We recently finished our migration to the new Office 365 service from Microsoft, and we’re very, very excited to offer it to our clients. Very briefly, Office 365 is a cloud-based suite of services comprised of Exchange Online (for e-mail, calendaring, and tasks), SharePoint Online (for document sharing and collaboration), and Lync Online (for instant messaging, voice calls, and more). It’s a monthly subscription service, meaning that companies no longer need to pay for costly on-premise servers.
Setup for Office 365 is simple and the entire system has been extremely fast and stable. We have no qualms about migrating our clients to the new system, but a question that has already come up is, “Which Office 365 plan is right for my small business?”
P1: Office 365 for Professionals and Small Businesses
Microsoft offers a plan they call P1, which is specifically aimed at small businesses with 1 to 25 employees. It includes three main components, Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync, as well as Office Web Apps (the online versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint); all of it for only $6 per user/month. Sounds great right? Well, it’s not that simple. In order to keep the cost of this plan down in an effort to lure people away from the low-cost Google Apps, Microsoft excluded a number of features from the P1 plan that we think are deal breakers.
Two important limitations of the Office 365 P1 Plan
- No telephone technical support – This is the single biggest reason why the P1 “Small Business” plan is truly not a good fit for small businesses. Office 365 is extremely easy to deploy and manage as compared to on-premise Exchange or SharePoint, but it’s important to understand that because Office 365 exists on Microsoft’s remote servers, if a technical issue arises Microsoft is the only one who can fix it. And I would be lying if I said there won’t be an occasional technical issue. Whether it’s right at setup or 6 months down the road, I can guarantee that you will need Microsoft’s help at some point with Office 365. With the P1 plan, Microsoft only allows you access to an online forum where you can post questions—this is unacceptable for small businesses.
- No SSL with SharePoint– SSL (secure sockets layer) is the standard for ensuring security on the Internet. It’s what protects your credit card numbers from thieves when you buy online, and it verifies the authenticity of sites on the web that ask for your personal information.SSL is not available with the SharePoint site in the P1 plan, which means that any documents you upload and download to and from your site are not encrypted and can potentially be stolen while in transit. This is especially significant if your business plans to use SharePoint to store any sensitive client data, social security numbers, etc.
For more details, Brett Hill, a Microsoft MVP and Office 365 expert, goes in-depth about further limitations of the P1 plan in an article on his site: http://www.office365answers.com/Office-365s-P1-Plan-What-you-must-know.aspx.
As small business technology consultants, we can’t overlook these shortcomings, and we simply can’t recommend the P1 plan to our clients.
A better Office 365 plan
Fortunately, in addition to the P1 plan, Microsoft offers 4 levels of Enterprise Plans (Plan E1-E4) that address these shortcomings. They are a bit more expensive, but in our view they’re well worth the extra cost per month. And they’re still quite affordable. The E1 Plan, for example, includes Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync and is still only $10 per user/month.
An important note: If your business is only interested in Exchange Online and you don’t need the whole Office 365 suite, it’s available à la carte for just $5 per user/month. And, yes, it includes phone support.
If you’re new to Office 365 and want to learn more about how it can help your small business, feel free to post questions or contact Lanlogic directly.