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SaaS and the SysAdmin

In the SMB market, SaaS vendors are quick to promote that you can turn off your on-premise servers and ditch your IT guy/gal (I kid you not). In the Enterprise, it’s unlikely that all of your workloads will move to SaaS, so the IT Pros may still be safe. But let’s pick on one technology for a moment as an example – Microsoft Exchange. Assuming you ditch your Exchange boxes for Exchange Online, what’s an Exchange Administrator to do? How does their role change in a SaaS world?

 

What stays the same?
Administration: There’s still a need for general administration of Exchange Online, especially Identity & Access Management. People will still join, leave, change their names and move teams. Departments will still want distribution groups and shared mailboxes. The mechanics to do this are different and tasks will likely be done by someone who’s administering the other Office 365 services at a tenancy level, but that’s not too different to Enterprises that have a separate “data security” team anyway for IAM.

 

Hello, PowerShell: Speaking of changes in how you achieve things, being proficient in PowerShell is the best new skill to have, thought PowerShell is not limited to Exchange Online/Office 365. If you’re already using PowerShell to administer on-premises Exchange servers, you’re more than halfway there.

 

Compliance: It’s rare to find an organization that leaves all the settings at their defaults. Exchange Online may still need tweaking to ensure it locks down things and applies rules that you’re using in-house to achieve and maintain policy or regulatory compliance. That can be as simple as the blocked/allowed domains or more complex like Exchange transport rules and Data Loss Prevention settings.

 

Integration: We’ve been using SMTP to handle information flow and systems alerts for a very very long time now. It’s possible that you’ll need to replicate these connections from and to other systems with your Exchange Online instance. There’s a gotcha in there for ageing multi-function fax machines that don’t support TLS (don’t laugh), but this connectivity doesn’t just go away because you’ve moved to the Cloud.

 

End user support: Sorry, the Cloud won’t make all the support calls go away. Brace yourselves for calls that Outlook isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, and it’s only impacting one user. Then again, maybe that’s an Outlook problem and not an Exchange server problem (usually). A quick “do you see the same problem in Outlook Web Access” is your first troubleshooting step.

 

What changes?
Bye bye, eseutil: Sorry not sorrry, the Exchange database is no longer your problem. I will miss using eseutil to check and repair it.

 

No more upgrades: Patches, service packs and major version upgrades be gone, when the Microsoft team are managing the application. Ditto for the same on the underlying server operating system.

 

Monitoring: We’re still interested in knowing if the service is down before the users have to tell us, but we’re no longer able to directly monitor the running Microsoft Exchange services. In addition, we’re monitoring the Office 365 status information and message center.

 

Server provisioning and consolidation: Shutting down a big project and making people redundant? Expanding the business with a merger or acquisition? No more building servers or decommissioning them – just add more licenses or close accounts.

 

Your new role
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Though technology changes how we do our jobs, the things that need to be done don’t change. Yes, in this case Microsoft has the responsibility and the power for some parts that you would have taken care of with your own server. But I’m not seeing that the shift is enough to cut your hours in half just yet.

 

Join the conversation – let me know how adopting a SaaS solution has changed what you do in your role or how you do it.