What You Need to Know Before Migrating to Microsoft Office 365

Richard Turner, PMM, Information Management, Barracuda
Richard Turner, PMM, Information Management, Barracuda

Richard Turner, PMM, Information Management, Barracuda

Several IT staff and CIOs are either in the middle of migration to Microsoft Office 365 or are considering the move in the near future. This is due to the fact that Microsoft offers loads of eye opening benefits with Office 365. However, several factors have to be considered before proceeding to the Microsoft Office 365. For instance, the associated savings, new functionality gained by migrating to Office 365, and the possible change in policy and procedure since the new platform might not be as flexible or does not perform the same as an on-premises solutions.

"Microsoft offers loads of eye opening benefits with Office 365. However, several factors have to consider that facilitate new technology implementation which could impact your entire business"

We need to understand what organizations will be up against during the migration. It could be a lengthy process lasting months and your staff would need to be prepared to support users in a dual environment throughout the process and deal with unexpected challenges. In this current backdrop, certain significant features have to take into account when migrating to Office 365.

Cost savings

There is definitely a red flag raised if someone says to you “we can move to Office 365 and save money”. In our experience that’s not always the case. We need to be mindful of the fact that Office 365 pricing is a massive movement to a rental model. The idea of saving money on hardware is a phantom because the only centralized infrastructure that Office needed was an Exchange server – the rest was on desktops. We still need to run the rest of our business including solutions for storage or archiving, which Office 365 may or may not help with depending on the plan we choose.

Office 365 also provides the option to “pay only for what you need”. However, the notion that you only need to license your current active users, is also an illusion. Compliance, preservation requirements and legal metrics frequently last well beyond the users they’re associated with, and with Office 365, we would need to use a third-party archive to preserve that data or maintain those licenses to get their data, possibly in perpetuity. Therefore, the bottom-line is this shouldn’t be about costs. If it is, then you’ll be disappointed.

New functionality

The decision to move to Office 365 is most likely about flexibility and releasing your IT staff from constant software updates, security updates and hardware refreshes and less about cost. What we give up in return is the flexibility of policies and procedures. The IT department has spent the better part of the last 15 years ensuring AD policies, mailbox policies, retention policies, and deletion policies to all adhere to corporate records management and compliance requirements. How do we deal with eDiscovery requests, legal hold obligations, and regulatory retention requirements? What happens to an employee’s mailbox that is still in litigation after that person leaves the company? Most likely these policies were addressed through a combination of fancy scripting, advanced archiving technology or a combination of both.

Office 365 provides baseline features, well suited for small companies who aren’t currently addressing those concerns. Microsoft also includes some baseline data loss protection, threat protection, and anti-spam functionality. These are significant baseline features but also require rewriting policies and procedures that may force us into a higher priced plan.

Reallocating IT resources

While eliminating the overheads associated with ongoing Exchange operations, this isn’t a totally “hands-off” environment. We would still need sufficient directory expertise to know what’s going on in our own email network to manage users.

While that would take a lot less time than an on-premises server, bandwidth might become a concern for the company. This is for the reason that power users editing presentations or spreadsheets online would consume large bursts of bandwidth and would be subjected to lengthy waits and downtime unless they are prioritized. For Instance, a couple of users streaming audio or video could bring the rest of Office 365 network to its knees, even if these users are genuinely doing real work as many companies rely on streaming for knowledge transfer, training among others. It’s likely that the same staff that formerly ran the on-premises Exchange networks would still be responsible for managing and monitoring Office 365.

Office 365 is a migration first, and migrations are tough

“Moving to Office 365” isn’t simply a catch-phrase, it describes the lengthy process your staff would go through to accomplish this task. First of all, they would need to establish a hosted environment that accommodates all of your users, your tasks, and your Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. data. Then, they would need to move everything from on-premises servers to the cloud. These functions could take months, particularly as Office 365 self-manages bandwidth to prioritize active users over data migration – you need a plan and a strategy.

One of the reasons it takes so long to migrate to Office 365 is that we have to do it in a “live” environment. While there’s less work to support the users who are finally up and running in Office 365, those that aren’t, would still be using on-premises Exchange server and need the appropriate IT support.

Mileage may differ with built-in features

We discuss about built-in archiving, preservation, and discovery as significant features touted by Microsoft being included in Office 365. These features don’t come in all Office 365 suites. Regulatory compliance includes mandated data preservation, which is something that virtually every company faces. We’ve worked with customers who prefer using the same systems they relied on before migrating to Office 365 for compliance and retrieval due to the current functionality limitations offered by Microsoft in those areas. In this case, the same systems we relied on before moving to Office 365 for compliance and retrieval, are likely still going to be part of infrastructure after migrating. The good news is that the systems and practices that companies put in-place before Office 365, often with a great struggle to understand the differing requirements of legal, compliance, and IT could still be available post-migration, lessening any business disruption or learning curves.

Are we ready to make the big move?

There’s no denying the fact that Office 365 leads the way for businesses transitioning to the cloud. It is important before we migrate to Office 365 to take time to evaluate our requirements for security, information management and data protection to make sure it’s the right move for our business.