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Determine if an Exchange Online migration makes sense

Admins must understand the technical and personnel hurdles an organization can face when it ponders a move to Exchange Online. Here's how to get a better grasp on what's involved.

One of the most common misconceptions that surround the decision regarding an Exchange Online migration is that...

it just concerns moving email to the cloud. But there is a whole product suite to consider as part of this process.

The decision to shift from an on-premises email platform is not easy. Before the organization commits to this move, look at the transition from both a strategic and a technical perspective. There are a series of questions that should be answered before making the decision to switch to Exchange Online.

Is Exchange Online right for this organization?

Remember that Exchange Online is part of the Office 365 suite and is more than just email. The platform's services address many business needs, such as file shares, document sharing, collaboration tools and simple word processing. And with certain licenses, if you buy Exchange Online, you own many of these other tools as well.

With that in mind, review the business issues below to see if an Exchange Online migration makes sense for the company:

  • The employees work in silos and require a tool to tear down these walls.
  • While emails don't include client information, the system should automatically check that sensitive information is not sent.
  • Security is a priority. A lot of effort is made to keep that technology up to date.
  • Some employees get 250 email messages a day and must work collaboratively with other teams.
  • Company data sits in many different places, including email. Data management must be simplified.

While email is definitely part of the challenge, it's not the only tool that runs teams and organizations. These hurdles should not hold up an Exchange Online migration. If email is a priority, consider making this phase one of the project, and then, deploy the additional tools your organization needs in different phases of the project at a later date.

Work out a path to a solid migration

Once the business works out the strategic approach, dive into the technical considerations for a smooth Exchange Online migration. First, find answers to the following questions because they will influence the user experience (UX), design and amount of time to deploy.

Should the UX be seamless, or will users log in with different credentials for Office 365 email?

Answer: I find larger organizations do not want users to log in separately, whereas smaller ones are more flexible in this area. That said, most businesses want a seamless UX. A business that wants to give users more streamlined access to resources should discuss how to implement Azure Active Directory Connect to set up password sync and single sign-on. Federation is not required, but organizations that already have it implemented find it is a good option for them. If federation is not in your environment, then look at other options.

Does the business need a failback plan?

Answer: Organizations often see a migration to the cloud as one way, but a failback plan should be included in the planning process. Ask yourself this: Would your organization migrate its on-premises Exchange deployment to a new server without a failback plan? For most companies, the answer is typically no. The only exception tends to be the very small business that just wants to be in the cloud and not maintain costly on-site infrastructure. With a failback option, the migration will be done in hybrid mode with the Hybrid Configuration Wizard. The ability to fail back mailboxes or migrated components if an unexpected issue arises provides a measure of stability for the business.

Does the business need to back up email data in Exchange Online?

Answer: This question seems straightforward, but the answer is complicated. If the business is OK without the ability to restore a mailbox, then this might work. The Deleted Item Recovery feature keeps messages for 30 days, and the retention hold options can be used to retain messages beyond 30 days. Does the organization need a way to restore a mailbox when it's gone or recover individual items beyond 30 days? With answers to those questions, the company can then work to produce the correct technical implementation that best supports its email requirements.

Consider what the business uses in its on-premises deployment and whether that should apply in the cloud. Each organization is different from a technical perspective, so there is more to think about. These questions will help prepare the groundwork when the time comes to make a decision about an Exchange Online migration.

This was last published in December 2017

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What are some other key aspects that should be considered before a move to Exchange Online?
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