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Office 365 administration made easy

Martin Heller | Jan. 22, 2014
Going beyond Office 365's native admin GUI, 365 Command provides powerful Exchange admin capabilities without the need to run PowerShell

A business that moves its email to a hosted solution such as Office 365 typically hopes to reduce operating and administrative costs, reduce spam, and decrease downtime. Alas, administrators who open up the Web-based GUI for Office 365 discover that several of the commonly needed administration and reporting options for Exchange are not available. In many cases, administrators get around the omissions by running PowerShell scripts against the Exchange APIs -- or by hiring consultants to run the PowerShell scripts, which are not exactly easy or intuitive to create for mere mortals.

Enter 365 Command, a Microsoft Windows Azure Web application, available for a modest monthly fee, that presents a much more complete GUI for administration of Office 365 Exchange. Companies might use 365 Command to eliminate or reduce the need for consultants, who in turn might use it to do more work in less time with fewer errors.

In my testing, 365 Command worked well for administering my small Office 365 Exchange installation. I didn't encounter any issues that required asking for support, and I managed to make my intended changes without breaking anything for anyone. On the other hand, I more or less knew what I wanted to do.

As far as I can tell, 365 Command currently has no competition.

365 Command helps with administrative actions, reporting, and auditing. An example of an administrative action is converting a mailbox from a User type to a Shared type (see screen image). Why would you want to do that? One reason is that there is (or was) a bug in the conversion software that moves Exchange mailboxes into the Office 365 cloud that makes all mailboxes the User type. When a group uses a mailbox -- such as "sales" or "marketing" -- one good way to manage the mailbox is to make it shared. This also saves a license.

Another reason is that for common aliases, such as "sales," you may want fine-grained control over who sees what folders that you can't get from a forwarding rule in a User mailbox or from group membership.

365 Command's dashboard gives you a lot of useful information about your Office 365 installation that you can't easily get directly from the Office 365 administration Web UI.

To continue with the Shared mailbox example, to make this beneficial, you have to actually assign user permissions (see screen image). Then the users can add the mailboxes to their inboxes as new folders from the inbox pop-up menu. The ability to easily manage mailbox permissions is especially necessary for shared mailboxes, but it's also often used for executives' administrative assistants.

Auditing is another good use for 365 Command. In a local Exchange instance, you can do a lot to identify policy violations and restrict certain actions. In Office 365, little of that is exposed. 365 Command can display reports about external forwarding, password violations, and users who have full access and Send As access to other mailboxes. 365 Command also can send you scheduled reports via email (see screen image).

 

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