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Office 365: nothing will ever be the same


It may sound melodramatic—you’re not likely to see IT teams waxing sentimental about the good old days—but it is fair to say Office 365 is a game changer.

If anything, we can agree that the adoption of Office 365 is skyrocketing unlike any business app we’ve seen in the last decade. For the year ending 2017, Microsoft has claimed an Office 365 growth rate of 43% and an impressive 120 million monthly active users. Within the Zscaler ecosystem, we’re seeing a similar dynamic. On any given day, our security cloud is processing upwards of 1.3 billion Office 365 requests, and each month we process more than 2.8 petabytes of O365 traffic. Petabytes? Yeah, I struggle to wrap my brain around that, too, so let’s type it out for perspective: 2,800,000,000,000,000 bytes each month!  

While the business adoption is dramatic, the true impact that O365 software is having on the user experience and the network is even more profound. To this end, it seems appropriate that we dust off our crystal ball and explore how the adoption of Office 365 has the potential challenge the way IT approaches pretty much everything from here on out. And, don’t worry, I’ll tone it down from here.

The renaissance of the agile workforce

One of the significant changes that Office 365 has brought has to do with user expectations. We all know that their requirements can be exhausting, but users usually mean well (except for their demand for cat videos). In the spirit of getting their jobs done faster and more efficiently, users now demand frictionless access to their IT systems, no matter where they are. And current trends tell us that location is increasingly going to be off your network. In a global workplace survey, 20 to 25 percent of workers currently telecommute with some level of frequency, while 50 percent of the workforce has a job that is compatible with at least partial teleworking. The real kicker for IT is that this same survey showed that 80 to 90 percent of U.S. workers say they would like to telework at least part time. So, there you have it. Almost all your users want to be nowhere near your network or data center. So how does Office 365 fit into all of this? As users see how ubiquitous and productive a properly deployed Office 365 installation can make them, they will love it. Their cloud-first workflow will drive more demands, and it will be up to IT to continue that frictionless access experience across the rest of their legacy infrastructure. 

The collapse of the WAN as we know it

For many companies, Office 365 may be the most significant application platform to leave the data center. To be sure, you’ve most likely migrated other apps to SaaS, but with Office 365, you’ve signaled that you’re all in on this SaaS thing.  While this seems like the logical choice given Office 365’s general awesomeness, the journey you’re on is one that is slowly adding cracks to the foundation of your WAN and network.

In a previous paragraph, you may have noticed that I underlined “properly deployed.” If there’s any aspect of Office 365 that causes the most grief, it is the question of how to properly deploy it. In a 2017 Tech Validate survey of 200 companies, nearly 70 percent of companies experienced weekly latency issues after deploying Office 365. Why? Because most doubled down on their existing network infrastructure and gateway appliances. It might have made sense; after all, their existing WAN had been their trusted partner for some 30 years. But, upgrading firewalls and adding bandwidth are not what Microsoft recommends for deploying Office 365. In its latest connectivity guidance, Microsoft recommends direct internet connections. Why? Office 365 traffic opens significant network connections per user—so much so that most gateways just can’t handle it. Latency climbs, the user experience drops, and frictionless access turns into anything but

To deliver the best user experience, Office 365 traffic needs to be routed directly to the internet, bypassing your network and gateway security. Add to that the fact that Office 365 apps like Skype need UDP and other ports sent direct-to-internet, and you suddenly have all your traffic headed straight to the great beyond—not just 80 and 443 traffic. This means your WAN and network have just been relegated to second fiddle for one of your most critical application platforms. As you can see, there’s a transformation that’s happening today, and it’s  displacing traditional WAN and network approaches

The revolution of the decentralized internet

So, now that your future apps are designed to work better off your WAN than on it, it begs the question: what will your network look like in 10 years? The notion of a decentralized internet has been bouncing around ever since Richard Hendricks and Pied Piper invented it a couple years ago. But regardless of who thought it up, the potential of decoupling the internet from the existing large centralized browsing watering holes could actually change everything. If you’re looking for more about the decentralized internet, Venture Beat offers a good read on what it is and its potential—but it’s fair to say we are on that journey now. Dynamic shifts like Office 365 and blockchain technology are changing our expectations around centralized control.  While Office 365 has moved a key asset out of your control, blockchain technology has the potential to redefine the internet into a true peer-to-peer network, where your data resides everywhere across a distributed network. Sounds cool, but the challenge is that IT departments have historically been built on control. Control policies for data and users drove everything IT did. But in a cloud-first world where Office 365 thrives, we’ve said yes to giving up that control.  We’ve taken a step towards the light, and there’s no going back

So where do we go from here?

The change Office 365 brings to the world of users is proving to be a good thing. Users get to embrace a world where frictionless access enables their productivity and creativity. But is it good for IT departments? Absolutely!

At Zscaler, we’re here to tell you that you don’t have to sacrifice control in the name of progress. No matter the user location, connection type, or internet destination, Zscaler can be your IT waystation. We’ll help you restore the control and visibility you need, while delivering the frictionless access and performance your users desire. In addition, the Zscaler security cloud has been optimized for Office 365 traffic and enables direct internet connections, Microsoft’s recommended connection method. Your users get a fast, secure connection for all their application requirements, and you’ll get a quicker deployment and save on costs and administration time.

If you’d like to learn more, please do read up on our Office 365 or Internet Access solutions, but be forewarned: nothing is likely to be the same again. And that’s no exaggeration.

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