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Cloud email migration: 10 tips for evaluating service providers

Lacking support for and needing greater functionality in Microsoft Exchange, many companies today are on the cusp of being in the throes of email migrations. The big question they face:

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"Is it time to go with cloud-based email?" Complicating that decision is the mighty clout and noise level of cloud email providers -- Microsoft with Office 365 and Google with Google Apps for Business.

Don't rush into cloud email. Do pilot tests.

"Combine Microsoft removing support for older versions and legacy messaging infrastructures showing their age, and you see the potential for a surge in upgrades and migrations this year," said Peter Bauer, CEO of Mimecast, a cloud-based email management company headquartered in London. A Microsoft systems engineer and veteran corporate messaging system architect, Bauer offers cloud email evaluation and email migration advice to software architects and C-level executives in this tip.

10 evaluation tips for successful cloud email migrations

  1. Check references. Don't just take the vendor's or partner's word about the quality of their services. Talk to similar-size customers to learn what they thought of their cloud email migration experience. Also, try to find your own references through support forums and Internet communities.
  2. Start small. Don't rush into cloud email. Do pilot tests. Check out the different types of configurations. Also, don't feel pressured by vendors to move your entire core email platform to the cloud. All vendors have customer targets they want to hit, and they want you on board as quickly as possible. It's perfectly fine to move a subset of users to a cloud email server and then migrate the rest more slowly.
  3. Be knowledgeable. Make sure you thoroughly understand the differences between having your own dedicated email server and using a shared environment operated by a service provider.
  4. Be price-savvy. Beware of unusually low starting prices and overage charges.
  5. Consider the infrastructure. Explore the complex set of infrastructure that goes into providing business-class email. Can the cloud service better handle infrastructure-heavy email processes such as archiving, searching, litigation holds, long-term retention of data indexing and so on?
  6. Take the cloud view. Examine your email problems in relation to what cloud services offer. For example: Can the cloud service provide security features such as antispam/antivirus, data leak prevention or messaging gateway functionality more effectively and less expensively than your organization can?
  7. Build in planning time. Be sure to give your cloud email migration teams plenty of time for preparation and planning. There's no such thing as an unplanned, pain-free migration.
  8. Build in testing capability. Give your migration teams the budget and flexibility to deploy labs to test their plan before they push it into your production environment. This may seem costly, but doing so can save massive amounts of time during the actual cloud email migration by exposing planning failures beforehand.
  9. Address policy changes and compliance. Company email policies may differ from one internal division to the next or from country to country. Email supervision policies must always comply with regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the healthcare industry. Data archiving involves multiple retention policies for different classes of message-encryption rules. Bottom line: When it comes to a cloud email migration, you'll need to do a lot more than just move mailboxes.
  10. When archiving, avoid "stubbing." Archive vendors often encourage companies to use the stubbing approach -- that is, moving the bulk of the message to the archive, but keeping a stub of the message in the mail system. Doing that creates complexity by coupling the content with the old message system and the old archive, and that's risky in a live environment. Vendors that recommend stubbing have built stubbing technology into their systems. Keep in mind that, after Exchange 2010, customers can take advantage of low-cost SATA storage drives/arrays, so stubbing became even less relevant.

What questions do you have about cloud email migrations? We'll ask our experts to provide answers. Write to editor@searchcloudapps.com.

This was first published in August 2013

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