Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Office 365 MVP Chad Mosman as part of the MVP Award Program Blog's "MVPs for Office 365" series. Office 365 MVP Chad Mosman is the Founder and Principal Consultant at MessageOps.  He founded MessageOps to focus 100% on delivering BPOS/Office 365 services and solutions.  MessageOps has developed numerous BPOS/Office 365 solutions, almost all of which are available as free downloads on the MessageOps website (http://www.messageops.com/).  Chad started his career at Microsoft in Product Support Services, supporting Exchange over the phone and onsite.  He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in Computer Science.

The demand to get into the Office 365 Beta has been tremendous and the end result for a lot of individuals and organizations is they still have not received their Beta invitation.  Even though you might not have your Beta invitation, there are probably several tasks you can start now to help you prepare.  In this article we’ll take a look at several tasks which can typically take a bit of lead time to complete.  By starting to at least think of these items today you can help ensure that you, or your customers, are ready to hit the ground running when you do get access to Office 365.  The primary focus of this article will be around email, since that seems to be the system that most organizations move to the cloud first.  Also much of this information doesn’t apply to current BPOS clients, but they can start thinking about Identity Federation and making sure their clients are up to date.

 

1. Review the Office 365 Beta Service Descriptions.  The Service Descriptions are a great resource for what features and functionality are included in the services that make up Office 365.  I really can’t stress this one enough.  Knowing what is included up front should reduce the likelihood of any surprises down the road.  It should be noted these are Beta, so they could change slightly. The Service Descriptions can be downloaded from: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=6c6ecc6c-64f5-490a-bca3-8835c9a4a2ea

 

2. Assess your network capacity.  If you currently run everything on-premise, you could see a significant increase in your Internet connection utilization when you move that traffic from the local network to the Internet.  Microsoft has some information for the current BPOS release which should be very similar to the requirements for Office 365. http://www.microsoft.com/online/help/en-us/helphowto/3dea7174-a521-4442-a7c5-5d540e09b20d.htm

 

3. Create an inventory of all the applications that rely on your current mail server.  Ask yourself, if your mail server was to go down which applications or processes would be impacted?  Obviously your end users wouldn’t be able to send or receive email, but what about things like integrated Fax and Voicemail, Multifunction printers and scanners, your CRM system, or that homebrew application which nobody has touched in years which relays mail through the local server. Once you have everything identified, try and determine if they can be reconfigured to work with Office 365.  Use the Service Description information to help determine if the access methods used by these applications are supported.

 

4. Determine what you are going to do with Public Folders (if applicable).  Public Folders aren’t available with Office 365, so you are probably going to have to move them to Shared Mailboxes or SharePoint Online.  If a Public Folders has an email address, you’ll probably have to move it a Shared Mailbox, as SharePoint Online doesn’t support inbound email for Document Libraries or Lists (which you would know by reading the Service Descriptions).  The Public Folder story hasn’t changed much since BPOS, so a good starting point on what to do is this Whitepaper on the topic: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=07bed889-7ee1-42fa96b1-e03deef18ce5

 

5. Ensure you clients are up to date.  The big to do here is upgrade all your Outlook clients to 2007 or greater.  Office 2003 and below are not supported.  The client OS’s will also require updates.  The clients can be updated by installing the Office 365 connector or pushing the updates via an existing software deployment system.

 

6. Prepare your Active Directory.  If you plan on using Directory Synchronization, you need to be aware that only a single forest can be synchronized to Office 365.  If you have multiple forests, and want to synchronize all users, you’ll have to consolidate everything to a single forest or determine which forest will be synchronized and create placeholder objects for users from other forests.

 

7. Determine if Simple or Rich Coexistence right for you.  This is a really big topic to cover in a short article, but I’ll give it a shot. Simple coexistence is what exists in BPOS today.  Essentially you get a Synchronized Address List and SMTP mailflow.  Free/busy sharing or shared mailbox access is not possible during the coexistence period with Simple Coexistence.  If you plan on having a short coexistence period, simple coexistence might be fine for you.  One other thing to note is to use the Microsoft migration tools you’ll need to have RPC over HTTPS enabled on your Exchange server, or IMAP enabled on your non-Exchange server. 

 

Rich Coexistence gives you the ability to do things like view Free/Busy between Office 365 and your on-premise mail server.  For additional features see: http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2010/10/19/456652.aspx

 

Rich coexistence is a great choice for larger organizations that want to migrate over time.  The big prep step here is it requires you have an Exchange 2010 server in your existing Exchange environment.   To assist you with this step, Microsoft has created a great tool which generates customized instructions on how to configure coexistence between your on-premise server and Exchange Online: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/exdeploy2010/

 

8. Determine if Identity Federation will be used.  Again, another really big topic, but very important to start thinking about.  Identity federation provides a single sign-on experience for users to access both the on-premises and cloud-based organizations with a single user name and password.  This is a significant improvement over what exists today.  Identity Federation in Office 365 uses Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS).  One thing to keep in mind is that Office 365 is authenticating users based on your local Active Directory.  If your Active Directory is unavailable, or the ADFS/ADFS proxy server servers aren’t available, users won’t be able to access the Office 365 services.  With that in mind, most organizations will want to design a system with redundancy built in, which will likely require additional physical or virtual servers installed on-premise.  A good starting point for information on Identity Federation is: http://onlinehelp.microsoft.com/en-us/office365-enterprises/ff652540.aspx

 

As you can see, even though you might not have access to Office 365 today, there are several tasks you can start on now to get you ready.