While cloud services can pay off on their potential, they can't promise technology nirvana, an enlightened environment where IT problems never occur and the help desk is not needed. Like with many important decisions, moving critical applications such as email and productivity tools online can come with a tradeoff, according to MessageOps founder Chad Mosman.
"The cloud has a lot of advantages, but one of the disadvantages is that you have a lot less visibility into what's going on in the underlying systems," Mosman said in an interview. His firm, a Microsoft partner, makes 365Command, a monitoring and reporting tool for Office 365 environments. But less visibility doesn't necessarily mean fewer problems; that's simply known as sticking your head in the sand. When issues do arise, it can be tougher to identify causes and fixes.
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"With cloud services, if your users are having problems connecting or something is slow, it's difficult sometimes to determine: Is the problem on my side? Is the problem on Microsoft's side? Is it my Internet service provider? Things like that," Mosman said.
Microsoft gets that. While you might be more likely to see choreographed dance routines than troubleshooting tips in their ad campaigns, the company offers a range of free tools for ensuring a healthy Office 365 environment. Several of them require little to no technical expertise, either, which make them a good fit for small businesses and other organizations that prefer cloud applications for ease of use. These are Mosman's must-haves for Office 365 administrators.
"[Administrators] don't have access to the servers like they used to," Mosman said. "These tools at least give them some visibility into what's going on in the Office 365 cloud."
1. Office 365 Outlook Connectivity Guided Walkthrough
This is the go-to tool for anyone who fields the "Hey, I can't see my email" variety of help-desk tickets. (No, those don't magically disappear in the cloud.) The Office 365 Outlook Connectivity tool tests for issues affecting the connection between Outlook clients and Office 365 mailboxes. User mailboxes are the most common troubleshooting scenario, according to Microsoft, although the tool can be used for Archive and Shared mailboxes, too. A key reason why Microsoft provides the service: This large bucket of issues keeps their support lines ringing, too.
"This is the one of the most common problems and it's a big support cost for Microsoft," Mosman said.
2. Message Analyzer
Most Exchange administrators know about the Remote Connectivity Analyzer, according to Mosman. What's relatively new is a message-trace feature called Message Analyzer. (Click on the Message Analyzer tab at the far right of the Remote Connectivity Analyzer screen.) Mosman calls this one of the most useful tools out there for administrators because it helps determine the cause of message delays. The next time a user gripes about an email that took two days to reach its recipient, you can simply copy-and-paste the message header into the Web-based tool.
"It will automatically show you where the delays occur -- whether it was on the sender's side or the Microsoft side," Mosman said, adding that the tool can serve other purposes, too, such as migration testing.
3. Mail Protection Reports for Office 365
This Excel plug-in makes it easier, Mosman said, for administrators to capture data and generate spreadsheets about their email activity in the new versions of Office 365. (Note: It requires Excel 2013.) So you'll essentially have ready reports on things like inbound spam levels, top 10 senders, top 10 recipients and so forth. "In the old version of Office 365, it was a little bit of a hassle," Mosman said. "[This] makes it easy for anybody to open up this spreadsheet and get data relevant to their organization, mainly around messages coming in and leaving the [company]."