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Making Office 365 migrations less painful

9 Feb 2016 by Mike Weaver

Exchange Online handles archives as well as live mail
With so many tools and options available, why do organizations still wrestle with Office 365 migration? Well particular problems arise if email is migrated without regard to the rest of the email ecosystem.

Archives such as Veritas Enterprise Vault (EV) aren’t readily supported in Microsoft’s brave new world – and restrictions apply, as they say – so you do need to do something about them. That’s not to say there aren’t ways of getting your online mail system and archives to play nicely together; plenty of organizations do successfully run hybrid environments. But it’s fiddly, and the ground rules are changing. As leading Exchange guru Tony Redmond puts it, Microsoft declared war on EV last year when it announced unlimited quotas for archive Exchange Online mailboxes.

The argument goes that although EV was historically better for compliance and eDiscovery than Exchange, Microsoft’s own compliance features and legal hold tools are now up there with the best. And with huge amounts of secure, low-cost storage available within Exchange Online it makes operational and economic sense to throw everything onto Microsoft’s platform. Furthermore, Microsoft would claim that shortcuts – or ‘stubs’ – created by EV as part of the archiving process compromise overall integrity and sit awkwardly with an Office 365 strategy.

Whatever your source and your choice of target platform, Quadrotech can help get your data there safely and with a minimum of fuss.  That said, if you are seriously considering migrating both live email and archives into Exchange Online, let’s look at some of your options.

Comparison of email migration methods for Office 365
To start with, let’s look at Microsoft’s recommendations. The most basic email migration method from a traditional Exchange environment is to use the Exchange admin center (EAC). This allows cutover migrations of up to 2,000 mailboxes – although Microsoft warns against doing so because it takes so long. Alternatively, a cutover migration can be performed using the Office 365 Setup wizard – although this has a restriction of 150 users.

You can also carry out staged migrations, and hybrid migrations using an integrated on-premises Exchange Server and Office 365 environment. If you’re migrating from another IMAP-enabled system (e.g. Gmail) you’ll need to set up individual target mailboxes.

In reaching a decision you should consider the effect on users and potential business downtime, as well as the length of time the migration will take. Little wonder there’s such a thriving market in specialist migration applications and consultancy.

Our own solution is MailboxShuttle, an enterprise application with speed and efficiency optimizations, Chain of Custody features and a Sync’n’Switch approach that means no downtime. It’s also available as a cloud-hosted or managed service if your resources are constrained.

So we’ve got the mailboxes into Office 365. Now let’s look at the archives…

We can’t do archives yet – you’ve forgotten the PSTs
In a legacy Exchange environment you’re more than likely to have offline ‘PST’ files scattered among user machines, removable memory and shared drives. They already expose you to security and compliance problems, so they need to be moved to your archive – or, indeed, Exchange Online as an archive – and eliminated at source.

PST discovery, reconciliation and cleanup is a big subject by itself. We happen to have the world’s most sophisticated and accurate solution for that, although Microsoft provides its own tool; we recommend visiting Amazon and downloading the Complete Guide to Eradicating PST Files for a full discussion of the relative merits of these and other approaches.

One other point: because they’re standalone, disconnected files PSTs are, ironically, a great format for getting archives into Exchange Online.

Comparison of archive migration methods for Office 365
It’s been alleged that many email archiving vendors have no method of getting your emails out of their archives. Is this why some organizations stick with on-premises archiving instead of moving to Office 365? Is it just too difficult to migrate archives? (That same article claims that overcoming the cost and complexity of archive vendor solutions are actually among the reasons why you should move your archives to Office 365 in the first place).

The so-called war on EV involves the Office 365 Import Service, announced in May 2015, which enables network uploads of PST files. It’s specifically aimed at importing archives, but it’s a slow process (not helped by throttling imposed by Microsoft) – although you can also ship data on disks to them. They’ll charge you extra, your archive will still spend time in transit, and once your data is uploaded to Azure you’ll still need to map all the data to your new target mailboxes.

Surely there’s got to be a better and more efficient way to migrate the archive? With regard to getting data out in the first place, our ArchiveShuttle product has proved highly reliable (it’s technology we’ve been refining for over ten years, after all). Like MailboxShuttle it’s also available as a cloud or managed service. It also features Sync’n’Switch, along with other technologies like the Highly Optimized Transfer System (HOTS) and Advanced Ingestion Protocol (AIP) that dramatically speed up WAN data transfer and ingestion speeds.

OK, I want my email and archives in Office 365
The good news is that moving everything into Office 365 appears not only to have business benefits, but it’s also readily achievable. We’ll look at ways to simplify these live mail and archive combined migration projects in a forthcoming blog.

Mike Weaver is the Product Owner of Cloud Commander, PST Flight Deck and Mailbox Shuttle. Bringing a wealth of experience in large Enterprise Environments, Mike assists with complex, multi-product implementations of all Quadrotech solutions. Prior to joining Quadrotech, Mike led Merger, Acquisition, and Divesture Messaging Projects. He also administered, and engineered solutions for Microsoft Exchange, Veritas Enterprise Vault, PST Flight Deck, Archive Shuttle, as well as many other solutions and products in the Windows Infrastructure space. Mike holds a Master of Business Administration from Quinnipiac University, and a Bachelor of Science from Central Connecticut State University.