Migrating to Microsoft's Office 365 from an on-premises Office suite requires help, experts say, in order to navigate the vagaries of moving apps smoothly to the cloud, a task made more challenging if the transition is from alternatives such as GroupWise and Lotus SmartSuite.
Microsoft itself recommends in certain cases either hiring consultants or buying third-party tools to help the transition to Office 365, but some experts are more emphatic.
"Microsoft clients need service providers to help them take advantage of the cloud," says Forrester analyst T.J. Keitt in his report "Market Overview: Microsoft Office 365 Implementation Partner Ecosystem". "Partners are essential to Office 365..."
Like any migration, moving to Office 365 software as a service is complicated and full of considerations that may not be readily apparent. The issue is not that IT staff can't do the job alone, it's that help from someone who has done it before can be valuable, says Herb Hogue, senior vice president of professional services and engineering for En Pointe Technologies, which does Office 365 migration consulting. "A lot of customers tried to do it on their own unsuccessfully. They only do it one time, and we do it all the time," he says.
Issues include potential loss of functionality, redundancy, security, archiving, total costs, licensing and authentication, experts say. "You shouldn't move fully to Office 365," says Gartner analyst Guy Creese in a webinar.
"It isn't fully baked. However, parts of it are quite good," Creese says: Exchange Online is close to Exchange Server. SharePoint Online is fine for basic sites but not complex sites. Lync Online has a feature deficit vs. Lync Server. Yammer is cloud only, but is stronger than SharePoint social add-on.
Many if not most businesses choose Exchange Online as the first app in Office 365 they adopt, so many concerns about Office 365 migrations focus on the email platform. Hybrid deployments that involve a mix of on-premises Exchange servers and Office 365 are the most challenging, says Mack Ratcliffe, the SaaS practice lead at Softchoice.
Hybrid could be a temporary architecture as businesses move to the service, but it could also be a way to address business continuity, says Orlando Scott-Crowley, Mimecast director of technology marketing. If Office 365 suffers an outage as it did recently, business can carry on as close to normal as possible. This would likely rely on a deployment of on-premise Office Servers plus Office 365 in concert with on-site or third-party archiving, he says. Businesses need what he calls mailbox freedom to move from on premises to the cloud and back again as needed.
Doing that requires strict attention to Active Directory, which will need to be extended to the cloud and configured for a multi-domain architecture, says Hogue.
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