How to Increase the Performance of Office 365
With more than 180 million active monthly enterprise users of Microsoft’s commercial Office 365 product, chances are your organization has made the migration to the cloud. But chances are also good your Office 365 users have suffered performance problems because hosting Office in the cloud introduces variables that simply didn’t exist when the software was local.
With so many users relying on Office 365, and with so many business functions supported by the popular SaaS offering, it is critical to reevaluate how you go about ensuring users are getting adequate application performance because it is no longer business as usual.
Consider, for example, a problem that was bedevilling one company using Office 365 to support 12,000 worldwide employees. Mysterious performance problems were bogging down remote offices here and there, affecting the efficiency of scores of workers. In the end, it turned out that 40-50 laptops were being replaced/refreshed/reloaded in the course of each week, and when the users got their devices back and logged on, Office 365 would start the resource-intensive job of rebuilding their mailbox, sapping network resources and degrading performance for other local Office 365 users.
It isn’t uncommon for performance issues like this to actually prolong Office 365 deployments as companies try to figure out how to deal with these new challenges as they try to scale usage. Here are six steps to ensure your users are getting optimal Office 365 performance and help you push Office 365 to the masses:
Step 1: Move to Direct Internet Access
Many businesses will have a single instance of Office 365 hosted in a given Microsoft data center and all users will be homed there, although larger organizations can opt for a license that enables them to host the application and data in multiple locations.
Regardless of approach, it is important to review how each remote office accesses Office 365 because it is critical to performance. If you are backhauling traffic from remote locations to a central data center because you have centralized security controls, the latency incurred can play havoc with Office 365. (See <reference other Office 365 blog - High-Performance network architecture for Office 365> <re-use image from other blog here>.)
Recognizing that, Microsoft has built a global high-speed backbone network with more than 100,000 miles of fiber and more than 150 global edge nodes. It encourages customers to tie their locations directly to the backbone at the nearest possible node using direct internet access.
Organizations in fields such as finance, banking, and healthcare that rely heavily on backhauling can safely make the shift to direct access by using distributed security gateways in branches or cloud-based gateways that support distributed access.
Step 2: Ensure DNS is Set Up Correctly
Once you’ve opted for direct internet access, step two is to ensure your offices are configured to route traffic to those points of presence. The DNS settings for each office will have to be checked to ensure they deliver the right IP address for the closest Microsoft front door.
Sounds obvious, but in large geographically distributed companies, it isn’t uncommon to find they have taken Step 1 but never saw through Step 2, meaning portions of their Office 365 users are getting less than optimum experiences.
Step 3: Monitor Traffic to Detect and Eliminate Network Congestion
Once you have direct internet access and DNS set up correctly, the next step is to watch out for network congestion. In a recent survey of Office 365 users, Zscaler found network congestion was cited as the top deployment challenge by 41% of the respondents.
Besides the mailbox dumps that ended up being the culprit in the example shared up top, network congestion can be caused by everything from employees streaming the World Cup, to sharing large files and even poorly timed backups and replication efforts. A single user can degrade the performance of Office 365 for a large group of others, this happens even if you have abundant amounts of bandwidths.
After all, with advances in networks, people today think nothing of uploading 10-gigabyte files to the cloud. But when you do that in a shared Office 365 environment, others will pay the price. You need to be able to see what is happening on the network if you have any hope of reasonably optimizing Office 365 performance.
Step 4: Utilize Network Optimization Techniques
Once you can see what is happening on the network, the next step is being able to do something about the problems you uncover.
As Zscaler notes in its report, “Many organizations make the mistake of mixing their Office 365 app traffic with the rest of their network traffic. Because Microsoft recommends getting Office 365 traffic to the Microsoft cloud as quickly as possible, it’s important to prioritize this traffic over other less-critical traffic.”
Traffic shaping can be used to give Office 365 priority over less time-sensitive traffic, ensuring the network understands the business priorities rather than just treating all the bits as equals.
Step 5: Benchmark Office 365 User Experience to Close the Loop
With the first four steps addressed, the next step is to see what you achieved using the only real benchmark that matters: user experience. Are your Office 365 users actually better off now that you’ve put these fixes in place?
Ensuring your architecture is right, being able to see what’s going on in the network and being able to do something about it is important, but ultimately the reason you’re doing all of this is to ensure you’re not sapping worker efficiency by moving to the cloud-based version of Office. Clearly, intermittent and persistent performance degradation can more than offset any savings you might realize by migrating to the cloud.
It’s important to objectively set a user experience Office 365 benchmark and then monitor against that so you can see how any changes help or hurt. With the variabilities in play, getting Office 365 right for a distributed workforce can be a huge undertaking. That’s why Microsoft itself provides so many online planning tools (see, for example, “Network planning and performance tuning for Office 365”).
You need to be able to close the loop by seeing if you have actually moved the needle when it comes to improving user experience.
Step 6: Ongoing User Experience Management
And that takes us to Step 6, which is about ongoing user experience management. Given the critical role of Office 365 in business, user experience management can’t be a one-and-done exercise.
With the variabilities in play, user experiences will change over time, so organizations need to proactively stay out in front. Done right, you should be able to detect degradations before they become major issues that cripple entire branch offices. And more often than not, lessons learned in one location will help you preemptively make changes that will prevent other users from experiencing outages or service degradation.
The last thing you want is for people to be calling into the Help Desk saying Office 365 performance has been spotty all day. How do you calculate the cost of that? Follow these steps to ensure Office 365 is living up to its true potential in your organization.