Office 365 vs Open-Xchange – Pricing and Customer Service

(This post is part of a series comparing our experiences with Microsoft Office 365 and Open-Xchange e-mail hosted by Rackspace. Click here for the overview)

Pricing – Office 365

Screen Capture of Office 365 New Customer Pricing as of 7 February 2013

Office 365 New Customer Pricing as of 7 February 2013

The screen capture at the left shows Microsoft’s Office 365 pricing for new accounts as of 7 February 2013. Click here for current pricing => Microsoft Office 365 Plans.

Screen Capture of Office 365 Pricing for Existing Customers as of 7 February 2013

Office 365 Pricing for Existing Customers as of 7 February 2013

Oh yes. Just a minute. If you are an existing Office 365 customer, Microsoft has special pricing for you if you purchase additional licenses from within Office 365. The screen capture below at the right shows the pricing for additional licenses as of 7 February 2013. (There is no direct link to this information since it is visible only to existing Office 365 customers.) We were enjoying the benefits of this enhanced loyalty pricing and paying $24/month each for 6 licenses of the E3 plan (rather than $20/month for new customers)  and $4/month for one bare bones K1 mailbox.

One more consideration is that Microsoft effectively charges you for an additional license from one of the plans to support the administrator console. Suppose you want to setup the e-mail for MyCompany.com. Here is how it works:

  1. Your name is Fred
  2. You have another e-mail address (which you will need to keep) which is Fred@xyz.com
  3. You sign up for Office 365 and purchase 10 licenses of one of the plans.
  4. Microsoft sets up the domain Mycompany.onmicrosoft.com
  5. Microsoft creates the admin user as Fred@Mycompany.onmicrosoft.com and consumes one of the licenses for this user.
  6. Microsoft sends the login credentials for Fred@Mycompany.onmicrosoft.com to Fred@xyz.com
  7. Using the information in the welcome e-mail delivered to Fred@xyz.com, you log in to Fred@MyCompany.onmicrosoft.com
  8. Fred@Mycompany.onmicrosoft.com adds the domain MyCompany.com to the account and then sets up the mailboxes for MyCompany.com

Thereafter, all administration actions have to be performed by the admin. The net effect is that only 9 of the original 10 licenses are available for real users.

Pricing – Rackspace

Screen Capture of Rackspace E-Mail Pricing as of 7 February 2013

Rackspace E-Mail Pricing as of 7 February 2013

The screen capture at the left shows the Rackspace e-mail pricing for new accounts as of 7 February 2013. Click here for current pricing => Rackspace E-Mail Plans.

The Open-Xchange-based plan is the one at the right for $2/month per mailbox. For our purposes, the functionality of Open-Xchange is actually better than the function of Microsoft Exchange. We are paying $2 per month for 7 mail boxes with an extra $1 per month to synch one of those mailboxes with an iPad. Unlike Office 365, the Rackspace/Open-Xchange plan does not require the creation of a separate admin mailbox.

Our total monthly spend dropped from $150 per month to $15 per month. However, the $150 per month also covered our licenses for Microsoft Office, so the comparison is not completely apples-to-apples. I discuss the problem of Microsoft Office support in more detail in Office 365 vs Open-Xchange – Microsoft Office Support

Customer Service – Office 365

Microsoft has a lot of help available if you might be about to buy some new service. As for anything else? They really don’t want to hear from you.

Screen Capture of Ask a Question

Ask a Question

Microsoft’s first hope is that you will find solace in its knowledge base or its online community. Sometimes this approach works. Let’s take a look at a typical problem. Suppose you would like to export your contacts from Office 365 in comma-separated-value (CSV) format so that you can import them to something else (A smart phone, your personal wizard, whatever). There is not a built-in function for this (Office 365 assumes that migrations and information flow in one direction only and that is to Office 365). So, you get on the forum and ask a question as shown above at the right.

O365 - 21 - Get an Answer
Typically, there is a long stream of discussion of things that don’t actually work followed eventually by an answer like the one shown at the left. In other words, as long as you enjoy installing server administration tools and writing specialized scripts, they have you covered.

What if you don’t find what you need in the information that Microsoft has available online? Let’s just give them a call! Well, Microsoft does not make that easy. They keep all of their customer support numbers carefully hidden.

Screen capture of Submit a Service Request

Submit a Service Request

In order to open a help ticket, you need to login to the admin account and enter a service request as shown in the screen capture to the right. Once you select “new request” you will be guided through several screens to select various categories from various pull-down menus – which may or may not have anything to do with your real problem – after which you click “Submit”. In my experience, you may get a phone call or you may get an e-mail. The response time will vary from 2 to 24 hours. The e-mail may contain a long list of things for you to try followed by a sentence like this (copied from an actual e-mail):

After you have saved your data, please call us. Our customer support hours are 9 AM – 5 PM Monday through Friday. You’ll find the phone numbers and business hours for your location here: http://g.microsoftonline.com/9865en-us/321. When you call it will save you time if you would please provide your Service Request number: 1195353807.

Screen Capture of Directory of Billing Help Numbers

Directory of Billing Help Numbers

Ah-Ha! We have been given access to the secret directory of call numbers…or at least some of them. (Note. In order to avoid complaints from Microsoft, I have altered the URL slightly to make the link inoperable). Once you click on the link, you will get a pop-up window with a scroll box that looks like the screen capture at the right. The first thing you notice is that Microsoft has carefully blocked copy and paste in this pop-up applet. They certainly wouldn’t want the help telephone numbers leaking out to the broader public!

Once you call the number, you will wait on hold for awhile without any indication of how long the likely wait is. Today I waited about ten minutes after which a very pleasant and competent woman in India took care of my problem.

Customer Service – Rackspace

Screen Capture Rackspace 24x7 Customer Support Is Not a Secret

Rackspace 24×7 Customer Support Is Not a Secret

Rackspace does not keep their customer support numbers a secret. To access the list shown in the screen capture to the right, click here.

I called them from Austin, Texas at 4PM CST today. The call was answered in 47 seconds by a cheerful young man who answered my question exactly in less than 10 seconds (It was an easy question). I was off the phone with my question answered in less than one minute.

One thing that was a little confusing about getting started with Rackspace is that they don’t provision you instantly. They have a nice green “Start Free 14-Day Trial” button on their website. Once you click it, it looks like everything should be setup, but actually Rackspace calls you back in person a few hours later to make sure you are a serious, real business and not some sort of pornography spam bot before they provision the free trial for you. I completely understand and agree with their policy, but they need to polish up the sign-up process a little to let new customers understand what is going on.

Performance

Performance of the product is definitely part of the value delivered. However, performance of a web-based product is a combination of several factors:

  1. Proximity – How close are you to the server? Obviously, if you are half-way around the world, service will be worse than if you are sitting right next to the server and connected over a gigabit LAN.
  2. Server Software Design – Is the server software a lean, mean, new implementation that is carefully designed to deliver exactly the service it is being asked to deliver? Or is the server software a conglomeration of “layers” that has accumulated over the decades, with many of the layers emulating legacy interfaces for ancient systems known only to archaeologists?
  3. Web-Client Design – Is the web-client tightly designed to operate with an economy of glued-on layers, pop-up boxes, and complicated back-and-forth interactions with the server?
  4. Provisioning – How generous is the hosting provider with the allocation of server hardware? Are they serving 10 users with an Intel Xeon E7-8800 blade provisioned with 512GB of memory? Or are they serving 10,000 users on an old Pentium 3 box with 512MB of memory? Provisioning is a straight cost versus commitment to quality tradeoff.

On the proximity question, we almost certainly don’t have a fair comparison here. I am in Austin and Rackspace is most likely to be serving me from data centers either in San Antonio or Dallas. Microsoft is probably serving me from a data center in the Pacific Northwest somewhere. That having been said, my Rackspace service is lightning-fast and the Office 365 service is really sluggish, especially the administrator functions.

Screen Capture of Office 365 Admin Group Editor Completely Fails to Load on 4 February 2013

Office 365 Admin Group Editor Completely Fails to Load on 4 February 2013

Microsoft’s implementation uses lots of popups and/or things that need to download and initialize every time you use them. Sometimes, they simply fail to initialize completely. Earlier this week (4 February 2013) I was trying to access the group editor from the Office 365 administration console and it completely failed to load – even using Internet Explorer 9. Regrettably, this sort of phenomenon is not unusual. Going through the Submit-Service-Request/E-Mail-from-India/Call-India-Back cycle would have been pointless. By the time I got the helpdesk in India on the phone, the problem would be gone. Indeed, it was gone the next day.

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