By Chris Hathaway, Director at Soarsoft Africa
Many organisations are examining the possibility of moving to Microsoft Office 365 in an effort to harness the benefits of cloud productivity and reduced costs. Microsoft Office 365, a cloud-based hosted messaging and collaboration solution, is one of the main draw cards for organisations when it comes to making this move. However, migrating to messaging on-line with Office 365 from on-site Exchange or other messaging platforms has typically been a challenging task, and one which could cause costly disruptions in services to the business should the migration be badly managed or unsuccessful. This is made only more complex when migrating to Exchange Online, or to a hybrid environment which uses a combination of both cloud and on-premise messaging, scenarios that are becoming more and more popular with larger organisations.
Microsoft Exchange Online is a hosted messaging solution that delivers the capabilities of Microsoft Exchange Server as a cloud-based service. It integrates fully with Active Directory and gives users single sign-on access to email, calendar, contacts, and tasks from PCs, the web, and mobile devices. It enables administrators to use group policies, as well as other administration tools, to manage Exchange Online features across their environment. Organisations that subscribe to Exchange Online retain control over the messaging services they offer to users, but they do not have the operational burden of on-premise server software. Email is hosted on servers that support multiple customers simultaneously. These servers are housed in Microsoft data centres and are accessible to users on a wide range of devices from inside a corporate network or over the Internet, enabling mobility with regard to access to messaging services.
One of the benefits of a hybrid scenario is the ability to leverage existing on-premise infrastructure at, for example, at head office, and then migrate geographically distributed branches or highly mobile users onto the cloud-based solution. For organisations already making use of on-premise Exchange solutions such as Exchange 2013, migrating certain areas to Exchange Online can offer increased productivity and flexibility, among other benefits. A hybrid deployment provides functionality such as free/busy and calendar sharing, integration between Exchange Online and Exchange on-premise, Exchange Online-based online archiving support, the option to move mailboxes back to Exchange on-premise, as well as the option to manage Exchange Online users using the Exchange Administration Centre (EAC) on the on-premise Exchange 2013 servers.
However, in order to achieve these benefits, both the onsite and cloud infrastructure need to work together seamlessly, which makes migrations more challenging to successfully accomplish. The most important objective is to ensure a smooth and controlled transition of user mailboxes from the on-site platform to Office 365 and ensure full co-existence between the on-site and “cloud” based users.
Creating this co-existence between onsite and hosted solutions can be simplified by using a combination of migration technologies, synchronisation services and an experienced and knowledgeable partner, to ensure user interruptions are kept to a minimum, and that full transparency is maintained throughout the process. This in turn requires a strictly managed project approach that would include the setup of Office 365, Directory Synchronisation, Exchange Online, and the setup of an Exchange 2013 hybrid deployment for co-existence of users’ mailboxes across messaging platforms, as well as the migration of the current and legacy content for users that are moving to the cloud.
When upgrading to Exchange 2013 or Office 365, consolidating Exchange environments or migrating users between on-premise and cloud environments in hybrid deployments, using the right technology and the services of an experienced partner offers multiple benefits. A streamlined migration with fast processing, flexible scheduling and reduced risk enables organisations to migrate their environment while remaining productive and minimising the impact to users. Such tools and expertise will also ensure organisations have fully integrated tracking and reporting for adherence to compliance, chain of custody and eDiscovery criteria, amongst other benefits. Migrating to Office 365 Exchange Online in a hybrid environment can assist organisations to leverage the best of both environments, however, the solution needs to be deployed correctly in order to provide the seamless transition and functionality required.