Microsoft Exchange in the Cloud: Four Migration Tips

Tired of managing those Exchange servers in your data center? So are many other companies, and even some of America's Fortune 50 companies are now starting to migrate e-mail and other productivity apps to the cloud -- disproving the notion that SaaS and cloud services are fit only for small or mid-sized businesses.

Dow Chemical is one such example. One of the leading providers of plastics, chemicals and agricultural products, the Midland, Mich.-based Dow has plans to move its Exchange servers to Microsoft's cloud service for business apps, called BPOS (business productivity online suite).

BPOS includes online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communication Server and Live Meeting, operated by and delivered through a Microsoft data center.

Dow is a company in transition regarding e-mail and productivity apps. With roughly 50,000 worldwide employees, the company is currently upgrading to Office 2007; it is beginning a full migration to Windows 7 that should be completed by the end of next year.

The move to BPOS will transition Exchange 2003, OCS and Live Meeting to a cloud environment running Exchange 2010.

Dow will begin a global pilot testing program for its e-mail migration in November, and plans to have it implemented for its entire 52,000-person workforce by the second quarter of 2011.

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"It can go that fast because the migration will be transparent for users," says David Day, Dow's Director of Global Information Systems.

The SharePoint aspect of BPOS will be new for Dow, as it has only been dabbling in SharePoint for document management and collaboration.

Find a Vendor You Trust

Why is Dow convinced the change will be so transparent to users? The company is a Microsoft shop and having the Microsoft ecosystem in place was admittedly a factor in choosing BPOS, says Day.

But Dow did go through an RFP (Request for Proposal) and looked at a few BPOS competitors. Day says he is not at liberty to say which competitors Dow considered, but added that a couple competitors were neck and neck with BPOS on cost and capabilities.

"Our previous relationship with Microsoft and its ability to deliver support were a big part of our decision," Day says.

Stay Private

Dow's transition to the cloud for e-mail will not be jarring for users because Dow has had what Day considers a "private cloud" for years now.

Since 2000, Dow has had a third-party provider manage its e-mail servers on-premise in Dow's data center.

"A private cloud hosted by Microsoft is not such a new thing for us," he says. "It feels like a logical extension of our current sourcing strategy."

One choice Dow never considered: a public cloud option. Why? Too many security and privacy risks, he says.

"The risk profile of a public cloud offering doesn't fit a corporation like Dow Chemical," Day says. "I can't imagine there are many Fortune 50 companies that think they're gonna 'Go Google' and save a million dollars."

Get Added Security, Not Just Savings

Though reluctant to discuss specific costs, Day says the value in moving to BPOS is to gain more capabilities without a huge increase in the cost.

"We did a very detailed cost comparison between re-architecting what we have on-premise versus a Microsoft BPOS solution and the cloud option won," says Day.

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Dow is doing a big uplift from Exchange 2003, with its limited mailbox sizes and quotas that just don't cut it in today's corporate e-mail environment. The BPOS advantage is that Dow will get Live Meeting and OCS for its worldwide workforce and Exchange mailboxes that can compete with Gmail on capacity, says Day.

Another advantage in moving to the cloud, says Day, is the savings culled from letting Microsoft handle security measures such as intrusion protection and spam filtering.

"Nobody can run Exchange like Microsoft," he says. "From a security perspective, I can't afford to spend as much on securing an Exchange environment as Microsoft can."

On the other hand, says Day, IT departments need to work with their cloud vendor to ensure compliance regulations are being met. "We're not going to just toss all our data over the wall to Microsoft. We're going to engage with them regularly."

Push the Vendor to Do More on Compliance

Day understands that although Microsoft has been providing services via the Internet for years with its MSN mailboxes, it's quite a different thing to provide e-mail services to a Fortune 50 company.

"Microsoft is going through a paradigm shift," says Day. "We're going to have to coordinate with them a lot and learn together."

But one thing Microsoft must do is deliver on its cloud customers' compliance needs.

Day has been adamant that Microsoft not just provide a console for Dow to monitor its own data, but to provide near real-time information flow through an automation interface.

"So we're pushing Microsoft to feed us all available data through an automation framework so we can take immediate action for compliance reasons."

No matter what vendor you choose, Days adds, never enter into a cloud partnership lightly.

"You have to push them. That's critical."

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

This story, "Microsoft Exchange in the Cloud: Four Migration Tips" was originally published by CIO.

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