Microsoft's Office 365 push tramples partners -- and IT

New migration tools and other recent Exchange cloud moves will help you move your data to the cloud, but they'll also end your choice in the matter

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On-premises Exchange was always aligned with third-party tools that extended and enhanced the core product. As Exchange moves to the cloud via Office 365 and Exchange Online, many IT admins fear that this useful third-party ecosystem is a goner.

In moving to the cloud, I've been trying to get solutions architects and IT admins to avoid folding their hands and simply acquiescing by showing how they could continue to add value to Exchange even amid migration, in articles such as "Solution architect, reinvent yourself for the cloud" and "Don't let the cloud become your next data prison."

Although I firmly believe that Office 365 (and Exchange Online) combined with Azure (for infrastructure and platform) is the future of IT and "enterprise Windows," I also believe in choice and see the value of third-party tools. It's good to have options in migration tools or a third-party tools for security and archiving, as well as a say in how you get to and where your data resides when in the cloud.

The offer you can't refuse for email migration

Microsoft doesn't see that world that way; it wants you to jettison third-party tools and use only Microsoft's offerings. To get its way, Microsoft is now making offers that folks may not be able to refuse.

After long promising to do this, Microsoft this week formally announced that its new Office 365 Import Service is in public preview. This preview covers two points:

  1. It acknowledges that Microsoft's existing method of moving data (often terabytes of data) to Office 365 has been a nightmare due to bandwidth latency and multitenant throttling issues.
  2. It takes straight aim at Microsoft partners that develop migration tools and archive tools.

The Office 365 Import Service has two options to take the PSTs in your organization. One is to upload them through the PST Capture tool that Microsoft provides for free or through a third-party search/locate/aggregate tool to Microsoft servers.

The other option: If your data amounts are too big to upload, put the PST archive files on hard drives and mail them to Microsoft data centers for migration. The drives are Bitlocker-encrypted, and Microsoft doesn't have access to the content because you retain the Bitlocker key. The PST files gets dumped as a blob into Azure (at no charge during the preview period), and Microsoft returns the drives to you.

At last week's Microsoft Ignite conference, Microsoft provided some incentive for IT to move those PST archives to the cloud: Soon, Microsoft will allow unlimited archive mailboxes without the request for additional quota.

Ignite attendees got the feeling that Microsoft was putting a clear target on Symantec's back. I'm sure Symantec is not Microsoft's only target. As Exchange MVP Tony Redmond notes, Microsoft has also pulled in archive-migration specialists TransVault and Nuix to "provide tools to help companies generate PSTs from other third-party archive systems."

Microsoft's interests may not match yours

This is all part of Microsoft's campaign to get all the data into its cloud. From a business perspective, it's a smart move.

Microsoft is serious about moving you to the cloud. Although it has committed to the on-premises Exchange 2016, SharePoint 2016, and so on, Microsoft has provided no guaranteed on-premises versions after these.

I get that Microsoft really wants to make a full switch to "cloud-only" instead of simply "cloud-first," which is why it is being so aggressive in how it accomplishes the goal.

But I continue to insist that solution architects need to decide where they want their data. If it's with Microsoft, then certainly all these new ingestion options will make the move easier. But it should still be a decision you make, not simply the path you can't refuse.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.