Confession: I have a sweet tooth. And my favorite dessert is strawberry shortcake.

So what is strawberry shortcake doing in an article about the value of cloud computing? Stay with me. 

Just as strawberry shortcakes consist of distinct layers of goodness whose sum is greater than its parts, the capabilities within Office 365 are built on different layers of technology. When explaining the value of cloud computing with Office 365, I find that breaking the discussion down to this level can help. 

Still with me? Good. Let's deconstruct the layers:

The Base: Infrastructure Tools Turned Services


The base of what makes a strawberry shortcake so good is the cake itself. I'm no baker, but I know that effort goes into the mixing, timing and baking at the appropriate temperature. 

Similarly, the base layer of Office 365 is comprised of the Infrastructure tools that we've grown accustomed to: Exchange, Skype for Business and SharePoint. While differences can be found in how they have been deployed in the cloud, a majority of their capabilities exist, and are being added to on a regular basis. In spite of the rumors of SharePoint, the brand, going away (which I think it might), the core code and organizational structure will last for a long while.

The Sweet Stuff: Cloud Processing

cloud processing

On top of the base layer, and surrounding the entire cake, is whipped cream. Not from a can, but hand whipped, lightly sweetened goodness amplifies the taste of the cake and the berries.  

For Office 365, the services that we know are sweetened by the secret ingredients that I call cloud processing. Cloud processing describes a group of internal Microsoft tools that can only exist at the scale and power within the cloud. These are the pieces that cannot be reproduced internally, nor can they be easily copied by other cloud giants.

The largest piece of cloud processing is the Office Graph. This big data about an individual not only stores data about a person and her actions within Office 365, but connects her to people and content throughout the organization. A close second are the Azure services like Azure Active Directory and Azure Video Services. These tools also have their roots in very common on-premises tools like media server, which were transformed into easy to use, highly scalable solutions that can be combined to build new functionality. For an example, Azure Active Directory not only connects on-premises to Office 365 accounts, but can also be used for Single Sign-On between other tools like SalesForce or Box.

Learning Opportunities

The Main Attraction: Applications


You know what's next — a strawberry shortcake without strawberries is just ... cake. Strawberries are folded into the whip cream and placed between two layers of cake. 

Similarly, we've grown to expect certain applications from Microsoft. Office 365 gives us access to these applications in both desktop and online versions: Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, etc. There is room here for interpretation, but I started thinking of Office 365 this way when building adoption plans. An application is a familiar way to talk about a fully functioning piece of software, and is an easy idea for users to grasp as you discuss all of the new features and concepts.

The Topping: Apps


Part of food's appeal lies in presentation, and so a garnish of strawberries on top of the cake adds a certain flair. 

I call this final layer or capabilities, “Apps.” This term does not work exactly with the definition of mobile apps or the app launcher in Office 365 that includes applications from the previous layer. I use this term to represent modern, simple software. I further define Apps as tools that are a clear combination of capabilities across the layers of Office 365.

One example of an App is the new video portal available in Office 365. You upload videos into your Sites (a.k.a. SharePoint) and on the backend that video is moved to Azure. When you watch that video, your experience is optimized because Azure was designed for video streaming. In the image above, you can see all of the layers of Office 365 and how they work together to create the capabilities your end-users will be interacting with every day. 

My next article will take deeper look at the pieces within cloud processing, and provide a few more ways to talk with your end-users about the value within Office 365.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Carolyn Coles