Don't kill Exchange yet! Migrate to Office 365 step by step

The best way to take advantage of Microsoft's cloud service is to move to it incrementally

Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was your enterprise messaging platform. Yet the concept of the cloud -- specifically, Microsoft's Office 365 -- promises revolutionary changes of cost savings, risk reduction, technical agility, and easier management, all beloved by boards of directors.

Clearly, Office 365 is gaining a significant foothold into corporate America's plans. Osterman Research, which does marketing research work for Microsoft and other tech vendors, has reported that 52 percent of businesses say they will ultimately move all or some users to Office 365. Office 365 is a good service that companies should consider adopting -- but not in one fell swoop.

[ Before you move to Office 365, read J. Peter Bruzzese's advice on reducing the pain of archive migration and using multifactor authentication. And learn about Microsoft's Office 365 road map. | Stay atop key Microsoft technologies in InfoWorld's Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

"CIOs need to recognize the move to Office 365 as an evolution, not a revolution," says Jay Gundotra, CEO of ENow, a provider of monitoring and professional services. "As cloud services become more prevalent in the enterprise toolkit, those who promote a hybrid approach -- a mix of on-premises Microsoft Exchange and Office 365 -- will find an accelerated time to value. The hybrid strategy allows for gradual adoption and infrastructure right-sizing. Moreso, it provides a learning curve toward best practices with minimal risk exposure. And it's really how any true paradigm shift takes hold."

The hybrid approach can accommodate how any company grows, organizes, and operates "in any setting, under any circumstances," writes Brad Anderson, Microsoft's VP of Windows Server & System Center in his blog. A key reason for going hybrid is to "help organizations avoid placing all their eggs in one basket. Having all of your data in a single place makes you vulnerable."

It's no secret that a hybrid Exchange/Office365 environment poses very real challenges. It can be very time- and labor-intensive to set up. It's complex to manage because there are two separate but equal segments requiring support. Although Microsoft has made significant progress in its migration processes since the bad old days of moving from Exchange 2010 to Office 365 and its Business Productivity Online Services predecessor, the migration process for going from Exchange 2013 to Office 365 still remains overwhelming.

Issues affecting one side of the fence can directly impact the other: Users may lose the ability to schedule with one another, lose email, or lose access to some data. It's critical to keep the Exchange and Office 365 sides interoperably compatible. To do that, you have to start with planning, end with monitoring -- and pray periodically through the whole process. For example, creating a hybrid connection will break free/busy when an organization relationship exists.

The setup and configuration of a hybrid environment is no trivial task. Challenges abound from the initial setup of the hybrid components, the migration of users' data, and the ongoing maintenance and monitoring of the overall system. Besides learning Microsoft's Office 365 architecture, you have to handle the complexity of ensuring network devices, Active Directory Federation Services, DirSync, mail flow, and certificates are all configured properly.

Once the framework is in place, you should consider a staged migration, aka a hybrid migration. This approach dramatically reduces the likelihood of disruption and gives administrators more time to more closely examine email content and what can be archived. In an enterprise of 10,000 accounts, move just 10 percent of user accounts. See how it works, how the users adapt. Monitor and record the issues so that future migrations are faster and smoother. Create an ongoing process to migrate additional accounts as you see the value accelerating and the Microsoft cloud experience continues to improve. Wash, rinse, repeat.

"Hybrid deployments often have several moving parts that need to be monitored to ensure reliable messaging and calendaring services," notes ENow's Gundotra. "Success is predicated on maintaining proper control of the entire landscape. Careful and vigilant monitoring allows you to proactively anticipate issues and track activity and resource usage. It provides the necessary context to ensure continuity, connectivity, and compliance -- which in turn is what you need for control."

A planned and tested migration to a hybrid cloud/on-premises environment brings together the benefits of both worlds. And it gives you the flexibility to decide later if you want to go all-in with Office 365, remain on-premise, or maintain a mix. It's how Rome was built: one brick at a time.

This story, "Don't kill Exchange yet! Migrate to Office 365 step by step," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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