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Five reasons Exchange shops delay Office 365 migrations

Microsoft claims the majority of its Exchange customers are considering Office 365. But IT pros have reservations about whether it's the right move.

Microsoft claims that 80% of Exchange customers are thinking about moving to Office 365. Many IT pros nevertheless are uncomfortable with the idea of moving from the on-premises Exchange to a cloud-hosted email service.

The reasons for hesitating aren't the same for every company, but experts and analysts agree that five stand out.

1. Where is that first big customer win?

Microsoft has released the names of numerous companies that have migrated to Office 365, but many organizations await a household name.

"Everyone is waiting for the first big enterprise customer to sign on. Office 365 needs a big customer to go there," said Wes Miller, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent analysis firm based in Kirkland, Wash. "When that first company moves, people will realize they're not really losing anything [by moving to the cloud]."

Microsoft says they're targeting everyone, but there are plenty of different types of deployments that they can't support.

Rob Sanfilippo,
analyst, Directions on Microsoft

The financial and medical industries will be among the last to adopt cloud services, mostly because of the high volume of sensitive information they handle, such as Social Security and credit card numbers, according to Rob Sanfilippo, also an analyst with Directions on Microsoft. In addition, many financial and medical organizations are massive, and will require a good deal of capital and valuable staff resources to perform such a migration effectively.

2. Office 365 costs $6 per user, per month, but the man-hours necessary for the migration cost more.

Office 365 migrations don't happen overnight, and the migration period doesn't come free of charge. An average Office 365 migration for a 500-user company takes 90 days; anything larger can take 14 to 21 weeks, said Kevin Allison, Microsoft's general manager for Exchange Server and Office 365, during the The Expert Conference 2012 conference in San Diego in May.

Customers also must pay Microsoft or another vendor to help complete an Office 365 migration. In addition, business productivity and dollars could be lost during the migration period. These costs make many Exchange shops reluctant to migrate.

3. Many Exchange admins still fear they'll lose their jobs.

Microsoft has made it clear that a move to Office 365 will not cost Exchange administrators their jobs, but IT pros remain skeptical. Customers that see the cloud service as a threat aren't exactly running to sell management on Office 365.

"There's a lot of fear and uncertainty in the cloud. Many people fear it because they don't understand it," said Mike Crowley, an enterprise infrastructure architect and Exchange MVP at Baltimore-based Planet Technologies Inc.

Exchange admins who are willing to evolve will still have plenty to do, however. Admins still have to manage Office 365 and communicate with Microsoft support, for example.

More on Microsoft Office 365:

Assessing Office 365's Lync Online

How to change Office 365 user passwords via PowerShell

Faceoff: Office 365 vs. Google Apps -- the tale of two nonprofits

4. You can't customize Office 365.

Exchange Server allows for customizations and gives IT shops the option to add various third-party products to accomplish tasks like reporting, monitoring and archiving. "Lots of companies do Exchange customizations," Sanfilippo said. "[Microsoft] says they're targeting everyone, but there are plenty of different types of deployments that they can't support."

Companies also can't use such older clients as Outlook 2003 with Office 365, a major drawback for many organizations. Many Exchange shops rely on -- and are used to -- many of these older tools and features. If a company doesn't feel comfortable moving forward without its tried-and-true email-archiving or usage-reporting tool, it's not going to rush to adopt Office 365.

5. Many companies still don't trust the cloud.

The trust factor is a legitimate concern for many companies contemplating Office 365. Microsoft is a multi-tenant company, and it has other tenants to worry about. Companies therefore worry that their business won't take priority. There also have been complaints about Microsoft's level of support; that makes the trust issue even more of a concern.

"If you've got a question or configuration problem, you don't have a lot of help," Crowley said. "Ultimately, you're responsible for email, and having that solid support structure is critical. If you're not comfortable giving up your data, you're probably not going to consider Office 365."

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