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Not all technology hosts are created equal.

There are substantial differences between the features, reliability, and security of each host.

We cannot compare Office 365 to the thousands of hosted Exchange and SharePoint providers in the market, nor would it be fair to compare Office 365 to a large third party provider and assume they are one in the same. Instead, we can examine one key difference that is known between Office 365 and all other providers. We’ll also address questions you should ask any third party hosting provider to accurately compare their solution to Office 365.

What is the one key difference between Office 365 and all third-party hosting providers?

Simple, it’s Microsoft. Microsoft designed, developed, and distributed the software. There are many providers that have hosted these products successfully, but they are not the developers of the products they host. Why is this important?

First, no third party hosting company can claim to match the resources, investment, and level of expertise in these products as Microsoft.

Second, Microsoft’s products are in a constant state of development to improve their capabilities, reliability and security. The improvements made to these products will flow directly into their Office 365 and CRM Online offerings.

Often these improvements come first to the online offering before their traditional client-server applications. As an Office 365 customer you will automatically have access to these improvements included in your subscription as they are released. Updates to these products may be available to third party hosting providers as well but you may be charged for these upgrades or the provider may not elect to deploy them at all.

What questions should you ask a third-party hosting provider of Exchange or SharePoint?

What is the mailbox size per user?

Mailbox size represents the amount of space for each user’s mailbox and how much room they will have to grow. File sizes continue to grow at an exponential rate, as does the volume of email that organizations handle each year. Your mailbox may only be 5GB today, but what will it be a year from now?

Office 365 provides each user on Exchange (sans Kiosk workers) a generous 50GB mailbox per user. This is far larger than most hosting providers. In addition, if you elect Exchange Plan 2 or the E3 package, each user will have an unlimited email archive.

Do you use multiple datacenters?

People often confuse what “the cloud” is and where their data goes. In short, “the cloud” is the transfer of applications and data from your server room or desktop to datacenters around the world that host thousands of servers acting as a single processing and distribution unit. Not only can the system handle multiple servers going offline, but some cloud solutions, including Office 365, can handle entire datacenters going offline. Ask your hosting provider what levels of redundancy they have in place for their hosting environment.

Can they handle the following:

  • Loss of multiple internet providers?
  • Loss of power to datacenter? If so, for how long?
  • Loss of a datacenter?
  • Do they have a backup datacenter? How quickly will that datacenter be operational? Is it automatic?

As for Office 365, Microsoft provides redundancy across datacenters located throughout the globe. If a datacenter fails, clients can be brought online in a matter of hours.

What is the hosting provider’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) and what credits do they offer if they fail to meet these standards?

Office 365 has experienced brief outages in the past and will experience them in the future. However, this is true of every hosting provider on the planet. No provider has ever obtained the mythical 100% uptime. The question is, how does the provider handle downtime and what level of service are they willing to stake the company’s reputation and bank account on?

Office 365 offers a 99.9% uptime guarantee with a financially-backed SLA. The service credit for any given month is the following:

Monthly Uptime

 Service Credit

<99.9% 25% Credit
<99% 50% Credit
<95% 100% Credit

We’ve all lived through an email outage. It’s a very frustrating experience and it’s unlikely that a 25% or even a 100% credit is going to make that experience justifiable. However, remember that this credit is not only applied to you but the millions of subscribers of Office 365. That translates into millions of dollars in expense for Microsoft. That’s plenty of incentive to figure out what went wrong and make sure that it never happens again. Is the same true of your hosting provider?

What qualifies as downtime?

A provider may offer an SLA that is better than 99.9%, but make sure you question what qualifies as downtime. Microsoft defines downtime as the following for Exchange Online: “Any period of time when end users are unable to send or receive email with Outlook Web Access.”

Microsoft designates Outlook Web Access (OWA) instead of Outlook because OWA is a direct connection to Exchange Online via the browser. Outlook issues may occur if your PC is not configured properly or Outlook is corrupted, but these issues are outside the control of Microsoft.

Third-party hosting providers may have a similar qualification or they may have one that doesn’t apply if: the outage occurs outside of business hours or during a holiday, is the result of a natural disaster, loss of power, loss of connectivity, or occurs during a full moon. You get the picture…

What level of transparency does the hosting provider allow?

This addresses important questions like:

  • How do I know if there is an outage?
  • It feels like email is coming in slower than usual, is there a performance problem?
  • We are down, when will we be back up?
  • How do you protect our data? Do you share it with any third parties?

Office 365 customers are able to see system statuses in real time via the Service Status Dashboard in Office 365. This dashboard will notify users if there is a degradation or loss of service with any of the Office 365 products.

In addition, Office 365 provides a Trust Center. The Trust Center outlines exactly how Microsoft handles your organization’s data. You can access the trust center here.

Are their hosted Exchange, SharePoint or Skype services integrated?

Your Office 365 services are tightly integrated together. For example, your Skype presence status is available in Outlook, Outlook Web App, and SharePoint. Other providers may offer these services but depending on their offerings the applications may not be integrated.

Does their product integrate with other third-party products?

This may not seem like a critical feature; however, as more and more applications move from traditional client-server environments to the cloud, it is important to ensure your core communication and collaboration services (Email, IM, and Document Management) can integrate with these solutions.

Microsoft has developed an Office 365 marketplace that is growing every day with optional add-on services and products that integrate with your Office 365 subscription.

How quickly will users gain access to feature releases and updates?

As new features for Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Office Professional become available they will be rolled out to the Office 365 community and will be available as part of your monthly subscription.

Providers may also release feature updates to their systems, however this may come at an additional cost and the timing will be entirely up to them.


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Contact us to learn more about Office 365, hosted Exchange and have every question answered.

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