This option is not available for Office 365 Enterprise plans.) If you don't have any external resources that depend on the domain name, such as an existing website, this is by far the easiest option. All you have to do is change the nameserver records at your domain registrar to point to the Office 365 servers using the values supplied in the Domains dashboard.
- If you prefer to manage your DNS externally, you'll need to create DNS records at your domain registrar. Microsoft includes detailed instructions for more than 20 commonly used domain registrars.
After you've made the necessary changes, wait for Office 365 to tell you the changes have been propagated successfully. You can check at any time by selecting an entry from the Domains list and then using the Domain Troubleshooter. If there are problems, you'll see specific information on what needs to be fixed. If everything's clear, you'll see a message like the one shown in Figure H.
With the custom domain attached to your account, you can now open each user account and replace those generic Office 365 addresses with usernames in your custom domain. The domain setup wizard lets you do this automatically for all the users in your organization. You can also change addresses manually from the Users section of the dashboard.
Once all that is complete, you're ready to go. Any user can access his or her Office 365 services from a web browser by signing in at Office.com. You can also set up Outlook using the newly created email addresses and import the mail you saved in Step 4. (The Import wizard is on the File menu, in the same location as the export options. Just choose the option to import from a file, point to the saved PST file, and wait for the import to complete.)
Your imported messages will be synchronized from Outlook to the Office 365 server, allowing you to access them from anywhere.