South Africa is on the verge of a mass data migration, as 69% plan to upgrade their email systems within the next two years, according to research from cloud e-mail services supplier Mimecast.

The Great Email Migration Report, which surveyed 500 senior technology decision makers from the US, UK and South Africa on their attitudes to, and plans for, e-mail migration, found that more than half (57%) of companies planned to make their migration in the next year.

The e-mail migration is being driven by the need to manage rapidly increasing amounts of business data stored in messages, as well as to accommodate changes in support offered for older versions of Microsoft Exchange. The research from Mimecast reveals that 76% of South African companies are planning a move to Exchange 2010, and 69% are upgrading in the next 18 to 24 months.

South African companies have slightly longer migration timescales than their US and UK counterparts, with US businesses being the most proactive.

In terms of the sheer volume of the email data to be migrated, the upgrade will see approximately 6,36 petabytes of data transported from one location to another in the next 12 to 18 months. This is equivalent to 127,2-million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text; 84 years and seven months worth of HD video, or 1,7-billion MP3 audio files.

Fuelled by the need to accommodate increasing amounts of business data, as well as changes in support offered for older versions of Microsoft Exchange, e-mail system upgrades by their nature involve exposing businesses to risk factors such as the loss of intellectual property and business-critical information – 60% to 70% of which is likely to be stored in email systems.

Companies are becoming increasingly concerned about archiving, managing and optimising their e-mail infrastructure,” says Grant Hodgkinson, business development director for Mimecast SA. “They are also looking at new methods of reducing risk of data loss, downtime and security breaches.

“South African businesses are seeing the need to upgrade to Exchange 2010, and at the same time are starting to see the benefits of moving their systems offsite ‘into the cloud’. Our telecoms infrastructure is still playing catch-up, and so the decision to host offsite is remarkably hard for them to make – take a chance on cloud that is in its infancy in South Africa, or invest large amounts of capital in onsite systems?

“Many of the customers we are talking to are looking for a middle ground that lets them mitigate the risk of over-investment in infrastructure, but still take advantage of related hosted email services such as archiving and remote access – whilst protect themselves from data loss and downtime. It’s not an easy decision to make.”

According to the research, potential data loss (52%), concerns about e-mail downtime (44%) and managing the sheer volume of data (41%) are key concerns around managing e-mail migration.

The report highlighted that South Africans are dedicated e-mail users. While most companies are moving scores of gigabytes, 36% of South African organisations are migrating more than 500Gb, compared to only 26% and 27% doing so in UK and US. This vast amount of valuable, commercially sensitive knowledge will be at risk during the migration.

Of those IT managers planning to upgrade in the next 12 months, 62% are planning to move to Microsoft Exchange 2010 on-premise, while 21% are opting for hosted Microsoft Exchange. The key reasons for this choice were to take advantage of the new platform’s new features (57%) as well as part of a general server estate upgrade (57%).