Organisations wanting to move Microsoft Exchange to a private or public cloud need to consider five best practices if they want the transition to be easy and successful.
That’s according to Andrew Crosley, Dimension Data’s General Manager for Microsoft, who says while it’s easy to move to the cloud, it’s not easy to move what you have to the cloud.
Crosley and other members of Dimension Data’s Microsoft worldwide team have managed the transition of more than two million seats of Microsoft Exchange to date.

“Typically, organisations with 1 000 seats or more follow a staged migration from the existing exchange environment to the cloud-based environment. A migration of this size takes about two weeks, from a slow start of around 10 seats per night, building up to an average of 150 a night until the project is completed.

“Once they’ve migrated Exchange to the cloud, organisations need to ensure they maintain the authentication hub for their cloud service. The cloud changes what you need to maintain. In fact, while organisations don’t have to maintain as much, they do need to maintain more complex integration pieces. And keeping those pieces running is critical to the success of your cloud solution,” he explains.

Crosley’s five best practices for moving Microsoft Exchange to the Cloud are as follows:

Know your Exchange environment
To successfully replicate an environment, organisations must have a thorough understanding of what it comprises and how it’s used. Proper planning helps avoid surprises. Things to look out for include the number of shared mailboxes in use, and regular ‘spikes’ in email communication, for example large files sent for quarterly board meetings and mass mail-outs.

Migrate the data
Most organisations are accustomed to on-premise migrations and have high bandwidth for this. But with a cloud migration the throughput is considerably slower – cloud providers will protect themselves from potential breaches in SLAs by “throttling” traffic.

For example, say an organisation is moving a total of 12Tb of data to the cloud, for 8 000 users, on an internal network – either a LAN or WAN. The limiting factor is how fast the data can be processed. Typical speeds are around 20 GB per hour. So with a migration window of 12 hours that’s 600 hours – or 50 days – which is acceptable for a migration project.

A peaceful coexistence: managing the migration
During the migration, some users will be on the existing system and others on the cloud. The level of coexistence varies depending on the business’s needs, and how much of a disrupted service it can tolerate. There are a number of Exchange migration tools available on the market but, Crosley cautions, not all migration tools are created equal.

It’s important to synchronise the Exchange Global Address List in both messaging environments. If you’re creating or deleting users in one environment, make sure these changes are reflected in the other environment so that the address books correspond.

Managing Active Directory
It’s important to provide the same sign-on experience for end users. Typically, a cloud provider will have its own instance of Active Directory which the organisation will provision into. Many will synchronise usernames and passwords, but other cloud providers don’t offer this solution. “An organisation must have a consistent identity management framework. People won’t remember new usernames and passwords.

Find an identity management tool that can perform this kind of synchronisation,” says Crosley who points out that organisations require a thorough understanding of the processes of provisioning, re-provisioning and de-provisioning identities. And most important of all, send clear and accurate communication to users throughout the process.

Keeping the end users happy
Typical disruptions during the migration include a delay in email delivery, being unable to see colleagues’ availability for meetings on Exchange Calendar, or not seeing the availability of conference rooms and equipment.

Communicating consistently with users before, during, and after the migration goes a long way to keeping users informed and satisfied. Establish a support team and have IT support people on the ground to help users troubleshoot.

“One organisation gave red caps and fluorescent vests to its IT support team and sent them to “walk the floor”– which turned out to be really effective,” says Crosley.