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Avoid the gotchas of Office 365 migrations

Tim Greene | July 1, 2014
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.

Identity can be a problem with Active Directory deployed behind the firewall, but Office 365 extends the Active Directory user store to the cloud via federation. Microsoft has federation tools, as do third parties that can set up a hybrid identity management environment, says Ratcliffe.

Active Directory can be coordinated with third-party tools to automate transitions. For example Bit Titan's Desktop Deployment tool along with Active Directory rules can reconfigure laptops automatically when they log on so they connect to Office 365 accounts. This can be done either through emails to end users or via Active Directory group policies. Users are prompted to click on a link and switch their profiles.

Microsoft has specific system requirements for Office 365 that will require many organizations to update desktop software and correct any Active Directory issues, Forrester notes.

Consultants can also offer strategic advice looking forward beyond an Office 365 migration, Ratcliffe says. Identity federation may be important especially if an organization adopts other SaaS applications later and wants to maintain a single sign-on for users. It may make sense to sign up with a cloud-based federated ID management service that has pre-built connectors to popular SaaS services, making federation easier over time, he says.

An important non-technical aspect on which consultants can help is licensing. Licensing moves from two licenses — for clients and servers — to one user subscription license for Office 365, the price of which may go up over time, Creese says. It may take months to negotiate the transfer of one kind of license to another and it's not easy.

Licensing requires a careful total cost of ownership analysis, Hogue says. Transitioning perpetual Windows and Exchange licenses to Office 365 service licenses for half a business's users, for example, can be complex. The costs and potential savings are not trivial. As a rule Office 365 winds up being less expensive by virtue of retiring assets, management costs and paying for data-center space.

Many consultants amass expertise in many areas that can affect Office 365 migrations, says Keitt, and businesses should research what each offers to find a good fit. With a larger scope of services, these consulting houses hope to become long-term partners with their customers, helping to formulate and implement strategic plans.

"Every Microsoft partner can perform basic migrations to its cloud," he says in his report. "So, where these firms drive differentiation is on proprietary tools and methodologies in the extended cloud migration process. This can include unique assessment techniques, strategic consulting services and application development expertise."

Overall, businesses are becoming more comfortable in hiring consultants to plan migration to SaaS such as Office 365. In 2012, Forrester found that 19% of IT executives and IT decision makers surveyed hired consultants, and 26% said they hired consultants to actually implement the deployment of those services. In 2013 those numbers had jumped dramatically, with 41% hiring consultants for planning and 40% for deployment.


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