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Are IT professionals ready for Microsoft in the cloud?

Mobility and cloud computing disrupted Microsoft's model, but it has responded by integrating Office with Android and Dropbox

Microsoft has been busy fleshing out its mobile and cloud strategy. The company has updated Office for iPhone and has released a beta version of Office for Android tablets.

Integration with Dropbox is also part of the Office Suite. These latest developments illustrate the company’s commitment to making its products work in a world where Windows is no longer the dominant operating system (OS).

"In our mobile-first and cloud-first world, people need easier ways to create, share and collaborate, regardless of their device or platform," said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.

Tackling cloud bandwidth

Ovum principal analyst Richard Edwards recommended IT managers consider using additional capacity or network traffic shaping tools to manage bandwidth.

There are several approaches IT can take. For instance, Aspera (now part of IBM), is a company which specialises in high-speed file transfer for extremely large files.

Avere Systems takes a different approach, using Flash memory and SSD drives as part of its Virtual FXT Edge Filer, which caches data stored in the cloud on Flash storage.

"Together, Microsoft and Dropbox will provide our shared customers with flexible tools that put them at the centre of the way they live and work today."

Microsoft said web integration between the Dropbox website and Office will first be included in the next updates to the Office apps for iOS and Android, which are due out in the next few weeks.

Online will be available in the first half of 2015. Dropbox will also make its application available on the Windows Phone and Windows tablet platforms in the coming months.

Selling the benefits of cloud

While Microsoft continues to build out Office365, it has to convince IT departments that it can deliver security and manageability to support greater use of cloud applications in the enterprise.

In a demonstration at the TechEd Europe show in October 2014, Joe Belfiore, corporate vice-president for PCs, tablets and phones at Microsoft, showed delegates how a user could login through the Azure Active Directory, when they boot up a machine for the first time.

After the user enters their username and password details, applications are automatically downloaded to a new PC.

Azure Active Directory is at the heart of Microsoft’s device management strategy, which spans desktop devices, laptops, tablets and smartphones. The Active Directory offers role-based access to on-premise IT. Azure Active Directory extends this to the cloud. Users can be authenticated via any device that can connect to Azure AD over the internet.

Fine security focus for administrators

"Most mobile device management (MDM) systems operate at the device level. We protect at the level of the user identity, thanks to Azure AD," said Andrew Conway, a senior director of product marketing at Microsoft.

Office 365 provides basic mobile device management. Using polices in Azure Active Directory, an administrator can restrict which applications the user can access, and whether the clipboard can be used to copy and paste content from documents.

At the enterprise level, Microsoft sells its Enterprise Mobility Suite. This includes InTune, for device management across Windows, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android and Azure Rights Management to protect corporate data.

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Ovum principal analyst Richard Edwards said that, with these products, Microsoft was offering a spectrum of device management tools from basic MDM in Office365, to the full Enterprise Mobility suite. "Microsoft offers a holistic set of capabilities to manage computers and users based on their role," he said.

With these tools he said IT administrators can provide granularity of security and compliance all the way down to protecting data.

Challenges of moving Windows to the cloud

Basic access to Azure Active Directory is free. Office 365 E3, the full version of Microsoft’s office productivity suite, costs £14.70 per user per month. E3 includes cloud-based access to Exchange server and 50 Gbytes for each user’s InBox.

The pricing is compelling, especially against the cost of running this infrastructure in-house. Why isn’t every business migrating desktop IT to the cloud? Edwards said: "The main challenge for large enterprises is when there is a broad range of users. Moving to the cloud takes a lot of time to plan. It is a bit like switching a bank account."

In the Ovum report, Office 365: Email migration, coexistence and adoption, Edwards noted: "Sending and receiving email via Office 365 will generate a considerable amount of network traffic over the organisation’s various internet connections. Employees that are used to distributing large files internally via email over the corporate LAN and WAN could well perceive significant degradation of their email service."

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