Exchange Online vs. Office 365: Which plan is a better fit?

A switch from Exchange Server to Exchange Online might make financial sense, but it might not fit the needs of your organization. Here are some common migration mistakes to avoid.

A disconnect between IT and the end users can cause problems when it's time to pull the plug on your on-premises Exchange Server infrastructure.

Many organizations are dealing with the Exchange Online vs. Office 365 decision-making process as part of its messaging platform migration. Once you decide to move email from the data center, the IT department must then sift through the numerous factors to see if an Office 365 plan or one for just hosted email with the Exchange Online service will suffice. There is pressure to keep costs low, which can force IT to rush into a licensing decision that limits the ability to deliver crucial functionalities that users require.

For organizations moving from an Exchange Server on-premises configuration to Exchange Online or the full Office 365 suite, there are several key areas that are critical to the organization's success that don't always get the appropriate attention until the questions from users start rolling in when the migration is done.

1. Lack of email backups presents a risky scenario

It might be hard to believe, but Office 365 does not offer a backup service to its users. Microsoft provides recovery services going back up to 44 days for deleted email or mailboxes.

Many organizations ignore the lack of backup functionality until users lose email that even Microsoft support cannot recover. Backup is critical and every business moving to Office 365 should look at the offerings from third-party vendors such as SkyKick, Datto and Veaam in their Office 365 backup subscriptions for data protection.

2. Basic plans don't offer desired security features

One other area overlooked by IT when adopting a less-expensive Office 365 license is the advanced security, which is only available as an add-on for those plans. The choice to go with some of the low-cost plans in Office 365 -- Office 365 F1, Exchange Online Plan 1, Business Essentials or Business Premium -- brings with it the risk of missing out on the defensive capabilities around Advanced Threat Protection and anti-phishing that help keep the organization's data and systems safe.

Many organizations ignore the lack of backup functionality until users lose email that even Microsoft support cannot recover.

3. The advanced compliance capabilities might cost you extra

Some businesses must meet compliance requirements with the eDiscovery and On-Hold features. An organization that selects one of the lower-end plans, such as Office 365 F1, Exchange Online Plan 1, Office 365 Business Essentials or Office 365 Business Premium, will not have these compliance features. In most cases, to gain that functionality an organization would have to purchase additional licensing or the Exchange Online Protection Plan to add to each of its user licenses for those capabilities.

4. Try to account for all users' storage requirements

Microsoft has been generous with the amount of storage it includes with most of its Office 365 plans, except for the F1 plan, which gives each user 2 GB of email storage. But the reality is that the 50 GB you get in the Business Essentials plan is plenty for many who might have had a much smaller mailbox size when their mailbox was on premises.

However, one commonly overlooked area is archiving. The basic Office 365 subscriptions -- Office 365 F1, Exchange Online Plan 1, Office 365 Business Essentials or Office 365 Business Premium -- do not include an archive feature. This leaves many of the users on those plans who might have depended on an archiving product with their on-premises messaging platform without this safety net. Those users might want to migrate archived email into their main mailbox. In addition to Exchange Online archiving, you can store third-party data, including documents stored in Box and Facebook data for an extra fee.

5. Not getting full use of all available services in the Office 365 suite

Many organizations do a very narrow cloud migration and will just shift the messaging platform to Exchange Online. Some of the basic Office 365 plans cost just an additional dollar per user, per month to move from Exchange Online Plan 1 ($4 per user, per month) to Office 365 Business Essentials ($5 per user, per month). An organization that does not want to spend a relatively small amount will miss out on a number of valuable collaboration services that can help end users do more with the platform, such as Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, SharePoint, OneDrive, Office Online Apps, Forms, PowerApps, Flow and Bookings.

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