Opinion: With Office 365, Getting To The Cloud May Be Tougher Than You Think

Mar 24, 2016

There are a number of reasons for companies turning to cloud-based email, and Office 365 in particular. According to Osterman Research, between 2015-2017, the penetration of Office 365 is expected to more than double. In fact, cloud-based mailboxes powered by Microsoft Exchange Server technology currently represent 31 per cent of all worldwide business cloud mailboxes.

Office 365 has been designed to provide a full-feature platform that will appeal to most people without requiring individual customisation. After all, Office 365 is a multi-tenant cloud environment, whose true value comes from the ability to interact from anywhere on any device. 

Reducing the cost of ownership of email is one of the key reasons for migrating to Office 365.  Not only is the overall cost often reduced, on-going costs become far more predictable. Technical issues that often cause surprise overheads don’t go away, but it is Microsoft that takes the responsibility and cost of these problems. Microsoft also has a compelling collaboration story, through solutions like Sharepoint, Yammer, and Skype. These applications are relatively easy to integrate and can truly improve internal communication. 

Office 365 can also greatly improve business agility and productivity. It is far easier for the IT team to upsize or downsize email infrastructure in the cloud environment, with a simple web interface to add or remove users. From a productivity standpoint, it’s fairly clear that email doesn’t give businesses a fundamental competitive advantage. By outsourcing email, existing IT staff can be transferred to more productive tasks, such as creating or supporting value-added services. 

Considering Office 365?

Despite these benefits, we’re still seeing a number of companies holding back from the cloud. What many businesses do not fully consider is that the process of adopting Office 365 is a migration, not an upgrade. And migrating to the cloud is not a simple task. There are lots of potential issues that businesses need to consider, from changes to tools and work practices, to the server capabilities and greater bandwidth requirements for the cloud environment.

Let’s look at three of the key challenges faced by organisations during the Office 365 migration:

Challenge #1: Migrating PST files and legacy email

PST files have been used by businesses for years and are now often scattered across multiple locations, on employee end points and company servers. Unmanaged data contained within PST files presents a legal risk and liability and should not be overlooked. These files are not automatically migrated to Office 365 by Microsoft and the sheer volume and spread of these files presents a big challenge for IT teams. On average, each user may have three to five PSTs, each around 1-2GB in size. It is not uncommon for PSTs to cause companies to take three or even four times longer than expected to move to Office 365.

Challenge #2: Re-location of files 

In Office 365 organisations face a plethora of new places for files to be stored, shared, classified, and managed. Some file share content will be best directed to document libraries in SharePoint Online. Other content should go to an individual’s OneDrive for Business. Still other content will need to be moved into Yammer. Add to this the need to respect access privileges for confidential and sensitive documents, and decision makers are faced with a significant migration and rethinking exercise to work through.

Challenge #3: Long migration process

Migration to Office 365 takes a significant amount of time, and is measured in months and years, definitely not days or weeks. The length of a migration is generally tied to the complexity of the current on-premises architecture, as well as the desired end state for the migration to Office 365.

Get to grips with your Office 365 environment

Almost every business looking to adopt Office 365 will have something that has to be migrated. There are really only two practical approaches to the migration. Companies will need to choose between a hybrid solution, where some applications and data remains on premise, or go entirely cloud. In our experience, the majority of organisations develop some kind of integration between on-premise systems and Office 365, thereby creating a hybrid environment.

Data migration is a critical issue and it is much more practical to get external help with this. This is especially true for organisations that have large amounts of PST files or a large volume of legacy email, as this can significantly slow down migration. Organisations must prepare both their data and their network in order to migrate successfully to Office 365. 

The three key challenges outlined above can be overcome. Like any IT project, breaking it down into segments will make the process easier to plan and manage.

Pre-migration

This is the time to find and classify legacy emails and PST files, and make a determination on whether to migrate or archive these messages. On-premise archiving is actually one of the best ways to avoid an expensive “forklift” upload to the cloud. This will mean that you actually speed up the migration process and start your Office 365 with clean, shiny new inboxes. All your email is in an archive, fully accessible by the end user and fully indexed and under control. All those old PST files can then be deleted. 

Migration - and beyond

Office 365 connections will affect Internet traffic. Business continuity will depend on the availability of these connections. Business critical applications like Office 365 should be intelligently prioritised as to not compete with other network resources like video streaming, which can throttle networks of critical bandwidth. Organisations must be prepared for the migration process to take much longer than expected and set aside sufficient budget to cover both the process itself and the issues that will invariably arise during the migration.

Post-migration

Microsoft offers baseline security, information management, and retention management as part of the Office 365 suite, but is this enough? Be prepared to evaluate systems such as real-time protection, encryption & data leakage prevention. Existing architectures may need to be re-designed to optimise performance for remote users using Office 365. This involves removing centralised Internet connections, where users from remote offices connect to the head office over slow MPLS lines and access the Internet from there.

Prepare for the road ahead

Migrating to Office 365 represents a significant step for an organisation. It introduces product upgrades and brand new tools, opens the way for new work practices, and provides opportunities for improving productivity. It also introduces a set of new demands and risks for the organisation. Devoting sufficient time, energy, and resources to planning a migration to Office 365 is a critical best practice. A successful migration relies on suitable preparation, sufficient technical knowledge, and a well-executed project plan.

The author is Consulting System Engineer (Data Protection) at Barracuda Networks

(c) 2016 24n.biz

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