Planning to move your data to the Cloud?

When moving to a new home, your prized possessions are shifted from room to room, then to a storage box, then to a removal van and finally placed in the new house. In this lengthy process, your treasured belongings are often lost, damaged or discarded. It’s easy to think that this is part and parcel of the moving process – after all, that new house with the extra space and better location has to be worth it, right?

This analogy is surprisingly appropriate for businesses moving to the Cloud. Solutions like Office 365 offer a wide range of benefits in terms of productivity, network availability, and easier emailing and collaboration from anywhere and from any end device. In spite of these benefits, just like a house move, getting from on-premises Exchange and Office tools to the Cloud or hybrid environment can present significant challenges for IT teams.

Whilst many people expect to lose items during a move, more often than not, these losses are caused by a lack of preparation. Sorting, packing and moving involves a lot of work and it can be stressful, but it is also an opportunity to clear out the old junk and move into new premises with a clean slate. The process of moving data to the Cloud is the same. Even in the preliminary stages, there is plenty that can go wrong. So, the better prepared a company is for the move, the more smoothly the process will run – and smooth processes lead to lower running costs in the long term as well.

Companies that decide to take their first step towards the Cloud need to be aware that it is a lot more than a simple software upgrade; it involves a complex infrastructure migration process. Good preparation is the key to success. Those organising the migration process should ensure that all data is ready for the move and that the company network has the necessary capabilities to interact with the Cloud.

Packing up: Sort and label your data

The first thing your company needs to decide is whether it actually wants to move all of its data to the Cloud. Often, it makes more sense to archive some of it. For example, emails usually take up an enormous amount of storage space. Migrating absolutely everything means that these messages have to be physically moved into the Cloud, despite the fact that users rarely access very old emails. The implications of this can be significant. For example, research has shown that, on average, Office 365 migrations can take 30 percent longer than the original plans. The main reason given for this is that businesses have underestimated the volume of surplus email. Overshooting the migration timeline by a third can considerably increase the cost of the move.

During an Office 365 migration, the Exchange servers move to the Cloud. This gives businesses the perfect opportunity to decide where the existing data will be stored and is an excellent opportunity to clear out any unwanted mess, such as unnecessary old emails. The same applies to many users’ PST files and local archives. Similar to labelling storage boxes with the room they need to end up in, IT teams can save a great deal of time by sorting and labelling their data with keep, archive, migrate and delete. The archiving of emails and existing PST files should take place before the actual move begins, allowing the slimmed down mailboxes to be moved to the new Cloud environment seamlessly and efficiently.

Preparing for the move: Reinforce the network

The route to the Office 365 Cloud can be tricky without the right preparation. Companies frequently face two major problems in relation to data traffic:

1. The present network is simply too slow if too many people are online

2. Office 365 has to compete with other web-based applications for available bandwidth

In traditional IT environments, a single firewall provides security for a single on-premises Exchange server. All email traffic is routed via this central point, even if staff are travelling or working at home (known as traffic backhauling). When switching to Office 365, it is essential to set up direct internet breakout, which will distribute the traffic across external networks. Multiple firewall instances are required to secure these direct internet connections. This can involve a lot of work for IT managers, unless they implement a centrally managed firewall solution for distributed networks.

Moving day: Migrating to the Cloud

Once everything is prepared, the move to your new home in the Cloud can begin. Getting there – which, by the way, can take weeks or even months – should be achieved without detours or damages.

One thing to consider at this point is a plan for migrating user settings, such as profiles and address books, to the new Cloud environment. Instead of moving all their data to the Cloud, more and more companies are opting for a hybrid solution. This means that some users and storage locations stay with Exchange on-premises, while the rest move to the Cloud.

In your home move, you might employ a removal company and home cleaners to help make it a smoother process. A company’s IT managers may want to do the same; when moving from one Exchange to another you are well advised to call on the expertise of third parties. They will have the necessary know-how and a portfolio of tools and products for ensuring a smooth migration to Office 365.

Moving in and setting up: Your new life in the Cloud

Before finally moving in, companies of course need to be aware of how to effectively run the new environment. When it comes to security, the standard configuration of Office 365 provides quite basic protections.

Exchange Online Protection (EOP), the email security included in Office 365, is a simple, single-tiered system that focuses on connection management. The integrated email security does afford some protection against spam, but it provides no protection against phishing and other email-borne attacks.

Office 365 and OneDrive also cannot differentiate between intended and unintended data deletion. Specifically, deleted data is lost forever after 90 days, unless additional services are used to back it up. This means there is a risk of data loss as a result of malicious actions, human error or technical glitches.

The three specific areas you might want to strengthen are security, archiving, and backup:

1. Security

In order to be sure that your business' files are protected, an email firewall compatible with Office 365 could be implemented. Most companies tend to choose a spam filter with threat detection as an additional service, to protect against more advanced threats such as phishing and ransomware.

2. Archiving

In order to get permanent access to all emails and guarantee that compliance requirements are met, a third party email archiving tool can be implemented. This type of mail archive can be seamlessly integrated into the Exchange Online environment to archive messages continuously. Searching for old emails via the archive is much more effective than searching for a needle in the haystack, directly in the Exchange instance in the Cloud. Without fail, that item you’re looking for is always going to be in the very last removal box!

3. Backup

Files in Office 365 and OneDrive for Business are replicated using redundant servers. The restoration of any deleted files is performed manually by Microsoft and can sometimes take six to ten days. Cloud-to-Cloud backup technologies that set up automatic backup processes are more efficient, and above all, much faster. Administrators can restore lost, inadvertently deleted or damaged files immediately to the Microsoft application in which they originated.

Today, companies are increasingly recognising that the Cloud yields competitive advantages, cuts costs and boosts productivity. Those who prepare their infrastructure and their data, utilise expert knowledge and plan their time and budget, will quickly feel comfortable in their new home in the Cloud.

Stefan Schachinger, Consulting System Engineer – Data Protection, Barracuda Networks

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