With Microsoft’s recent release of the first Office 365 public beta, software developers have readied products to help ease enterprise migrations from on-premises applications and large data sets to the new services-based platform.
The offerings, from companies such as Quest Software, Inc. and MetaVis Technologies, Inc. are welcomed by some shops still waiting for Microsoft to offer more guidance on a number of migration issues.
One systems administrator said his facility has a sizeable investment in Exchange Server which sits on aging hardware. He would like to consolidate the servers and move to Office 365 sooner rather than later. “The free (migration) tools Microsoft offers won't be enough, so programs that can help me there, I'll take a look at," said Eugene Lee, a systems administrator at a large bank in Charlotte, N.C.
When IT shops start their migrations, they will be primarily looking at technologies that help products coexist, to thereby reduce their risk and cut down on disruptions that reduce user productivity.
"Whatever solution I pick for something like Office 365, coexistence has to be an important piece of it,” said one CTO at a Houston-based transportation company. “It is no different than going from one on-premises application to another. No way can I have one set of users unable to communicate with the rest of the company for weeks at a time."
Quest's new offering supports the migration and coexistence of Office 365 with on-premises Exchange and SharePoint, Lotus Notes and Groupwise. It also allows organizations to carry out pre-migration assessments so administrators can more accurately plan for their target environment. For instance, it lets them move only those mailboxes and applications that need moving, which saves companies time, money and effort.
"The coexistence challenge is keeping synchronized information synchronized throughout the migration project,” said Ron Robbins, product manager for Active Directory and Exchange/Email Migration, at Quest Software. “Users still must schedule appointments with each other as they get moved over. You also have to make sure mail redirection is up to date, so as users migrate to Office 365 mail gets re-routed back to on-premises users without making them jump through hoops.”
Another software company, MetaVis, has also unveiled a free version of its Migrator for Office 365, which is intended to help administrators replant their content in the cloud. The program offers Office 365 users a 1 gigabyte license to migrate content from SharePoint 2010, 2007, 2003, BPOS, Exchange public folders or Outlook to Office 365 SharePoint Online.
The MetaVis Migrator, a Web-based, agentless technology, doesn't require anything to be installed on either the source or target servers, company officials said.
Executives from both Quest and MetaVis said they believe IT shops will first migrate email systems followed by SharePoint. Some analysts said it’s smart to move email first because it tends to be more standardized than other platforms.
"Integrations for email are well-defined and standardized. But SharePoint integrations can run deep and will require a pretty careful analysis," said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.
Office 365 migration trouble spots
Schadler said the toughest integrations that involve on-premises platforms and Office 365 will center on directories, because IT shops often have more than one directory within the same enterprise. Schadler said that although it can be difficult, he advises IT shops to get on a single directory before moving an application to the cloud.
“This might sound simple but it can be hugely political and technically challenging in many companies, especially distributed organizations," Schadler said.
There could also be a few problems not so obvious to many IT shops as they dive deeper into the migration process. These include carrying over customized applications, upgrading Office 365 in coexistence or hybrid environments, and what to do with the army of Exchange administrators once the Office 365 migration is complete.
IT shops may potentially run into trouble when redeploying a custom application. It’s possible they may require a systems integrator to redevelop the application, which adds to the effort and expense, said Bill Evans, Quest's vice president and general manager in charge of Notes Transition.
One advantage of cloud-based applications is they can be upgraded quickly and, perhaps, over the weekend to avoid downtime. Some customers wonder if they lose those advantages with Office 365 in an environment shared with a number of on-premises applications such as Exchange 2010 SP1.
Quest executives said customers have raised this issue and it’s something they must think about as part of their migration strategy.
Another problem, and one which cannot be addressed by technology, is redefining the role of the Exchange administrator once the migration to Office 365 is complete. It is unclear at this point how much work there will be left for them to do.
Ed Scannell is Executive Editor of Data Center and Virtualization Group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.