Office 365 migrations don't have to be a pain in the IaaS

Cloud migrations are the latest pain in the IaaS for IT pros, particularly for those doing large scale Office 365 moves. But help has arrived.

IT professionals rank migrations involving thousands of end users right behind root canals and tax audits.

No matter how thorough your prep work is or how competent you believe your migration tools are, they seem to be no match for dealing with a handful of user anomalies that can slow a large-scale project to a crawl.

"I have never found a migration of any kind to be fast, they are all problematic," said Mike Drips, a solutions architect with WiPro, Inc. in Houston who has done dozens of migrations, particularly moving SharePoint to the cloud. "You could be sailing along and then hit some bad data in a single user's mailbox that wasn't known on the old server, but over on the cloud it brought everything to a grinding halt."

There are also the last minute migration requests that throw an entire project off kilter.

"It never fails when we would start a SharePoint or Exchange [migration] project and a request comes in halfway through to increase or shrink the size of everyone's mailbox by 10 gigs. Any changes like that, made on the fly, impacts a migration," said an engineer who has worked for a cloud integration company, who requested anonymity.

With hordes of corporate IT shops yet to move huge amounts of on-premises data to the cloud, the agony of data migrations should continue. But where there is user pain there is developer opportunity.

One such developer is SkyKick, which claims its product gives IT shops a more flexible way to move thousands of users to Office 365 fast and inexpensively.

Office 365 migrations made simple

The Seattle-based company's new Enterprise Migration Suite offers IT shops an efficient way to carry out hybrid migrations, which requires a lot of upfront planning and expertise. But the suite can also handle a cutover migration efficiently, which is difficult to implement and manage because of the large amount of data and users involved, according to company officials.

If you have a specific need, especially one with a short time frame, these types of tools can end up paying for themselves.

Ric Getter, programmer analyst

SkyKick's tool includes an enterprise planner, migration sync, Outlook and Exchange assistants and project management application.

The suite allows IT pros to automatically discover and analyze their pre-deployment plan without going on-site or performing extensive Active Directory Federation Services work. The migration sync enables IT pros to either migrate their end users off of Exchange all at once -- the cutover approach -- or conduct a staged migration project -- hybrid approach -- and move departments or groups at different times. The migration works for not only Exchange but Gmail as well, without the need to upgrade the servers.

"We have created a way to automate all of the manual steps users must take in doing either a cutover or hybrid scenario," said Evan Richman, co-CEO of SkyKick.  "In most cases we estimate it would save them about 80% of the time it would normally take."

The product's Outlook and Exchange assistants help IT pros to assess their pre-migration desktop and network environments. This piece automates much of the organization's custom configurations both on the client and server.

Finally, a project management application helps IT pros keep track of their migration project.

SkyKick officials said a 500-seat Office 365 migration on average can typically take about 320 hours to complete from the sales cycle to the setup phase. Using the tool, those hours can be reduced to about 70.

Migration tools such as SkyKick's are particularly valuable to shops with small IT staffs working with short deadlines.

"If you have a specific need, especially one with a short time frame, these types of tools can end up paying for themselves," said Ric Getter, programmer analyst for computing technology solutions at the Portland Community College in Portland, Oregon. "In education, and probably true for other places, IT operations are staffed for the average load, not major operations."

Only sold through resellers and system integrators, Skykick's Enterprise Migration Suite is a follow-on to its existing tool aimed at small to medium-sized businesses.

New Signature, a systems integrator based in Washington, D.C., recently used SkyKick's migration tool to move a financial services customer with over 1,000 end users to Office 365.

It was a complicated project that required a fast turnaround time, said Chris Hertz, CEO of New Signature, an IT systems integrator in Washington, D.C. Hertz has used other migration tools in the past, but said SkyKick's migration suite is more efficient and provides a better user experience.

The tool cuts down on the work for the service desk and enables customers to have a more efficient migration experience with their IT group, Hertz said.

"A lot of times with mid-market customers, they may not have a large service desk or IT communications process," he added.

Other Office 365 migration tools on the market are available from Dell Software, Microsoft and others.

SkyKick officials declined to offer details on pricing but according to the company's web site, pricing through partners is typically $100 to $200 per mailbox for less than 50 seats and $80 to $120 per mailbox for deals involving 100 mailboxes. There is no charge until the migration is complete, company officials said.

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