While it isn’t exactly spring yet, but it sure feels like it where I’m from. I live in north-east Florida where it is usually much colder in January & February (30F’s-50F’s) than we are seeing now (50F’s-80F’s). As such, it feels like spring to me so my spring cleaning kicked in. This year I have embarked on two big personal projects. The first one, migrating my blog & site from the seemingly dead SubText engine to the open source OrchardCMS platform and host it on Windows Azure (currently working on this and I’ll have a whole series of posts on it once it’s done). The other one is what I wanted to touch on in this post: migrating as much stuff as I could to Office 365.
I’ve maintained an account on Office 365 for demos and testing so I’m still on the “2010” style Office 365 (not the new SharePoint/Exchange/Lync 2013) and my tenant hasn’t been upgraded yet. I also have been hosting email on my personal domains with a hosted Exchange provider (www.Intermedia.com). I like their service, but it always seemed pricy to me (~$30/mo/mailbox) and I only got hosted Exchange… no Lync or SharePoint (without an added cost). I host email for my wife & my personal email and my parent’s email which cost me roughly $120/mo (yes, pricy). In addition, I have a business telephone line for my home office from a VOIP provider (www.Vonage.com) for $25/mo + $0.25/voicemail transcription to text and emailed to me.
The voice transcription on my voicemails was never really good. Check out this message from a customer who was calling to pay a specific invoice number:
It was quite an internal joke with our company: “I know the sales guys can be aggressive, but the 8-ball business is strictly cash only… no invoices!”
I haven’t had any complaints about either provider except 4 email mailboxes + phone was costing me $145/mo. I also wanted to get Lync and SharePoint hosting. One other thing that did irk me was when Intermedia went to upgrade me from Exchange 2007 to 2010, I had to do most of the work using their tools.
The first thing was to evaluate the licensing plans. My parents only needed hosted mailboxes so I got them the Exchange Online Plan 1 which ran $4/mo/license. Not a bad start going from $30 to $4 per month (86% savings)!
Next I wanted to set my wife and I up with Lync, SharePoint and Exchange so I got each of us an Office 365 E1 Plan at $8/mo/license. Again, not bad going from $30 to $8 per month AND we get the latest versions of Exchange, Lync and SharePoint AND Microsoft handles all upgrades from one version to the next for you. While I’m not using it, it’s worth noting you could also use the directory sync to do single sign-on with your organization
So at this point I’ve managed to cut a $120/mo bill I paid for just Exchange hosting down to $24/mo and added Lync Online & SharePoint Online to the mix. Not bad!
Something I’ve always wanted to do was virtualize my business phone. When I saw Lync come out, it was ideal but noticed that Office 365 didn’t support the phone number capability. However as of late 2012, Office 365 supported integration with approved 3rd parties… there’s one in the US and one in the UK at this point. In order to do this you need something in Office 365 called Lync-To-Phone. This is included in the Lync Online Plan 3 license. In addition, for your phone & voicemail to integrate seamlessly with your email, you need Exchange Online Plan 2 license. After some research I noticed that of these were included in the Office 365 E4 Plan which ran $22/mo/license, but you’ll also need to sign up with the 3rd party to handle the telephone stuff (they provide the hosted PBX and your phone number to support inbound & outbound calling). For the US, at this time, only Jajah is supported and their pricing for someone like me is about $13/mo/number.
So, I purchased the Office 365 E4 plan, opened a support request asking them to cancel my currently unused E1 license as I “upgraded” to an E4, and signed up with Jajah. After the registration process with Jajah & entering the correct info into my Office 365 account (which was so easy as you just change one drop-down selector and make sure the office phone number field on your user account details matches the number Jajah gave you), it took a few hours for things to settle down and for me to get into my voicemail & set it up.
I haven’t done a lot of configuration of my voicemail yet because I’ve put in a request to port my existing work line from Vonage to Jajah which takes up to 4 weeks, but so far it looks very slick! You do all the administration from your mailbox in OWA (Outlook Web Access)! There are a lot of cool things you can do for instance:
- Calls ring on your computer or get forwarded to another number or you can simultaneously ring multiple numbers at once and first one to pickup wins
- You can transfer a call in process to another number including your cell if you need to walk away
- You can configure OWA to send you an email / text when you miss a call or when there’s a voicemail message
- Voicemails are transcribed to text and emailed to you with an attachment of the actual voice message
- There is a mini auto attendant where you can do things like “if a call is from [these contacts] during these hours, forward to my cell, otherwise forward to voicemail” or “let the caller press 1 if they want to find me by forwarding the call to my cell or stay on the line to just leave a message”
The resulting cost: after this change my account is now an E4 ($22/mo) + the phone service with Jajah ($13/mo).
So what did all this do? Well at the start of this post I explained what my current scenario was that was costing me $145/mo. After the move to Office 365, my monthly expense is down to $51/mo and I’ve gained the following features:
- Lync Online for two of my accounts (mom & dad don’t need it, much less could figure it out and use it)
- SharePoint Online for two of my accounts (see above)
- Virtualized phone number & voicemail tightly integrated with Lync & Exchange
- Automatically updated by Microsoft to the latest released versions of these products
I’m thrilled and with the new features & cost savings!
Two quick words about migration. First, you can use your own domains with Office 365. The steps they walk you through in the admin panel are a piece of cake. You first have to prove you control the domain (by simply entering a TXT record and telling Office 365 to do the check that you made the change) and then they tell you all the settings you need to enter.
Second, I didn’t have any SharePoint content to migrate, but I did have 4 Exchange mailboxes to migrate. The challenge for me was that in order to do the Office 365 out-of-the-box migration, I needed to do some console tweaks to Exchange. Unfortunately I didn’t have that access with Intermedia. However I did find an awesome site (http://www.MigrationWiz.com) that charged $10/mailbox to do the migration for me. I set everything up online and within a few hours, everything was migrated. There’s a more expensive option where you can do incremental mailbox migrations, but I was fine being offline for a few hours.