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5 tips for migrating archives to Office 365

Aug 5, 2016 by Romulo Melillo

Balance criticality with cost by planning ahead

According to a Microsoft blog, studies suggest that three-quarters of an organization’s intellectual property is contained within email and messaging systems. That’s why archiving has almost always been so important.

I say ‘almost’ because – back in the bad old days of expensive storage, slow networks and small mailbox quotas – users were often actively encouraged to delete mail and attachments to free up space. Although the more tech-savvy found ways of storing files offline (or manipulating offline PST files), such a scenario should be unimaginable in these days of much tighter regulations on retention and compliance.

The corporate solution, from around Exchange 2007’s time, was dedicated email archiving using products such as Veritas Enterprise Vault (EV) or EMC EmailXtender. Email was still accessed on individual workstations back then, and having a separate repository made sense to maintain performance.

Today, with the falling price of secure, resilient cloud storage, and migration to Office 365 fast becoming a rite-of-passage for any self-respecting organization, many compliance and IT specialists are looking at using the platform for archives. And there are good reasons (like Advanced eDiscovery and unlimited quotas for archive Exchange Online mailboxes) to do so. With that in mind, here are our top five tips when migrating archives to Office 365.

Tip 1: Manage the stubs and shortcuts

In a traditional on-premises configuration, items that have been archived into a product like EV can still be accessed from a user’s mailbox using stubs, or shortcuts. To the user, the icon presented and the small time lag while EV spins up are the only noticeable differences between archived and live items.

The trouble is that this interdependency breaks during migration; you risk losing that link and all the shortcuts become inactive. And Office 365 doesn’t recognize EV shortcuts at all.

The solution? Manage migration of both live and archive data as part of the same project. That way you retain access to what you need and avoid the possibility of falling foul of compliance requirements. The easiest way to achieve this is by using the world’s only specialist integrated products.

Mailbox Shuttle generates objects in Office 365 for each user account and then hands them off so that archive data can be migrated into them by Archive Shuttle. Once users’ live mailboxes have been migrated, Archive Shuttle will move their archive data and handle any shortcuts. Existing dependencies between live mail and the archive information are preserved.

Tip 2: Think about those PST files

Although not always recognized as archives in themselves, offline PST (or OLM files for Mac) generally contain critical data, but they are not controlled, secured or easily discovered. Generated automatically on users’ machines or removable media by Exchange Client or Outlook, many thousands of these offline files are scattered throughout a typical organization.

Compliance officers realize the danger and exposure posed by offline files, and are aware of the high-profile data breaches caused by vulnerability of PSTs. The only way to overcome the problem is to migrate the data and eliminate the files, so it makes sense to do this as part of your Office 365 migration plan too. You can sort through what data needs to be kept, and treat the output as an archive.

Naturally, we’d suggest you take a look at Quadrotech’s PST Flight Deck for this task. When you have to manage complex scenarios, enterprise software like PST Flight Deck – “with a lot of switches and knobs,” as Paul Cunningham (a Microsoft most valued professional (MVP) specializing in Exchange Server and Office 365, and the publisher of Exchange Server Pro) puts it – comes into its own.

Tip 3: Batch up users, and pilot

So we now have both traditional (EV) archives and offline files in our sights for migration, along with our live mailboxes. But there’s no need to boil the ocean; a gentle simmering will do. A major element of planning is to decide which groups of users are going to be migrated, and in which order.

Because Quadrotech products use Sync’n’Switch technology (meaning physical migration is completed with no interruption to users), migration can be scheduled as a series of sub-projects. You could group users by function, seniority or (commonly) location – particularly if the organization operates globally.

Quadrotech can help you get up and running fast with a pilot project using cloud hosted managed migration services – that way you don’t even need to invest in dedicated hardware and resource to get under way. With Quadrotech, pilots can be under way within days.

Tip 4: Think about those Public folders

Microsoft Exchange Public folders have been a standard for over 20 years, and many organizations use them for storing shared business records. These days, firms struggle to manage the many terabytes of data these can hold, while critical items are bundled in with plenty of old, unwanted data. In other words, here’s another unwieldy and unmanageable archive that you can migrate into Office 365.

There’s an option to move public folders into Office 365, but with every tenant limited in terms of Public Folder volumes and numbers, that’s simply not a practical answer for the heaviest users.  The answer is Office 365 Groups. These closely match Public folder functionality and have enhanced features around document sharing, threaded conversations, shared calendars and OneNote notebooks.

So how can you interrogate, sift, select and migrate such a huge amount of data? The answer is again through automation – in this case using the specialist analytics tool ADAM. It uses advanced logic to dynamically group data with similar characteristics, automatically provisions Office 365 Groups and shared mailboxes, and rehydrates shortcuts from archiving systems such as EV.

Tip 5: Personal archive or live mailbox? Select the best target for your data

The traditional division between live and archive mailboxes has got blurred in Office 365. Depending on the amount of data migrated, you may not even end up using ‘archiving’ within Office 365. It may be that all your live and archive data can go into one mailbox per user.

The current E5 Plan Office 365 mailbox size limit is 50GB – far more than most of us are used to with traditional on-premises systems – and that limit is up from 25GB only a couple of years ago. That isn’t even considering the unlimited Archive Storage mailbox, too.

And from a compliance and retention viewpoint, there is no difference between an Office 365 archive mailbox or a primary mailbox. The only difference from a user perspective is that the live mailbox gets cached for offline use while the archive doesn’t. Archive mailboxes come into their own when there are huge amounts of data to be retained; with an E3 plan your archive mailboxes can be unlimited in size.

Our advice is that whether you need to use ‘archive’ mailboxes or not, best practice is to minimize the amount of data you are going to store in the cloud BEFORE you migrate. That means rationalizing your mailboxes, archives, offline files and Public folders, stripping out everything that can be discarded, and having clear reports that make sure you can legally defend those decisions. There’s no point storing dead data in the cloud; it’s not only more expensive, but the migration process itself can take many more weeks (or months) over the WAN to complete.

Quadrotech’s migration solutions Mailbox Shuttle, Archive Shuttle, and PST Flight Deck are optimized to help you strip out unwanted data before migration. When you know what you’ve got, you can make a better-informed decision about your targets.