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The beginner’s guide to Exchange Online

The way we interact with one another in the workplace has changed dramatically since the internet came on the scene. In the last decade alone, we’ve seen e-commerce become a key part of business strategy, instant messaging become the norm for communication, and video calls become the preferred method for staying in touch. Despite these changes, however, one thing has remained virtually unchanged during that time: email.

Despite the prevalence of other forms of communication, businesses still rely on email as one of the most effective and important communication tools. In addition to communicating internally with other employees within their company, millions of emails are sent each day to customers, prospects, and business partners.

To ensure effective communication both internally and externally, organisations need a secure and reliable email solution such as Microsoft Exchange Online.

What is Exchange Online?

Exchange Online is the cloud version of Exchange Server, an on-premise email server offered by Microsoft. The cloud is becoming more prevalent in business and has redefined how and where companies store and process data.

Exchange Online is Microsoft’s cloud-based email solution that lets users send and receive emails, share calendars, and manage appointments, to-do lists, and contacts from anywhere. It can be accessed from anywhere from a desktop computer, via the web using a browser, and on mobile devices.

  • Your team can access business-class hosted email and calendaring service via Microsoft Outlook, which is included with the M365 subscription.
  • Your team can take advantage of advanced scheduling functionality, including the ability to schedule meetings, send invitations, and more. You can link events directly from emails to Outlook.
  • Exchange Online offers calendaring features to establish specific calendars for business resources like meeting rooms and equipment to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  • You don’t need to worry about server resources on your end because Exchange Online is hosted entirely by Microsoft. You also gain world-class security and disaster recovery from Microsoft. Self-hosted versions of Exchange Server are also available.
  • Exchange Online is located in the cloud, so you and your team can access email, calendars, contacts, and even tasks from anywhere on any device. Synchronising this also allows your team to manage their out-of-office settings from Outlook and have a shared mailbox for more effective collaboration.
  • Exchange Online is a cloud-based email and calendar solution, which means that your system can grow with your company without requiring on-site hardware upgrades.

How does Exchange Online work?

Exchange Online is part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite, which is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) service that provides companies with a full set of collaboration tools for a monthly subscription fee. The advantages of using SaaS include access to the latest technology and no hardware procurement, maintenance, or upgrades needed.

Exchange Online is a Microsoft-maintained and -operated cloud-based service. Microsoft stores Exchange Online’s servers in its secure data centres. To reinforce the reliability of their cloud-based solution, Microsoft provides a financially backed 99.9% application uptime and availability guarantee. Users can subscribe to Exchange Online as a standalone service or through the Microsoft 365 subscription. It is compatible with Outlook and allows users to access their email data, even when they are away from their corporate networks.

What’s the difference between SaaS and on-premises solutions?

When selecting a communication platform for your business, it’s important to understand the differences between a SaaS solution and an on-premises solution. While both provide value to businesses, there are several key differences between them.

SaaS solutions provide users with access to software over the internet and are hosted on a company’s servers. Data for these solutions is stored on the company’s servers and is accessed via the internet. On-premises solutions, on the other hand, are software that is installed on your company’s servers. These solutions are transferred to the cloud with the help of a data centre.

Benefits of moving to cloud-based solutions

The cloud is becoming a more prevalent method for storing and processing data, and there are many advantages to choosing a cloud-based email solution such as Exchange Online.

The first advantage of migrating to a cloud-based solution is that it eliminates software and hardware procurement costs. Cloud-based software is a one-time investment; there are no additional costs associated with upgrading or replacing hardware, or long-term maintenance costs. This is a significant advantage to businesses that operate in a fast-paced environment and may want to scale up or down their technology needs quickly.

Another advantage that makes a cloud-based solution ideal for businesses is the ability to access data from anywhere. This means that employees can work from home, on the road, or even from a different country without having to worry about gaining access to the data.

The value of a cloud-based communication platform

Communication and collaboration are at the core of all company operations. All types of businesses use communication tools to collaborate with colleagues, clients, and partners. In many cases, these tools are hosted internally in a company’s data centre.

However, businesses need to consider what happens if there is a catastrophic event in their area. What happens to critical communications if there is a power outage? How do employees communicate when their internet service provider shuts down? These are all important questions to ask when choosing a communication platform.

Although many cloud-based communication platforms (such as email, video conferencing, and document sharing) can be accessed from any device, some aspects should be considered when choosing the best platform for your business. Among these considerations, the ability to retain data long-term is an important factor. Depending on the type of business you run, you may be required to store emails and communications for a certain period of time. Certain industries require data retention as part of their compliance requirements. These include the financial industry, healthcare, and even retail. In these cases, the communication platform must be able to store data for a set period and be accessible to auditors when required.

How to start using Microsoft Exchange

Many of the apps included with Microsoft 365 aren’t available as standalone products, whereas Exchange is:

  • Exchange Online Plan 1: annual commitment, pay per user/month, 50 GB mailbox and messages up to 150 MB, Outlook on the web,
  • Exchange Online Plan 2: annual commitment, pay per user/month, 100 GB mailbox and messages up to 150 MB, built-in data loss prevention, cloud voicemail

These are great options if businesses only require hosted email and calendaring, but most will benefit from a Microsoft 365 subscription or already have one. For example:

  • Microsoft 365 Business Standard: annual commitment, pay per user/month, everything from Plan 1 plus 50 GB mailbox and a custom email domain address, Office desktop apps, file storage and sharing with 1 TB of OneDrive storage

The Microsoft 365 Apps plan provides access only to cloud-based Office applications and OneDrive and is the only subscription that doesn’t give you access to Exchange Online.

New to Microsoft Exchange Online?

Microsoft 365 is a perfect choice whether you’re a brand-new start-up or simply seeking to upgrade your digital infrastructure. It covers almost every aspect of modern business, reduces upfront IT investment, eliminates hardware maintenance and offers access to the latest technology. Whether your business is new to Microsoft 365 or you are looking to leverage the best of Microsoft’s cloud-based technology and solutions, talk to the Microsoft specialists at INTELLIWORX and transform your modern workplace.

Shane Maher

We passionately work on the IT Infrastructure of mid-tier businesses and support MSPs into cloud services. I have over 17 years of commercial experience that includes supporting and managing IT systems, developing infrastructure solutions, both onsite & in the cloud.

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