Microsoft Office 365 Demystified

Microsoft Office 365 sounds cool, but leaves a lot to the imagination.  What is it, how much does it cost and is it worth it?  As I have discovered firsthand, it is what you want it to be.  The plans are highly customizable, making it an easy choice because it can be custom tailored to fit your needs and work with your budget. There are three main parts of Office 365: Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online.  Let’s delve into the details of each part.

Exchange Online
Exchange Online is for customers who need an exchange server only.  This is probably the most common service used in Office 365.  Exchange Online and Office 365 are often used interchangeably on the internet, but they are one and the same.  It does not matter if it is an Office 365 plan, or a Lync Online plan, it is still a subscription to Office 365.

The first plan is the Exchange Online Plan 1, which costs $4 a mailbox a month.  It does not have any quantity requirements so there can be as little as one mailbox on it. This is the plan I would recommend for customers who have no interest in SharePoint Online or Lync Online. Those services can be added to Plan 1 if you choose to do so down the road.
For a small company there is the option of a Professional Plan, also known as a P Plan.  As long as your company does not exceed fifty users you are eligible to use the P Plan.  The reason to select a P Plan over Plan 1 is for only $2 more per mailbox Lync, SharePoint and for Exchange Online is included. At $6 a mailbox there is a lot of bang for your buck.  This is a great plan and I wish it was like this across the board, but it has a maximum of fifty users.  Therefore, if your company outgrows a seat count of fifty users, Microsoft offers no way of upgrading to the next tier with unlimited seats.  You must cancel the P Plan and purchase your seats all over again on an E plan.  This is why I advise great care and consideration goes into choosing a plan.  Now, that’s not to say you’re completely stuck if the seat count rises above fifty.  There are ways to do a cloud to cloud migration from a P Plan to an E Plan by using sites such as  

The next step up in the exchange online only plans is Plan 2.  It contains everything in Plan 1, plus some enterprise features such as Unlimited Archive Space, Litigation Hold Capabilities and Unified Messaging.  This is offered at $8 per mailbox.  
That covers all of the exchange online plans for exchange online only. Here is the link to check out:  

More About P Plan
The P Plan has forefront online protection for email, but you don’t have access to the console in the P Plan like you do with the other 365 plans to customize your anti-spam features.  There is an option to use the MS name servers and add custom DNS records to point out to a website, or anything that requires an A Record or CNAME record.  That is not available in the other plans for some reason. I have found that when using MS name servers all of the services tend to work better.  Recently, I noticed that in the P Plans the password expiration has been set by default to never expire, not too long ago it was set to ninety days.  By default all other exchange plans have ninety days password expiration (as of the publication of this article).  This is a huge hassle for a lot of businesses with smart phones and tablets.  It looks like this complaint has been heard by Microsoft and they changed this policy for the P Plans.  For the other exchange plans it looks like you still need to use PowerShell in order to modify the password policy to your liking.  This link will give you a brief overview of what you’re getting with all the plans:

Enterprise Plans
There are four Enterprise Plans and this is where you start to mix the services of Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync with the advanced capabilities.  The E3 and E4 plans include a local installation of Office 2010 Pro Plus for five devices per subscription.  There is a tab for Kiosk Worker plans on the K plans page, which are very limited accounts.   There is only a 1 GB mailbox, but they have some limited SharePoint online functionality.  This page breaks down all the services separately how I presented them before:  As you go into the links individually you can become fairly granular with the selection of the services.  There is a possibility to have a hybrid situation where you have a premise based Exchange 2010 server with cloud archives in Exchange online, it’s really up to you.  

SharePoint Online Only
For those of you interested in SharePoint Online Only that is a valid option as well.   It is not SharePoint Server 2010 premise based, but you can do a lot of great SharePoint stuff.  For example, InfoPath Form Services, Taxonomy term stores and the User Profile Service to take advantage of my sites.  The same rule of thumb for the SharePoint plans, the more they cost the more features included.  All SharePoint Online Plans have 10GB of storage by default with the option to upgrade your storage for $.20 a GB a month all the way up to 25TB.  

Lync Online
Lync Online enables a company to have free/busy information on everyone in the company.  It integrates with outlook 2010, indicating if someone is in a meeting, or on the phone.  My colleagues and I have found it to be very helpful.  Additionally, there is a mobile application for your smart phone to join meetings, call your colleague’s Lync application on their workstation, or simply call their phone.  It also allows you to share your desktop with another user, or have a live community whiteboard session.  It is a great tool for instant communication in the corporate environment.  For Lync Online only if you already have everything else premise based, you can get started for as little as $2 a month per user.  

Office Web Apps
For those of you not familiar with Office Web Apps, this is a cool little tool to view and edit word, excel, power point and OneNote files in the cloud with no installation of office locally.  It is a great tool, but if an Excel spreadsheet has complicated graphs or charts it requires the local version.  It’s still a cool tool to have and it comes with the P Plan and some of the E Plans. It does not come with the Exchange online Plan 1 or Plan 2 plans.

Final Thoughts
There really is not much I can say as an administrator that is bad about Office 365.  From my experience if there is a mail flow issue or some other wacky issue I’m a middle man between our client and the 365 datacenter.  I contact Microsoft to find out what is going on in order to let the client know the issue at hand.   I have found that the service is fast and reliable, plus they are the only cloud service datacenter that is ISO and FISMA certified. You can learn more about the 365 datacenter here:

It is my belief that Office 365 is here to stay and will become the standard for hosted Exchange services.  When more people begin to realize the benefits of Sharepoint and Lync, it will become the standard cloud service everyone will want.

Comments (2)


For anyone who reads the article, and clicks the article was not helpful.  Please leave some comments as to why the article was not helpful.  Thank You

For organizations that still want to have a local backup of the mailbox and do not trust to have it all on the cloud with no in house backup I suggest taking a look at EdgeSafe ( they have a product that will incrementally sync the mailbox into PST file that can reside in a central storage or on portable HDD.

I just had a company that several users had their contacts and some mail folders deleted as a result of Iphone sync and as a result we had to manually recover items and had to lose most of the folder structure...

Have a question about something in this article? You can receive help directly from the article author. Sign up for a free trial to get started.