Office 365 Deployment Best Practices

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few years, you’ll be aware of Office 365, Microsoft’s Cloud productivity suite. After all, there is so much data out there in the form of blogs, infographics, reviews, guides, YouTube demos, online symposiums etc. that Office 365 can seem to be one of the most written-about applications you can imagine. And while this wealth of information is useful, it can make Office 365 seem somewhat intimidating to a business seeking a cloud solution in a hurry.

If you’re thinking that it’s time to move your business into the cloud, or you want to migrate from your current solution, Office 365 could be the way to go for many businesses, especially if you’re familiar with Microsoft’s Exchange email platform, or the Office suite which has been around since the 80s.

So you may want to know what is the best way to make the move. To save you from having to wade through the huge amount of info out there, here are the Damson Cloud Office 365 Deployment best practices. We hope that you learn a little about making the leap to Office 365 from our content, but if you have any other questions or queries, the Damson Cloud team are always standing by and happy to help.

The basics

If you’re thinking of making the move to Office 365, you’ll already know that it’s a good solution for getting a familiar email service, collaboration and productivity tools in a single package. And along the line, there’s a chance of saving some money and perhaps waving goodbye to the headaches associated with updates and upgrades.

Mobility too is enhanced, a necessity in this modern age, and it’s a great way to contact and liaise with off-site workers, partners and customers who can touch base and contact you on a range of portable devices.

In addition, Office 365 opens other doors in the cloud as it can act as a gateway to Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and the best way possible for small and medium businesses to compete with big competitors. So here are our migration tips.

Don’t forget that planning is everything

It is worth knowing from the start that migrating to Office 365 isn’t an overnight job. This is a huge software platform and getting moved over and ironing out the kinks will take a while. Of course, how complex a procedure it is depends greatly on your current architecture and how you want your end state of Office 365 to be. And remember, while you are getting the latest versions of Word, PowerPoint Excel etc. there are some new capabilities that may require a bit of staff training.

Check you’re ready

If everything isn’t ready to go, everything will not go according to plan. You need to be sure your Exchange Server environment is configured before you start. Microsoft gives you a tool to do this called the Health, Readiness and Connectivity Checks tool. It performs a check of your systems and can let you know if your system are ready and tells you what else you might need to do. In addition, the Microsoft Exchange Server Deployment Assistant can help you create a migration plan.

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Choose the right method to migrate

How you migrate is important. There are a lot of online blogs out there saying it can be done easily and painlessly, but this is only true for individual users or the smallest of businesses. The more complex your setup, the harder a migration will be. But there are three main methods you can use. One of these is the cutover method in which the process is done in one step (only suitable for companies that make use of Exchange Server and have fewer than 1,000 mailboxes). But remember, the more mailboxes you have to shift the longer it takes to do and many companies can’t afford this sort of downtime.

This is why a hybrid migration is often the most popular choice. It involves connecting your Office 365 instance to your Exchange environment. This allows you to maintain on-premise and online mailboxes and gradually move users over. It’s good for businesses running Exchange 2010 and businesses running 150 to 2000 mailboxes that they want to migrate in batches.

If you are currently not using Exchange, or are using an outdated version, you can carry out what is known as an IMAP migration to Office 365. This will save your precious email messages but you risk losing your calendar, contacts and tasks during the move.

Consider how long it will take

As you may have realised by now, how long a migration takes depends on several factors but mainly it comes down to how much info you have to move and your bandwidth. If you are moving data in batches, try to keep them small and manageable. Sometimes throttling (by which you deliberately regulate the data transfer rate) can allow you to adjust the time it is taking.

Have the right migration infrastructure in place

For a staged migration, which is usually the best method of moving to Office 365, you need to be running Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) as this allows you to deal with identity management between the two environments. A migration server is always needed and both of these pieces of infrastructure need to be able to cope with the workload. In theory, much of this can be done on virtual servers but again, unless you are a very small company it’s best to use some physical enterprise-class hardware if you don’t want performance problems.

Use a pilot

A pilot migration process is always a good idea and should be carried out a few weeks in advance of the main migration. This allows you to create a few test mailboxes to move, complete with tasks and calendars. If this goes smoothly, you can then start moving boxes of staff members, preferably the ones with non-critical roles that don’t require round-the-clock access to data. A pilot move lets you learn about the migration process and ensure that your chosen method is working efficiently before the big leap is made.

Be aware of version issues

Of course, the newer your current set up, the easier a migration to new software is. A migration to Office 365 is going to go more smoothly if you are already running Exchange Server 2007 or newer. Anything older and you risk problems. An example of this is Exchange Server 2004 mailboxes being totally unavailable to users during migration. These problems can be circumnavigated by using a two-step migration. This basically means you migrate to a newer version of Exchange Server before, then going on to Office 365. And yes, that can be as big a pain as it sounds.

Check you’re compatible with customers

If you make the move to Office 365 and find you can’t contact your customers, it will have been a pretty pointless exercise. If your team are going to access their mail via Outlook Web App, then you just have to make sure your clients browsers are compatible. If you are planning to use Outlook, make sure that compatible versions are being used by everyone. For example, Outlook 2003 can’t be used with Office 365. You need at least the Outlook 2010 or 2013 versions, and even 2010 requires some extra configuration.

It can be a huge job moving over to Office 365 and will take weeks of planning, preparation and training for staff. The many benefits of this sophisticated cloud computing platform, make the pain of migration worth it. If you want to hand over the headaches to an expert team, or simply want some pointers, the Damson Cloud team are always happy to help.

Want to know more about Migrating to Office 365 or are wondering if your business will benefit? Drop a line to the Damson Cloud team and enjoy the benefit of our vast expertise.