Microsoft Office 365, Azure, and How to Use Them Together

Office 365 and Azure are two important cloud services with many features and functions. Although Microsoft mainly designed them to work separately, when used in combination, they offer an excellent way to increase efficiency in the workplace with minimal IT administration.

This post will focus on the several ways organizations can benefit by using Office 365 and Azure together. It will also discuss critical considerations for administration, best practices, and pitfalls while using them together. Office 365 and Azure are fundamental components of the Microsoft cloud OS vision; they both work together and benefit from each other’s services.

What Is Office 365 (Now Microsoft 365)?

Microsoft recently rebranded Office 365 as Microsoft 365. It can help you design, deliver, operate, and support great digital experiences for every person engaging with your business. The goal of this offering is to provide simplified collaboration for all your business activities. Office 365 a subscription-based office suite that includes email, web apps, desktop software, and a collection of cloud services, applications, and mobile apps. It allows 24/7 access to all your information in one place securely from anywhere.

With Office 365, you also get tools like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel that enable you to create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more. You can store all your files in the cloud using OneDrive for Business and communicate with colleagues, clients, partners, and social contacts using Teams. Add-ons like Power BI and Microsoft Graph further increase its functionality as the office productivity suite.

What Is Azure?

Azure is a robust and scalable cloud computing platform that offers everything you need to deploy, build and manage a software application using any language or toolset. You can connect users to your site or application, send messages between applications, store data in the cloud, process large amounts of data or host applications, and more. It’s also capable of managing applications across several servers or devices at once without you having to worry about managing infrastructure or hardware.

Folks in IT can also use Azure to support their existing infrastructure, helping them manage their enterprise servers and software systems. For example, if you need servers to run your SQL Server database, SharePoint, or Exchange instance, you can run it using Azure virtual machines.

Azure has a wide range of features, including security solutions such as Azure Active Directory (AD), threat detection, and compliance tools and services for data management. It’s a great platform to run apps that require high availability and fault tolerance.

Three people working together

Using Azure and Office 365 Together

While Azure provides the infrastructure, Office 365 provides the applications to support your day-to-day office tasks. In this way, Office 365 offers a great way to facilitate collaboration and communication among your workforce, while Azure provides the required infrastructure for scaling your business in the cloud. There are several ways to use them together, and there are many benefits in doing so. We’ll look into various methods of using them together in the sections below.

Enable Single Sign-On and Manage Access

You can enable single sign-on by connecting Office 365 with Azure AD. This feature is particularly advantageous for a business since it allows multiple employees to access Office 365 resources through a single account, eliminating the need to log in multiple times. A free subscription to Azure AD is included with each paid Office 365 plan. It significantly reduces IT costs for organizations while also reducing login and authentication costs for their users.

A free subscription to Azure AD

Access Management for Your Users and App

You can manage all your office users’ accounts and manage their access to ensure that only the appropriate entities have access to office applications, resources, and other assets. When you create an Office 365 group, it’s stored in Azure AD. You also use Azure AD for user consent handling for your third-party apps. Once the app is registered with Azure AD, it can access information from Office 365, such as a user’s calendar, and modify files stored in their OneDrive folder. You also use Azure AD to administer your apps and to create and manage users and group accounts.

Create and Scale Your Custom App or Web Service on Azure

Suppose you have custom apps or a web service that enhance functionality provided by the Office 365 platform by using Office 365 APIs. You can host them on Azure virtual machines or servers as the infrastructure. Azure has many enterprise-grade features that provide redundancy and high availability for running your custom apps or services smoothly without any interruptions.

Manage Mobile Devices and Set up Policy-Based Access Control

You can use the Microsoft Intune service to manage users’ mobile devices. Further, you can set up security policies to allow certain users groups to access some applications while restricting others, and it helps you protect your company data against threats.

Establish a Secure Connection Using Azure VPN Gateway

You can connect securely from your on-premises networks to Office 365 platforms using site-to-site or point-to-site connections using Azure VPN gateway. You can also use ExpressRoute to reduce latency or connectivity issues. Using this service reduces cost significantly, as you don’t need a traditional hardware device to establish this connection.

Optimize Performance With Hybrid Connectivity

You can set up hybrid connectivity between Office 365 and Azure to optimize performance for your users. It allows Office 365 services to retrieve data from your local office network. The way it works is that Office 365 retrieves the needed information from Azure and caches it locally, which speeds up access time and ensures better connectivity for your office applications.

Back up Data

You can back up Office 365 data stored in places such as OneDrive, SharePoint, Exchange mailbox, and more directly into the cloud via the Azure Backup service. It keeps the data safe if something happens to your local or on-premises backups. The backup process is automatic and active 24/7. Also, if necessary, you can restore your files through a recovery service.

Discover, Classify, and Protect Information Using Labels

You can classify and protect documents and emails by applying labels. These labels also make your document easy to find. With Azure Information Protection (AIP), you can set rules to automatically tag and protect certain information or enforce the use of labels with Office 365 apps. For example, an admin can require that all messages sent outside of an organization include a label “confidential” to define the level of protection for those files. Further, when a user opens a labeled file, it can be protected by applying restrictive controls like making it read-only or preventing printing.

Check Security Compliance

To determine how well your organization’s Microsoft 365 deployment complies with security best practices, you can use Secure Score in Azure Security Center. The score also provides recommendations about improving your compliance and comparing it with other Office 365 customers.

Get Reports and Audit logs on User and Admin activity

You can monitor user activity to detect suspicious activities in your Microsoft 365 deployment using Azure Sentinel. It might indicate a cyberattack and can help you take steps to mitigate risk. You also get audit reports and security logs containing information about the security-related events in your Office 365 deployment. To get more accurate information, you should integrate your on-premise security logs with your Azure AD tenant.

Protect Against Threats

You can continuously monitor your Office 365 environment activities for suspicious sign-ins, unusual activities performed by existing users, and unexpected changes made to your Office 365 files using Azure Advanced Threat Protection (ATP). ATP uses machine learning to analyze the behavior of users and applications in your organization’s network. That, in turn, helps you detect potential attacks by malicious users that might otherwise go unnoticed by security monitoring or reporting tools.

You can create different types of detection policies to handle suspicious activities differently by service. For example, you can create a policy that automatically blocks suspicious activity or suspends users suspected of being attackers.

Different types of security detection

Best Practices for Using Office 365 and Azure Together

Below are some of the best practices for using Office 365 and Azure together:

  • If you plan to build multiple custom apps and workflows leveraging Office 365 capabilities, consider using PowerApps and Microsoft Flow to automate complex tasks with reduced development costs.
  • With the help of AIP’s File Classification Infrastructure (FCI), you can automatically assign labels to files. It also makes it easy for users to classify and protect files as part of their everyday work processes.
  • You should configure monitoring tools to monitor your Azure virtual machines, services, and VPN gateways. Netreo cloud monitoring tools can help you better visualize Azure infrastructure and receive alerts for any failures. To view learn more, check out Netreo’s cloud monitoring tools.
  • Use Azure AD Identity Protection to create policies that define how users and groups should authenticate to Office 365 or what actions they can take after authentication. For example, you might require multifactor authentication for all workstation sign-ins and prevent access from known malicious URLs.

Key Considerations for Using Office 365 and Azure Together

Below are the critical considerations for using Office 365 and Azure together:

  • Security: Azure is more secure. Office 365 is more vulnerable to attacks by hackers because of its legacy codebase.
  • Scalability: Azure scales on-demand, whereas Office 365 needs provisioning by an administrator.
  • Data backup and recovery: Azure provides a more reliable method of backing up data than Office 365. Office 365 can recover from a backup point created by Azure Automated Data Protection Manager (DPM).
  • Data sovereignty: Azure may not be available within some countries due to legal compliance issues or regulations. Office 365 has a broader reach and is available globally.
  • Administration: Office 365 administration is less complex. Azure requires more training for its users and admins to be proficient.

Are There Any Downsides?

Microsoft’s focus has been on Office 365 as an application, not as a platform. Office 365 doesn’t provide robust features for building apps on devices with Linux or Unix-based operating systems. It can only be used by users with internet access and a device to run these apps. It also requires a licensing cost, making it cost-prohibitive to small businesses looking to get started.

Conclusion

Office 365 and Azure, when used together, provide numerous benefits to organizations. These include SSO, improved office productivity for users, cloud storage, data security, and tighter integration.

It ensures your office users only have the necessary access to office applications with policy-based access control. This provides better protection against hackers or malicious applications. Azure also offers endless opportunities for developers to build custom applications integrating Office 365 APIs. In summary, it provides better business productivity, mitigates risks, saves money and time through effective user management.

This post was written by Tarun Telang. Tarun is a software engineering leader with over 16 years of experience in the software industry with some of the world’s most renowned software development firms like Microsoft, Oracle, BlackBerry, and SAP. His areas of expertise include Java, web, mobile, and cloud. He’s also experienced in managing software projects using Agile and Test Driven Development methodologies.

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