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A few days ago the public beta of Office 365 was announced - one of the most important software releases from Microsoft in decades. For those unfamiliar with Office 365 let’s just take a moment to gain an understanding of the offering before we dive into what’s available in there for IT professionals. If you know what it is skip the next paragraph.

Office 365 is summed up by the folks in marketing with the strapline, “Everything Microsoft knows about productivity” which I think is very accurate. It is NOT a new version of Microsoft Office. It is Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Lync running in the public cloud, meaning that we at Microsoft manage the servers to a 99.9% uptime service level from our own datacentres around the globe. There’s more though, it’s also Microsoft Office running in the cloud and Microsoft Office 2010 Professional Plus to install on your computers in some editions. The service is provided on a monthly subscription basis. For more information about the pricing and plans take a look at the Office 365 site. The pricing is why this is an uber important release for Microsoft. It moves Microsoft Office to a pay monthly option which frankly is huge…the whole capex to opex thing.

What’s in it for the IT pro though, what makes it tick and click for you? Well there’s a hefty helping of Powershell to keep you happy, there’s new technology to get to grips with in the form of Directory syncronisation and the excitement of federating your Active Directory safely over the internet. The icing on the cake comes in the form of SharePoint goodness which, although it’s mainly for developers is probably a place all you SharePoint heads will love digging about. So let’s take a look.

The first thing you’ll want to do is grab hold of some exciting word docs on the services within Office 365, so head to the service descriptions download (as it happens I’ll be taking these with me on holiday to read).

Next you’ll want to break open a PowerShell window and try some commands, there are lots (about 260 or so) but some of the goodness hidden within includes: Configuring Exchange Online mailbox sizes and limits, specify the email message format used for external recipients, requesting a Directory Service quota increase there are tons more things besides, but here’s a handy search of the KB to help you in your discovery.

Next we need to get you thinking about some of the key infrastructure stuff you’ll need to do, so how about learning all about ADFS as a primer? In fact you might prefer to learn it from Planky, our friendly UK Evangelist who not only understands ADFS but can also explain PKI to anyone in a way you’ll understand. To be honest you’ll probably benefit from a total understanding of how Exchange Online, part of Office 365, can co-exist with Exchange 2003. The 2007 and 2010 docs are coming but we are still in beta!

If you’re a SharePoint head you’re probably going to want to wrap your mind around a training kit and luckily MSDN already has materials materialising. There’s a training kit available that’s a thoroughly good read for anyone planning on doing anything deep with SharePoint.

Finally (and good for us all) are the skills you’ll need to rollout the full version of Office 365 which comes courtesy of a new TechCenter on TechNet, however the skills will be very familiar to anyone who’s rolled out Office 2010. It is the same product you know.

So there you have it, a whole bunch of handy resources to get you started on a journey with the beta, all you need to do now is visit the website and signup for the Office 365 Beta to start playing! If you want to know more, though, we are doing some in-depth stuff at Tech.Days 2011, so register to attend the Public Cloud for IT Professionals event @ TechDays, 25th May, London. Also check out the Office 365 Community and Office 365 Blog and Office 365 Wikis.