Do you really need Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute to support Office 365?

Office 365 is a great product that is getting widespread adoption across the globe, and continues the trend of organisations adopting business critical applications hosted in the cloud.  A legitimate concern of network users, and network managers is how will Office 365 perform on my network and will my business be affected by poor application performance?

What we do know about Office 365 is that it will add significant load to the network, and that additional capacity may well be needed to ensure it performs well.  Microsoft recognises this, and is offering ExpressRoute as a way of ensuring application performance.  ExpressRoute is essentially a private link dedicated to Office 365 (and other Azure applications). Before subscribing to ExpressRoute, it is vital to understand how existing internet links are being utilised. Which applications and users are consuming the current bandwidth, is there existing capacity, or can capacity be freed-up by shaping (restricting) non critical application usage?  These questions can only be answered if you have good visibility of traffic on your network.

Organisations have been able to avoid purchases and upgrades of data links by using visibility to determine how the network is being utilised and by using bandwidth shaping to prioritise applications on the network, i.e. creating a fast lane for the important stuff.  The cost difference between optimizing the existing network and deploying ExpressRoute is quite stark and the high-resolution visibility offers the opportunity to make an informed decision on whether additional links are required.

It may well be that ExpressRoute is warranted, but the starting point should be complete network visibility to ensure that you or your customers are not incurring additional cost and management time to support Office 365.   

Our recommendation is to install a network visibility tool prior to migrating to Office 365 so that you can baseline the utilization of the network before and after Office 365 deployment.

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