This is a guest blog via Neil Rickard
One of my top inquiry topics with Gartner clients is Networking questions and challenges surrounding Office 365. Further, in surveys we’ve conducted, performance is the fourth overall technical problem reported with O365, and network issues are a top cause of these performance issues. The biggest networking challenges when running Office365 we see from our clients include:
- Inadequate Internet – Existing enterprise Internet access is often poorly architected to support mission critical applications such as the Office 365 suite. Centralized Internet access from data centers via the enterprise WAN is still common and leads to long paths (backhauling) with high latency. Where Internet access is distributed to the branch, this is often done using low quality broadband, with inadequate resilience and variable performance. Distributed, resilient medium/high quality Internet access is required for Internet based access to Office 365. For globally distributed, organizations it may also be helpful to employ enhanced Internet routing services that can ensure their traffic takes the optimum path to Office 365.
- Confusion over ExpressRoute – ExpressRoute, originally developed to allow direct connectivity of Microsoft’s Azure IaaS service to enterprise WANs, can also be used to directly connect Office 365 to the enterprise WAN. This can be very useful for organizations with regulatory requirements to avoid the public Internet and/or sites that are on a different continent from their Office 365 hosting location, resulting in poor internet performance. However, Microsoft has changed their policy on ExpressRoute for office 365 several times, leading to confusion even within their sales force and partners. At the time of writing, Microsoft policy is that ExpressRoute for Office 365 is available, subject to a design review by Microsoft.
- Microsoft reluctance to embrace WAN optimization – WAN optimization can significantly improve application performance for many Office 365 applications, including Exchange Online and especially SharePoint Online. While it is possible to design SharePoint sites for good performance over even high latency networks, existing SharePoint sites are seldom designed in this manner. WAN optimization can enable good performance for such sites, even over high latency links as well as significantly reduce bandwidth requirements. WAN optimization services exist that can be applied to either Internet access or ExpressRoute access to Office 365, however Microsoft does not support these solutions as it complicates its ability to troubleshoot Office 365 deployments.
So you’ll have to do your homework, and probably make some investments, but the good news is you have options. Regarding ExpressRoute, if you’re not on the same continent as your O365 DataCenter, or if you’re globally distributed across multiple continents, it is our recommendation to use it. We’ve covered this and more in the following research
Summary: Organizations are evaluating or deploying Microsoft Office 365. However, existing internet connectivity will not provide adequate performance for Office 365 in most scenarios. This research describes how network planners and managers can optimize the network infrastructure to support Office 365.
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