For the past couple of years I’ve been on our hosted Exchange services for my personal email. Because it was the dogfood service, it isn’t exactly the same service that you can buy at microsoft.com/online.
I decided to take the plunge and purchase a real production subscription to Exchange Online. I’m glad I did. It’s only been a few weeks, but so far it’s been a good ride. Best of all, my wife likes her new hosted mailbox. Priceless.
Why is this worthy for your consideration?
Cloud computing and services aren’t just a fad. Frankly some of the concepts have been around for several decades. Remember Ross Perot? He started a company called Electronic Data Systems (later EDS) and the whole goal of the company was to run applications and services in huge information processing centers for customers. They served many virtual markets like Healthcare, Banking, Manufacturing or Insurance. Big systems and big integration challenges. That hasn’t changed.
The Internet continues to morph and evolve. Networking to your business, home and smartphone is pervasive or soon will be. We all enjoy information discovery, sharing, email and social media. Five years ago you would not think twice about buying a server and running your email from it using Microsoft Exchange, Small Business Server, or a host of other products on the market. Publishing to the web from that server was pretty easy and allowed you to share information with partners, customers, family and friends.
But bad stuff happens. Where do you house the server? Who will support it when you are 35,000 above ground on a flight to an important business meeting? How quickly could you respond to a hardware problem if you are 1,600 miles from the server?
With cloud services, you can have someone else make sure the hardware and software is working properly and providing common or custom application services. Microsoft has packaged some of our industry leading products into online cloud based services. Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) and Exchange Online are two such offerings. Exchange Online is actually part of BPOS but can be purchased separately if you chose. So why build an expensive email server when there’s a low cost alternative in a state-of-the-art data center?
So how do you get started and how much does it cost? Getting started is really easy. There are three easy steps initially to create an account and link some services. First, head on over to the Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) or Exchange Online product areas of microsoft.com. In each of those sections you’ll see some pricing information and the “Try It Out” button. Click the button to start a 30 day trial.
From there, it’s pretty straight forward. I actually have two accounts. I started by buying Exchange Online for my personal email. I figured $5 per person for a 25GB mailbox hosted in the data center with SPAM block and quarantine was a no brainer. The minimum number of mailboxes you can order is five and that’s exactly how many family members I knew I could put online immediately.
Like I said, this was a no brainer. Sure beats buying and running your own server. I did that when I first started using a Verizon FIOS Business plan and although it was a great learning experience, something would always go wrong with the server while I was traveling or unavailable. Besides, what does it cost you to buy and run a server? I can’t buy a server and run Exchange for $300 per year, can you?
Last week I decided it would be prudent to have a different domain for testing and demo purposes so I purchased a domain from my web hosting provider (1and1.com), then started setting up a BPOS demo environment. The BPOS product folks let me have the account at no charge for a limited period of time, so that is what we’ll use in the following screencast.
Because DNS propagation times are unpredictable, I provisioned the keithcombs.org domain prior to capturing the screencast. I could certainly have hit the pause button and waited, but that tends to stretch your day so I took the safe route. In my experience with 1and1.com and the verify steps, you can verify a domain within minutes. The sole exception I’ve seen so far was my wife’s personal domain, but that’s a long story.
So here’s the first screencast. It should give you an overview of the initial setup, some of the administrative pages, steps and tips. If you are watching via the embedded Silverlight player below, be sure to double click it for a full screen 1440x900 resolution view. The full screen button is also the far right button on the player controls.
Exchange Online Screencast Part 1 - Account Logon and Domain Setup (14:45)
Screencast File Download - if you would like to download the Windows Media Video file and watch with Media Player, by all means right mouse click Part1.wmv and save the file locally.
If you would like to start looking at the online documentation, see http://www.microsoft.com/online/help/en-us/helphowto/Exchange-Online.htm for a great starting point. The screencast above demonstrates portions of the steps in the Add a Domain to Microsoft Online Services section. The complexity of adding and using a domain with Exchange Online will depend on your domain registrar or hosting provider.
Adding Domains and DNS
I am using 1and1.com as my web hosting provider. Adding, changing and deleting DNS records via their web based control panel is pretty easy. In fact, the Exchange Online team has written some specific instructions for a variety of popular registrars and hosting providers. See the instructions for 1and1.com Domain Verification as an example. You’ll see other instructions at http://www.microsoft.com/online/help/en-us/helphowto/Exchange-Online.htm under the Setup | Domains area of the page. Click the More arrow to expand the section.
Keep in mind you don’t have to use one of your personal or business domains during the trial. When you created the account, the domain that was created is fully registered and ready. If you do a whois lookup on the domain, you’ll see it has the appropriate DNS and mail exchange (MX) records assigned. For instance, here’s the dump of the DNS records for cowboykeith.
I just decided to add another domain so that you can see it’s easy to use one or more domains in the BPOS and Exchange Online provisioning panels. I could have just used the domain above, created a mailbox, and started testing with it. It’s up to you. Speaking of which, lets see how to add a user and configure an email client to send and receive email. You won’t believe how easy we’ve made that.
Exchange Online Screencast Part 2 - Adding and Testing Users (16:33)
Adding Users and Importing Email
See? I told you it was easy to create a mailbox, Outlook profile, and start sending and receiving email. The Online Services Sign In application makes all of that easy on your users. Be sure to grab it from the download center at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=5c2ca866-4107-4ae5-98d5-76bf1b18ff87&displaylang=en or on the Home tab of the admin.microsoftonline.com portal.
If you need to add users in bulk, that import process is fully supported so be sure and checkout the documentation for steps on how to do that. See the file format specifications for details on the .CSV layout, examples and other steps in the online help.
After you have the initial Exchange Online user Outlook profile created and working, don’t forget it’s easy to add an existing .PST file for use in the client. If you have important email in the .PST file, I would recommend importing it into Exchange Online via the import wizards that are part of Outlook. Sure beats drag and drop unless you have a small amount of email.
Like I mentioned in the screencast, importing a bunch of data into Exchange Online is a time consuming process and your mileage will vary depending on the amount of data, and the speed of your network connection. Synchronization takes time so test and plan accordingly. And please, communicate this to your family members, customers, or business associates. The last thing you want them to do is kick off the import, then try to run catch a flight or some other urgent appointment.
This was an overview of how to get up and running fast with BPOS and Exchange Online. You don’t have to commit any of your production domains to this process for testing. You can jump into a 30 day trial for Exchange Online right now and don’t forget, the Exchange Online subscription is month-to-month so you can make a change at any time.
We obviously didn’t cover a lot of other topics like co-existence, directory synchronization, disaster recovery planning, or other mundane chores like creating contacts and distribution lists. That’s ok, we have plenty of topics to cover coming up. I hope you found this post informative.
Other Key Resources and Links
- Microsoft Online Services Migration Toolkit - as usual we have some great documentation for project planning purposes. Trust me, migrating one or a hundred users, this is still a good read. See the link at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=b4d668f4-26b0-4b3c-8b13-5e0275948257&displaylang=en for the download.
- Microsoft Online Services customer Portal - https://mocp.microsoftonline.com/site/default.aspx.
- Your Online Services company portal - https://home.microsoftonline.com/
- SPF and Autodiscover records - see http://www.microsoft.com/online/help/en-us/helphowto/6a984970-1606-480f-92e2-585ff1ddae84.htm although autodiscover isn’t really used with Exchange Online. The Sign In application takes care of the profile create and updates for you. I couldn’t setup an autodiscover CNAME record even if I wanted to. The domain name
AutoDiscoverRedirect-Red001.Mail.MicrosoftOnline.comis too long for the 1and1.com web form input field.
- Team Blog - http://blogs.technet.com/b/msonline/
- Community Forums and Help - http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/category/microsoftonlineservices
- Expression Encoder 4 Pro - http://www.microsoft.com/expression/products/EncoderPro_Overview.aspx.
[NOTE] The screencasts above were captured, encoded, and wrapped with Silverlight using Expression Encoder 4 Pro. No other tool was used. I used the VC-1 codec settings for Screen Capture, then set the VBR range from 1MB for average bitrate, to 3MB at the peak.