There’s no doubt that Office 365 is the biggest thing to hit to the enterprise since Salesforce. Microsoft touts that Office 365 has more than 85 million users, and is on course to surpass 100 million users by the end of the year. While these numbers might seem large, they still only represent about seven percent of Microsoft Office users worldwide. In other words, Office 365 is just getting started.
Office 365 has demonstrated its ability to boost productivity and decrease the burden of IT support. But, to harness those benefits, CIOs must take a step back and rethink the architecture on which it will run. When you adopt Office 365, the work of all your users moves from the desktop and the LAN to the cloud, which results in an explosion of Internet-bound traffic. Traffic can increase an average of 40 percent, depending on Internet usage and size of the business.
As the CIO, you should take lead your company’s Office 365 transition not just because it is so widely used, but also because it is a catalyst for understanding how to architect solutions for the consumption of cloud services. You are doing much more than simple app implementation, you are changing the way users work – the way IT works – and preparing your organization for a cloud-centric future.
Is your network ready?
The most overlooked factor in the success of Office 365 implementation is network readiness. It’s also the place where most go wrong due in large part to entrenched thinking about controls.
The networks we have today are not built to support a cloud application with the magnitude of Office 365. Unlike Salesforce or Workday, which are used sporadically or by specific departments, Office 365 moves many of your company’s most used applications, Office and email, from a LAN based network to a WAN based network. Where firewalls, proxies and Internet gateways were not in-line for office traffic with the on-prem solutions, they certainly are with Office 365. All that LAN traffic is now going out to the Internet. This requires a complete redesign of your network. Any attempt to run Office 365 on legacy architecture is doomed to fail.
According to a recent survey of enterprises that have implemented Office 365 (full disclosure: my employer Zscaler was a sponsor of the survey), respondents said they prepared for it in much of the same way they prepared for other SaaS applications: they made upgrades to their central gateways and increased bandwidth to backhaul traffic from branch offices, and in a few instances, they created local breakouts to the Internet from remote offices. But the majority still had problems. Almost 60 percent of respondents reported that user complaints about network performance persisted despite upgrades, and 70 percent of executives reported daily problems with poor performance. Increasing network capacity is not the answer.
Look for answers beyond the network
As the CIO and leader of your company’s digital transformation strategy, you have the opportunity to help the organization become more agile and adapt to changing customers needs and business situations. This goes beyond just running Office 365. However, before you can do so, you’ll have to accept a few new realities.
Chief among those is to recognize that the corporate network doesn’t play a role in this transition; in fact, if you continue to send Internet-bound traffic over an internal network before letting it go out to the open Internet, you will kill user experience on Office 365. Accept that the Internet is the new corporate network and commit to an Internet-first strategy with local breakouts for Internet traffic. Running major SaaS apps over this configuration leads to a better user experience, because users connect at the provider’s nearest point of presence, which is precisely what SaaS companies recommend for a fast user experience.
Accepting the Internet as your network may sound radical, but it is not. Recent threats have shown that enterprise networks are penetrable, so attempting to protect a crumbling perimeter by contorting traffic patterns makes less and less sense. Instead, you can use Office 365 as the push your organization needs to step away from legacy architectures and move forward, scaling your business and your IT infrastructure to meet the evolving needs of the business.
This is precisely where you, the CIO, come in: the shift to a cloud-first architecture is not a bottoms-up decision. It must come from the top down so that all teams involved – networking, security, application support and risk and compliance – can coordinate the necessary adjustments in strategy and practice to make the transition a success. Left to their own devices, many departments will fall back on traditional solutions, which will only slow and complicate the transition to a cloud-first orientation. Insist that your teams let go of the practices of the last decade and work together to determine the technologies, controls and practices needed to support a cloud application of Office 365’s magnitude.
Be clear, but realistic, about Office 365 benefits
Office 365 brings about change – measurable, positive change – but does not necessarily result in a cost benefit. In fact, nearly half of those in the survey mentioned above said that the cost of network infrastructure and equipment upgrades exceeded their estimates. That’s why it’s crucial for you to be clear about the benefits of running the suite in the cloud vs. the traditional way. They are many of these benefits, including: better collaboration among employees in dispersed locations, better productivity as users sign in from multiple devices, mobile usage, easier setup and maintenance. And the cloud model frees up resources to do important, strategic work rather than managing servers, licenses and upgrades.
You can also bring cost efficiency to the process by avoiding the missteps brought about by traditional, entrenched thinking. Despite upgrading firewalls and increasing bandwidth, most organizations in the survey were still plagued by user complaints, application availability challenges and slow performance.
To understand how to make the transition to a cloud-first strategy, work closely with your peers who have deployed Office 365 successfully and already realize the difference between best practices for legacy deployments vs. cloud deployments. Office 365 can be a catalyzing force in your digital transformation journey; not every application will be as trying, but what you learn in a successful deployment will give you the confidence to take on bigger transitions, like deploying your internal applications in the cloud.