Friendly URLs with Office 365

One of the small challenges faced by organisations adopting Office 365 and other Microsoft Online Services offerings is the loss of custom URLs and naming conventions that their staff have become familiar with.

For example where previously an organisations URL for SharePoint may have been http://intranet internally and http://intranet.contoso.com externally – this was only possible through the use of Alternate Access Mappings (AAM) in SharePoint.

In the world of Office 365 and SharePoint Online this URL becomes https://contoso.sharepoint.com which is somewhat easy to remember if you were successful in securing a tenant domain that resembles your organisation name. Unfortunately not every organisation is lucky enough, and tenant domains on Office 365 are consumed on a first-come-first-serve basis. That may mean that while Contoso in the US registered for Office 365 first and now has https://contoso.sharepoint.com, Contoso Australia would have to choose a different URL – possibly https://contosoau.sharepoint.com or https://contosooz.sharepoint.com. Either way it’s not idea.

Where this gets a bit confusing is adding in URLs for Outlook Web Access – http://mail.office365.com or http://www.outlook.com/contoso.com. Then add Dynamics CRM Online with https://contoso.crm5.dynamics.com.

All of these URLs can be a bit much to deal with for the average user who just wants to get on with doing their job and not have to remember all these URLs.

If your website is hosted externally (ie. not on Office 365) and happens to be on cPanel then you’re in luck as you can use a combination of subdomains and 301 redirects. What is a redirect? Redirects allow you to make a specific web page or URL redirect to another page or URL and display the contents of that page. In a nutshell if we create a subdomain of intranet.contoso.com and create a redirect to point it to https://contoso.sharepoint.com this will allow the user to type in one URL and have it end up at another.

For Paradyne I have created a series of redirects to make it easy for our staff:

Why can you not simply use a CNAME in DNS to achieve this? Because when a CNAME hits the Microsoft web server that is providing the relevant service the URL it will ask for is the original friendly URL. Because Microsoft doesn’t know about http://intranet.paradyne.com.au it won’t know what to do with the request.

When all the redirects have been put in place within your cPanel environment, you must then create A records in DNS to point all of those friendly URLs to the IP address of your web server – as it is doing all the redirecting.

The downside of this means that a bit of traffic goes through your web host, but these days data is all but free so it shouldn’t make an impact.

The upside means that users don’t have to remember different URLs and domains for each of the services they want to access – just the word in front of your domain name.

(An alternative method would be to use a friendly URL of http://www.contoso.com/intranet/ and re-direct that instead, which means no DNS entries required. The choice is up to you.)

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