Office 365 customer: Get the right help when moving email to the cloud

North Lake College, Dallas

North Lake College, part of the Dallas County Community Colleges District that moved to Office 365

Credit: Starling Richardson Construction

Dallas County Community Colleges District was using Novell’s GroupWise suite of applications for email but little else, and at $200,000 per year, that just didn’t make sense, especially since it was also buying access to Microsoft Office 365 – including Outlook - along with its enterprise campus agreement.

steve glick dallas community college

Steve Glick of Dallas Community College talks of the pain he went through before the migration to Office 365.

So the seven schools that make up the district embarked on a money-saving transition that met its financial goals, but not without some instructive and sometimes costly lessons about migration to the cloud, says Steve Glick, associate district director of IT for infrastructure services at DCCCD. “It was painful,” he says.

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At the recommendation of Microsoft, he licensed Migrator, touted as a gold-standard tool from Quest Software, now part of Dell, to move 6,000 mailboxes from GroupWise to Exchange and Office 365. The intent was to have Quest do the first few dozen and then have college staff take over the migration.

But that’s not how things worked out. While the tool indicated mailboxes were being migrated successfully, close scrutiny of the logs by staff showed they weren’t, with the result that end users they thought had been migrated couldn’t access their mail.

The problem turned out to be the cloud. Migrator reputedly did a great job shifting on-premises GroupWise mailboxes to on-premises Exchange. But back in 2012 when he was doing this work, cloud transitions were relatively new. Network delays stymied Migrator, he says. The college was reduced to transitioning one mailbox at a time manually.

At that rate Glick wasn’t going to meet his Aug. 31, 2012 deadline. That’s when the college would have to pony up $200,000 for a Novell contract renewal, he says. So it made sense to pay a separate vendor to automate the migration to Office 365 and get out from under GroupWise. “At that point I didn’t care. I just wanted to get it over with,” he says.

So Glick spent $50,000 to have Bit Titan’s Migrationwiz service do the work and ate the cost of Migrator.

This time though, rather than outsourcing the job in its entirety he started with just 200 licenses to see how well the service worked. “We proceeded cautiously,” he says. Looking back on it, Glick says he should have bought just a few Quest Migrator licenses and checked how well that product worked as well, then bought more if it proved satisfactory. “I should have dipped my toe in with a couple hundred,” he says.

After Migrationwiz lived up to the task, Glick did hire the service to complete the job. The first 1,000 moves using Quest’s Migrator took six to eight months; the remaining 5,000 with Migrationwiz took five to six weeks. It took eight to 20 hours to run a job, but that was half the time of the previous product, he says.

Glick’s convinced that any business needs a tool to automate the process if there is any scale at all to the project. Migrations can be done manually but not for more than a handful of users, so the key is to find the right tool.

While the transition to Office 365 didn’t go as smoothly as he would have liked, Glick says he did learn valuable lessons from the experience.

First, he says, test tools within the network environment to make sure it works. Then start the transition with a small number of licenses to make sure it works in the production environment. If everything checks out, then commit to a tool and move ahead.

Education for end users is essential, but coordinating it was a problem for DCCCD because his IT group has no direct authority over each campus’s help desk. DCCCD’s separate colleges share central business and technical services, but the help desk is decentralized. Three of Glick’s staffers worked on the migration supported by a dozen or so help-desk workers at the various colleges moving clients from GroupWise to Outlook.

The colleges are a Microsoft premiere support customer, which gave Glick access to phone support. “That was very helpful,” he says. Basic Office 365 support is free forum support, and that would have been insufficient.

Afterward Glick learned about Microsoft’s Cloud Vantage service that helps customers determine the right level of engagement with Microsoft so transition to the could go smoothly. Had he known about it he would have signed up for it. “It would have been worth whatever it cost,” he says. “There is a need for assistance.”

Despite best efforts, Glick says, end users with any email problems at all during and immediately after the migration blamed the migration even if it was not the cause. But eventually that subsided. “After six to eight weeks the conversation moved to, ‘I really like this new thing,’” he says.

Glick recommends planning carefully and then getting the job done as fast as possible. The process is going to be disruptive no matter what, so it’s best to get the technical part done quickly and educate end users as best as you can about the changes they’ll face.

With a service as essential as email, uses are hyper sensitive to any shortcomings, and that breeds a guaranteed amount of discontent. “I’ve never heard of a good email migration,” he says. “There’s just going to be problems.”

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