Public Folders vs. Site Mailboxes vs. Document Libraries vs. Shared Mailboxes

Microsoft has increased the limit on the number of public folders available in Office 365 to 100,000 folders, which is a 10x increase in capacity. 

Public Folders in Exchange admin center

In Exchange 2013 (or Office 365), there is also now a new feature called “Site Mailboxes” which represent a new way to collaborate by allowing users to store both email and documents in a SharePoint document repository.  There is also a new concept in Exchange 2013 called a Shared Mailbox which allows you to make it easier for groups of users to send emails from a common account.

There is also the traditional SharePoint document library which allows you store just about any kind of document in it and provides access to content via SharePoint search, browse, etc. 

With so many options, this opens up the key governance question, “Which mail/collaboration option is appropriate?”. 

Here is a quick comparison of the options available and in what scenarios they could be used.

SharePoint Document Libraries

  • Documents are stored in SharePoint which comprehensive document management and records management features.
  • Document libraries can be “mail enabled” which means that you can assign the document library an email address and any email messages sent to that address will be stored in the document library.
  • There are configuration settings to decide on how to store attachments and enable security as to who can send emails
  • Document libraries can be surfaced directly in Outlook in the same way as a public folder by adding the URL of the document library to your Outlook favorites.

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Site Mailboxes

  • Key requirement for Outlook integration – Office 2013 on the desktop or use the Office 365 web app
  • Emails are still stored in Exchange
  • Site mailbox is an app that you add to your SharePoint site.
  • Once you have created a site mailbox, you can’t change it’s email address.
  • Site mailboxes are designed for teams collaborating by email and by documents by storing team emails and documents together in SharePoint.
  • Invoking the site mailbox is done by cc’ing the email address of the site mailbox. 
  • You can add folders from your site mailbox to your outlook favorites so that it is directly visible in Outlook.
  • When viewing a site mailbox from outlook, both email and documents are visible.
  • You can add documents by attaching them to an email message.
  • Security is driven by SharePoint team site permissions – if you have access to the team site, then you have access to the site mailbox.Sharing documents through outlook means that Outlook generates links to the SharePoint document library instead of attachments!

Public Folders

  • Public folders and all the content within them are stored in Exchange.
  • Public folders have been around for ages, so they work well with enterprises with older versions of Office still deployed.
  • Documents stored in Exchange don’t have the benefits of SharePoint document libraries (e.g. workflows, version control, metadata, etc.) and aren’t visible within SharePoint
  • Public folders can be mail enabled so that any emails sent to an email address are routed to a public folder.

Shared Mailboxes

  • Designed to provide a generic email address that can customers can use to send emails to a team.
  • Access to shared mailboxes governed by Exchange permissions.
  • Allows users to monitor and reply to an email
  • Reply email address is the shared mailbox email address

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Microsoft Outperforms Amazon (and everyone else) in Independent Review of Cloud Storage

Nasuni has just published a review of major cloud storage providers and benchmarked them for performance, availability and scalability.  Last year, Amazon came out on top but this year, Microsoft has taken the top spot. 

This year, our tests revealed that Microsoft Azure Blob Storage has taken a significant
step ahead of last year’s leader, Amazon S3, to take the top spot. Across three primary
tests (performance, scalability and stability), Microsoft emerged as a top performer in
every category. Even though Azure has not been in the market as long as S3 and does
not have nearly the same volume of storage under management, it is clear that Microsoft’s investments in Azure are starting to pay dividends and that the technology they are providing to the market is second to none.

In the 2012 report, they tested Amazon S3 and Azure Blob Storage as well as Rackspace, HP and Google. 

This report also clearly shows that Cloud is becoming a two horse race with Amazon and Microsoft.  If you look at the other Cloud providers such as HP, Rackspace and Google they performed considerably poorer on just about every test.

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Microsoft Azure and IIS are likely NOT Vulnerable to Heartbleed But You Could Have Introduced Your Own Vulnerabilities

Heartbleed logo

As many are hearing through the news media, Heartbleed is a vulnerability in OpenSSL that allows for a hacker to steal information by reading the memory of systems protected by specific versions of the OpenSSL software.

The reason why the vulnerability is getting so much attention is that OpenSSL is the default SSL implementation for Apache and nginx.  These web servers run the majority of the worlds web servers:

Netcraft server stats

Are Microsoft Web Servers Affected?

Microsoft uses a different implementation of SSL called Secure Channel so if you are running IIS your web server isn’t impacted.  Microsoft Azure itself is not impacted either for the same reason.

Microsoft issued a statement yesterday saying as much and you can find it here.

Could You Still Be Vulnerable?

The answer to the question is absolutely YES, depending on what you have introduced into your infrastructure that uses OpenSSL.  There are a couple scenarios that are clear risks:

  • If you are running a Linux image even if its running within an Azure Virtual Machine, you could still be vulnerable. 
  • If you are running Apache Web Server or nginx even if its on Windows, you could still be vulnerable.
  • If you are running a Java or open source program (either acquired or custom built) that uses the OpenSSL libraries you could still be vulnerable.
  • If you are managing your SSL through your firewall or SSL gateway and its Linux based or uses OpenSSL as its implementation, you could still be vulnerable.

For more details, see Troy Hunt’s excellent article on Heartbleed….

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Constructing a Basic Cost Comparison Between On Premise and Office 365

We have lots of customers who want to understand the difference in pricing between what is offered as part of Office 365 and what they could have on premise.  The challenging answer is that Microsoft Licensing requires a massive degree of expertise, discount negotiations on both sides and alignment of different features available in different packages.

Most Microsoft on premise products have a combination of a server license and a user CAL license.  For Office 365, the licenses are monthly subscription priced on a per user basis.

So the key questions that need to be answered to create a comparison model are:

1. What features and services are we including to compare (e.g. Office, SharePoint, Exchange, etc.)?

2. How many users are we trying to support with these services?

3. Are there any extraordinary capacity needs, e.g. additional performance, storage, encryption, security, integration, etc.?

One of the Microsoft Cloud sales staff has put together a cost comparison excel sheet that can be used as a tool to compare different license configurations and scenarios.

As an example scenario, I used the spreadsheet to calculate a typical E3 Enterprise Office 365 scenario.  The Office 365 E3 subscription includes:

  • Subscriptions to Microsoft Office for up to 5 desktops
  • Email via Exchange
  • LYNC
  • SkyDrive Pro
  • Public Website Hosting
  • Spam and Malware Protection
  • SharePoint with Enterprise features such as BI, eDiscovery, and Social

Pricing Out the E3 Subscription for 300 Employees

For an organization of 300 employees @ $23.20 / month, the cost for all of that is $83,520 per year.

Let’s now price out the equivalent licenses for SharePoint, LYNC, SQL, Exchange and Office for 300 employees.  Let’s assume you have high availability setup and SQL running in high availability (since this is what you are getting as your cloud service).

CAL Licenses

For my 300 employees, I need the following CAL’s:

  • Exchange Standard + Enterprise
  • SharePoint Standard
  • Office Pro Plus
  • LYNC Standard + Enterprise

All of these should be priced with Software Assurance included since we get automatic upgrades as part of Office 365.

For 300 users, this is equivalent to $418,500 in one time costs at list prices. 

Pricing the Servers

A minimal high availability SharePoint farm is 6 servers: 2 web front ends, 2 app servers, and a SQL cluster with two nodes.  Each one requires Windows.  SQL is also required for the application servers to run Excel Services, SQL Server Reporting Services and PowerPivot Services.  Assuming each has a couple cores, our SQL costs get pretty expensive pretty quickly. 

LYNC requires similar front end servers and a back end SQL database for storage.  With high availability, we need another SQL cluster in the back end. 

Exchange requires client access servers and mail box servers. 

The Results of my Sample Comparison

The result of my high level license configuration was a chart that looks like this:

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Note that this is just server and CAL licenses, and does not include any hardware pricing, storage pricing, services to maintain the infrastructure, backup and restore infrastructure, monitoring, etc. 

Conclusion: It All Depends on Your Needs

In doing a proper analysis of Office 365 and On Premise deployments, the cost comparison requires some deep comparison of a complete picture on both sides including software licenses, hardware, infrastructure, data center costs, monitoring, services, etc.  Depending on your organizational needs, the specific cost picture will vary considerably.  In addition, your organization will have different license terms with Microsoft depending on your size, your industry and geography.

Have a look at this pricing tool as a starting point…but in general look at the total cost of ownership of your Microsoft investments and you may find that an Office 365 subscription model represents a significant savings over an on premise implementation.

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Microsoft has joined the Open Compute Project

In yet another move towards open source, Microsoft has announced that they will join the Open Compute Project.  Microsoft will be contributing its cloud server specifications for the most advanced hardware in its data centers for services such as Windows Azure, Office 365, Bing, etc.

Microsoft is also open sourcing all the code used to manage hardware operations such as power supply, server diagnostics and fan control.

Why is this strategically important for Microsoft and its customers?

  • In general, there is a Microsoft strategy towards transparency as part of its cloud services as a competitive advantage over more proprietary services.  This is an important consideration when reviewing key issues like security and privacy. 
  • Microsoft’s commit to hybrid cloud models aligns with this decision in that they are effectively sharing their designs that in theory could be adopted by other private or hybrid cloud providers.  Their bet is by sharing these models they will promote adoption of Windows Server technologies whether they are through its own public cloud or through partner hybrid cloud services.
  • By participating in the Open Compute Project, Microsoft is effectively sharing with other leading cloud vendors such as Facebook and IBM and leading hardware vendors such as AMD, Seagate, etc. their best practices so that as an industry the cloud computing movement can evolve better designs. 

In contrast, Microsoft’s competitors Google and Amazon have proprietary and closed data center designs. 

“When you’re the first company to design something, sometimes there’s an advantage to keeping it secret,” Zuckerberg said.

As more and more people access data, the odds of any single company figuring out how to deal with it efficiently goes down, said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure engineering.

“If we really want to connect seven billion people, we’re going to have to work together,” Parikh said. “I don’t see it working any other way.”

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Microsoft Reduces Azure Storage Pricing

As noted in my previous blog article, there is a price war going on for cloud services between the major players (Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Salesforce, etc.) and this has become one of the key benefits to dynamic cloud usage.  As long as you only pay for what you use and the price goes down tomorrow, the customer wins in the long run because they can take advantage of new reductions in pricing.  For the foreseeable future, it looks like the price for cloud services will continue to go down as the competition for your cloud loyalty only gets stronger.

Microsoft announced today yet another storage price cut to compete with Amazon

Locally redundant storage on Azure now matches Amazon’s prices and Azure Storage transactions are getting a 50 percent price cut, which matches Amazon’s latest price cuts. In addition, Microsoft’s Locally Redundant Disks/Page Blobs Storage is seeing a 28 percent price reduction.

Note that the price reduction is not effective until March 13, 2014.

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Local Cloud is Becoming a Competitive Advantage

Thanks to fears about privacy, the NSA debacle, the Patriot Act, and various data sovereignty concerns around the world, there is a strong need for some organizations to keep data locally. 

The challenge with cloud is that scale matters – setting up a data center in Iceland, Canada, etc. simply isn’t as economical to compete with the larger data centers that service the world. 

Commitment to a location is also a massive capital investment – Microsoft, for example, just invested in building a Dutch data center at a cost of $2.7 billion for a single location!

Culture, laws and local concerns are having an impact on cloud.  Concerns about security, privacy and data sovereignty are not going away and organizations such as governments, health care providers, banks, utilities, etc. are expressing the need for a local option before fully embracing the cloud.

There are also technical reasons why local data centers are potentially better – the primary one being reduced latency.  While less of an issue in North America, in countries in Asia going through congested pipes across borders can be a significant drag on performance.

For the major cloud players (Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, etc.) there seems to be a recognition that local is becoming a competitive advantage:

As the concerns around privacy, data sovereignty and local service continue to be a top concern especially outside the United States, a key competitive advantage will be how data can be kept local while still maintaining the advantages of computing on demand, low cost, etc. provided by the massive scale of the cloud.

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Cloud Growth Rate = Many More Organizations Adopting Cloud Services

To understand why cloud is such an important trend right now, one just needs to look at the growth in cloud revenue globally.

As of last November, cloud revenue globally had grown by 46% year over year. 

Amazon cloud market Q3 Synergy

Gartner expects sales of infrastructure services to grow by 38% annually to $30.6 billion in 2017.  IDC expects cloud services to double in the same period.

Measuring cloud market share is a little bit challenging at the moment because it’s a) a moving target and b) it depends on what you include as “cloud revenue”.  While Amazon is clearly the market leader in IaaS cloud services, Microsoft, IBM, Salesforce and Google are all fighting it out for market share.  SAP is also claiming they are gaining market share as well with their cloud platforms. 

Each company is also now claiming various independent studies and numbers are wrong because of various methodology problems or the numbers are simply out of date – usually when a study puts them behind the competition.  Expect this to continue as the competition heats up and marketing departments in these companies use market share claims as a confidence booster for their customers.

The bottom line is that cloud growth will continue at a dramatic pace in the next 2-3 years…

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