Q&A

What Organizations Should Consider When Planning an Office 365 Migration

Office 365 migrations can have marked effects on IT personnel and budgets, perhaps in unexpected ways. A Directions on Microsoft analyst described some steps to take.

Organizations should think through the details when contemplating a move to Office 365, and a new report offers some guidance.

Office 365 migrations can have marked effects on IT personnel and budgets, perhaps in unexpected ways. A July 25 report, "Executive Considerations for Office 365 Adoption," by analyst Andrew Snodgrass of independent research and consulting firm Directions on Microsoft outlines the approaches to take when considering such moves. The report may be especially useful for large organizations with branches in multiple regions.

Snodgrass knows of what he writes, having served as a CIO of 30,000-employee company, with global operations, before he joined the Directions on Microsoft team.

Making a move to Office 365 isn't all rainbows and unicorns, he noted, but the report is written from a generally positive standpoint about getting there. I asked Snodgrass some questions related to the report, and the Q&A below just highlights a few elements.

Redmondmag.com: What's your impression about Microsoft truncating the 10-year lifecycle support for perpetual-license Office 2019, and its plans to not support future access to Office 365 services in 2020? Aren't organizations going to have to move off perpetual-license Office?
Snodgrass: I think most orgs will have to move off Office perpetual licenses eventually. Microsoft has cut the duration for Office's lifecycle to seven years and I expect the next version of Office Professional will have an even shorter support lifecycle -- it may be five years or perhaps this is when Microsoft switches to a continuous update process. I believe that their goal is by 2020 to have Office on a Modern Lifecycle.

To be fair, they do that with other services already. If you are using Office 365, then you likely have Office 365 ProPlus and that's upgraded continuously -- as are all the Office 365 back-end services, such as Exchange and SharePoint. You're on the train now and you're getting updates every month and every quarter.

Now, why I don't think organizations will be terribly upset is because Microsoft has been pushing orgs to have perpetual licenses with Software Assurance for quite a while. And, if you buy a perpetual license that requires Software Assurance, then in reality you're already renting it. So, the move to a subscription service where you can forgo the upfront cash for perpetual licenses isn't that big of a leap.

Now, as for 2020, well, according to the Microsoft support documents, Office 365 online services will only support the most current versions of Office 365 ProPlus and Office Professional. They won't support previous versions. And those current versions of Office will only be supported on the current version of Windows 10. So, an interesting twist is that organizations adopting Office 365 online services could also be facing a desktop OS upgrade if they're not on Windows 10.

What are some of the top issues to note when considering Office 365 migrations?
Some of the biggest issues are the amount of upfront work it takes to prep for a migration like this, how being in Office 365 is different than what you're currently doing on-premises, and the mistaken belief that it is somehow a "handoff" to Microsoft.

For larger organizations, north of 10,000 employees, migrating should be considered a multi-month project, depending on how many services are being adopted and if the migration includes the Office desktop products. But regardless of the organization's size, there's always clean-up that needs to be done or should be done before a migration like this. For example, when migrating Exchange, e-mail boxes need to be cleaned up, retired accounts need to be deleted to keep the headcount down and, if the Exchange environment is older, it might need an on-premises upgrade first to be compatible with Office 365.

Another surprise for many orgs is the difference in user management and security. Active Directory on premises is typically configured for multiple organizational units, what we call "OUs." When you move to Office 365, your org will be in Azure Active Directory, which doesn't have OUs. The only workarounds are to create elaborate groups, multiple tenancies or pay for the Multi-Geo stuff, which is an additional cost per user. Whatever path you take, moving a large org to Office 365 will require re-architecting your user access controls and security groups.

Another issue is that moving to Office 365 is not "handing off" your environment to Microsoft. You're still responsible for user administration and training, security and data control. The difference is you don't manage the servers or the datacenter, but you will need better connectivity and resources.

Office 365 business users will get Microsoft Teams turned on by default, but if they start using it, won't they have to upgrade to Office 365 E3 or E5 plans to get the needed security protections?
Microsoft's approach is always to push you toward E5, but the differences between E3 and E5 aren't always worth it once you sit down and look at what's actually going to be used. Many of the features that separate E3 from E5 can be bought as add-ons for a few dollars more per person, and some components, like Power BI, can be purchased more effectively through a Power BI Premium subscription.

If there's one takeaway for the CFO that I would stress, it is that the Office 365 packaging is so complex that many orgs run the risk of overbuying. So what you need to do is allow your team the time and resources to actually map out all their requirements, and all the Microsoft packaging and the licensing options, and buy exactly what you need.

The report mentions that IT departments will have to engage in ad hoc projects due the changing nature of Office 365 products, and they'll get limited advance notice on Microsoft's software changes, right?
Microsoft states that they will provide a year's advance notice if they're going to kill a product and six months' notice if they're going to change it substantially. But that's just a notice and doesn't mean you'll have that long to migrate to something new. The great example I gave in the report is Skype for Business Online, where the service is being replaced by Microsoft Teams. Imagine if you were one of the orgs that spent the money to adopt Skype for Business Online. I think you might be a little miffed right now.

What does it take to actually do the migration? Microsoft or its partners provides some consulting, but you still have to use internal personnel or hire consultants to make the move, right?
Internal people have "domain knowledge," which means they know what the data looks like, how the company is organized, and where the bodies are buried. You'll need internal resources to make it successful.

But, they'll need to be trained with new skills or they may need to be supplemented with new hires or consultants, at least for the duration of migration. Realizing this is when I go back to my CFOs and say, "I understand you want to cut costs -- and ultimately we will, but we're not going to do that in the first year."

And you won't reduce your IT personnel costs with an Office 365 move, right?
Potentially. Without servers (infrastructure management), you could reduce personnel cost, but an Exchange server farm is not typically a big part of an org's landscape, so it might be minimal.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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