Dynamics CRM Online – things to consider before moving to the cloud

More and more organisations are considering a move to the ‘cloud’ for their IT systems, including Dynamics CRM. But what things do you need to look out for?

Anyone who works for a Microsoft Partner will likely know that most engagements for Dynamics CRM commence with the ideology of “leading with the cloud”, and there are many reasons why a move to the cloud can be advantageous to an organisation. But not everything is unicorns and rainbows, so what should you look out for when making the decision on switching from On Premise or Partner Hosted CRM deployments to CRM Online? In this post I will attempt to use my personal experiences to date to provide some insight along with the facts.

The Compelling Reason

In order to lead with a ‘cloud first’ approach organisations will likely need a ‘compelling reason’ to consider a deployment online, this is especially important when this involves a migration away from CRM deployed on premise. In most cases this can be directly translated into a cost saving – will it cost less to have CRM and other associated applications available in the cloud vs. managing on premise or with via a hosting partner? But the cost analysis is not the only consideration – so your Microsoft Partner should encourage due-diligence prior to making a decision.

Cost to Manage and Licensing

It is here that Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online can come into it’s own, due to the scale of Microsoft’s infrastructure they can operate at a much lower cost a benefit that can be passed on to the customer. Organisations can reduce their overall cost to manage and maintain multiple CRM servers, the savings can be augmented by the use of Exchange, Office and SharePoint through Office 365. If servers and software/applications are aging and a refresh is required this can be an opportunity to consider the cost and effort required against a move to the cloud.

One of the other areas that could prove attractive is the flexibility of licensing compared to purchasing through Software Assurance – licenses can be purchases and then cancelled (given the set notice period) when no longer required.

Another excellent selling point for Office 365 in this area is the price of an Enterprise E3 subscription with CRM Online (check out the details of the E3 Plan here: https://products.office.com/en-us/business/office-365-enterprise-e3-business-software), with a direct comparison to a Professional CRM license the slight increase in cost makes them an attractive proposition.

The E3 plan is more suited to larger organisations but the cost can reduce further based on discounts for certain sectors such as; charities and educational establishments, so investigate through your licensing supplier. There are also promos running in some regions that include Unified Service Desk and Parature – check the Microsoft website.

Please Note: The prices below were accurate at the time of writing but are subject to change.

Item Description Cost (NZD) Cost (GBP)
Dynamics CRM Online Professional + O365 Enterprise E3 Plan Per User/Month, includes O365 E3, PowerBI and SharePoint 84.17 42.79
Dynamics CRM Online Professional Per User/Month CRM Online 79.60 40.50

Managing Multiple Instances

Any solid CRM deployment is based on multiple instances – Production, Testing and Development environments are at the very least best practice, so how does that work with CRM Online? Well the answer is quite simple; one non-production instance is included when you purchase 25 or more licenses (USLs) that are Professional or above. The instance is added to O365 as a subscription and is managed as such, additional instances can be purchased as subscriptions too, there is no ‘double up’ on licensing, users who have active CRM licenses can be given access to any of your instances.

Upgrades can be applied to your CRM instances in a staggered schedule using the management console in the O365 portal. Usually these are initially scheduled at increments before Production is updated and the updates can be deferred or rescheduled.

You can copy instances (Production to Non-production) in the O365 portal too, the steps to do so can be found on TechNet here: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn659832.aspx

Backups are a key area to consider when moving to O365, managing servers and databases on premise means the organisation are the masters of their own destiny, with CRM Online this changes. With CRM Online you have no access to SQL server or the database other than through the application layer, backup copies can be requested through Microsoft Support as can the restoration of a backup here; www.microsoft.com/…/contact-technical-support.aspx.

What about Data Sovereignty? Where is my data?

Depending on the region you select your organisations data will be held in the nearest Microsoft Data Centre, this can be important when considering data sovereignty – different sectors have different rules as to where data can be stored as do different countries (it is best to check this for each organisation). You can check out the various locations here; Online Legal Bits, there is also a brief FAQ section here that can be useful. It is important to note that for the UK, the nearest data centre at the time of writing is Dublin (Eire) which could pose issues for some potential customers. For CRM Online customers in New Zealand and Australia the nearest location was Singapore, but this has been improved by the use of the newer sites in New South Wales and Victoria, though this would still be an issue for those organisations needing to store data within New Zealand for example.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online uses service logs, rather than direct access to customer data, for purposes of providing, maintaining, and troubleshooting the online services. Service logs record errors and performance issues, and may contain limited customer data such as email addresses, subject lines of emails, file names, and site URLs to identify the source of the error or performance issue being recorded. Service logs do not contain customer-authored data such as customer documents, email message bodies or attachments, website content, or IM/voice conversations. Service logs that contain customer data are stored in the datacentres identified

Failover/Disaster recovery is managed between sites.

Database Size -Storage Limits

The default size is 5GB (not huge), after that you may have to purchase additional storage space, depending upon the number of user licenses purchased there is addtional storage given for each user licensed in O365, which is approx. 2.5GB per user.

There was a maximum size limit of 50GB however, I believe this no longer applies. The storage is also shared across instances, you can keep up with the current storage use in the CRM Application (under Settings > Administration > Resource Use). So, if moving from on Premise to the cloud, it is time to cut some of the deadwood!

*Update* – It is also a good idea to consider if Auditing is applied to entities and fields in CRM. A high volume of audit records stored in CRM Online can directly affect performance and storage availability.

Archiving or deletion of Audit Logs should be considered and factored into CRM maintenance to ensure the volume of records does not adversely affect CRM Online. – RedCRM July 2016.

Reporting In CRM Online

Without effective reporting on your CRM data to gain insight it can be argued that there is no real point at all investing in a CRM Application. Being able to retrieve and display data for the Sales Pipeline, KPIs and ROI can be vital to the success of the implementation. Organisations who are currently using CRM on premise may have complex reporting through SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services) which can use the MSCRM database as a data source, schedule snapshots, set up subscriptions and use the reports .RDL file to surface the report in CRM through the Reporting Wizard.

Out of the box in CRM Online this is not possible to set up SSRS reporting, you can use the CRM Wizard Reporting tool as well as Advanced Find (as you can on premise), but you cannot currently schedule snapshots nor do you have access to a dedicated Reports Serve to create SSRS reports. Though this can be achieved using Fetch XML and/or SQL replication, (check out this post on Code Project).

If this is not a desirable workaround, it may well be worth considering Power BI. Power BI for Office 365 cloud service works together with Microsoft Office Excel and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to extend the reporting capability of CRM Online. (Power BI now supports data refresh with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online.) And as per the earlier section on licensing Power BI can be purchased as part of the E3 plan for O365.

There are also some handy Analytics Templates for CRM Online and Power BI available via Pinpoint;

Sales Analytics Templates; https://pinpoint.microsoft.com/en-GB/Applications/12884985960
Service Analytics Templates; https://pinpoint.microsoft.com/en-GB/Applications/12884985963

It is important to establish the level and complexity of reporting prior to recommending a move to the cloud and what that might mean as an impact for delivery or the CRM project. What about data warehousing or big data? – you may ask, well that actually leads me on to the next topic.

Data Integration with CRM Online

Recently I have been engaged with clients that are considering CRM Online with data integrated from others sources, such as AX, GP and/or Data Warehouses. My tip – do not underestimate the importance of this step, it is a huge ask for CRM Online to replicate larger organisations current data integration compared to CRM on premise.

Some of you may or may not know that typically the number of parallel connections allowed to CRM Online is 2, though this can be expanded using manipulation of XML to 4 this could potentially be throttled back to 2  so is not exactly stable. I recommend calculating the volumes of data being transferred and testing performance using a proof of concept and the use of batches, ExecuteMultiple and BDD (balanced data distributor) to enhance integration performance. Using ISV solutions such as KingswaySoft may allow for smoother integration.

Some colleagues of mine tested the indicative transfer rates based on tests conducted against a vanilla instance of MSCRM Online hosted in the Australian datacentre. Tests include both singular requests and the execute-multiple approach, simultaneous execute-multiple connections were also tested:

Data Transfer

CRM Online Vs. On Premise

There are other areas to consider, and to reduce the risk of turning this post into a novel, there is a quick reference table below:

CRMOnlinevOnPrem

In Closing

A move into the cloud doesn’t have to be terrifying, but it does need careful consideration and may be more suitable to some organisations than others. Make sure the requirements are well defined and that wherever possible performance and scalability is tested fully prior to making a commitment. A trial instance usually lasts for 30 days, but can be extended through Microsoft Support.

So – do your homework, assess and cleanse your CRM data, stress test your integrations, compare your costs and happy CRM’ing. 🙂

Microsoft’s mobile client for Dynamics CRM 2015 vs. Resco Mobile CRM (Update)

Useful for those considering a Resco solution for Dynamics CRM direct from the Resco blog. Fine work 🙂

resco.net

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 mobile client versus Resco Mobile CRM

Over a year ago I published a comparison of two Dynamics CRM mobile clients: Microsoft’s mobile application (also known as MoCA) and Resco Mobile CRM.

People have been asking me for an updated version, so here it is.

What has changed in past year?

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