Navigating Office 365 Migrations

As SMBs begin to migrate to cloud-based Office 365, there will be challenges. And that's where you and the right migration tools come in. By Samuel Greengard

During the last few years, cloud computing has drifted into the mainstream of business. It's no secret that the technology is changing the way organizations approach IT-and the way people interact and work. But along with all the potential gains come some noticeable pains-especially when data migrations are part of the picture. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the current shift toward Microsoft Office 365.

Although cloud-based email can present significant advantages versus the traditional client/server approach, migrating to a cloud platform can prove difficult and frustrating. "IT projects have been around for decades, but the cloud and the rapid pace of change are placing enormous pressure on SMBs," says Todd Schwartz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seattle-based migration software provider SkyKick. "Moving applications and data presents challenges and risks."

Of course, as small businesses look to Office 365 to address their needs, channel partners must often oversee and manage the transition. However, because Microsoft offers only basic tools to manage migrations, the process can prove tedious, time-consuming, and sometimes chaotic. "Many companies that attempt to handle the migration wind up bogged down and sometimes stalled out," notes Jason Wingert, vice president and principal consultant at Interlink Cloud Advisors Inc. in Cincinnati.

How can channel pros best approach the migration to a cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 environment? What can be done to minimize the impact and disruption? And are migration tools worth the expense?

WHERE TO BEGIN
A starting point is to recognize that Microsoft provides only basic tools and capabilities for a migration, including the Microsoft Office 365 Deployment Readiness Tool. While the application might be sufficient for some organizations transitioning to Office 365, it lacks the depth and breadth of features-including automation capabilities-available in many third-party tools, such as those from Metalogix, MetaVis, MigrationWiz, Quest, SkyKick, and others. In many instances, these tools map accounts and data while automating the transition to the cloud.

Of course, each tool offers advantages and disadvantages. And third-party software doesn't replace the need to ensure that Active Directory objects are valid, data is backed up and secure, and there's a clear understanding of what's involved in a migration. Further, "It's important to consider what type of migration you're involved with," Wingert says. "Moving from a non-Microsoft platform such as Domino or GroupWise to Office 365 is a lot more complicated and it typically involves a third-party tool."

In fact, a growing number of channel pros and end users are turning to third-party tools to tackle the task, even when moving from Microsoft Exchange to the cloud. As Schwartz points out: "There are about a dozen stages and over 200 steps involved with a typical process." A migration can involve 40 hours or more, plus a mind-bending array of issues, including setting up mailbox rules, pulling data and emails from old POP and IMAP accounts, making DNS changes, and provisioning licenses. "It's critical to get everything right," he adds.

Third-party solutions typically walk a user through the process and provide a way to automate steps. For example, SkyKick's Web-based migration software tackles the discovery and planning process, including assessing existing hosts and mailboxes; it provides a Migration Sync tool that moves actual data, including domain information, calendar items, and email; an Outlook Assistant that customizes clients and settings; and a Portal app that manages IT tasks. "The goal is to solve the underlying business issues," Schwartz says.

"Migrations can prove more challenging and complicated than they appear," Wingert concludes. "For channel pros, the complexity creates opportunity. Armed with the right knowledge and tools, it's possible to manage the process smoothly and accurately."

Migration Tools at a Glance
Here are a few of the leading Office 365 migration tools:

  • Metalogix Software Corp. The vendor offers content infrastructure software that manages migrations, including a beta program for Office 365.
  • MetaVis Technologies. The company provides an Office 365 Suite to assist with migrations to the cloud.
  • MigrationWiz. The cloud-based service from BitTitan offers end-to-end migration capabilities and supports Lotus Notes, Google Apps, Microsoft Exchange, and other platforms.
  • Quest. The product from Dell Software performs pre-migration assessments and helps manage the transition to the cloud. It includes support for Lotus Notes, GroupWise, Google Apps, and on-premises Exchange and SharePoint.
  • SkyKick. This cloud-based solution from a Microsoft partner completely automates the migration to Office 365 from a variety of platforms, including Lotus Notes, GroupWise, Google Apps, and existing Exchange and SharePoint servers.

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