Office 365 is the fastest growing product in Microsoft’s history. Considering the size of the Office installed base and the rate businesses are moving to the cloud, that’s not a huge surprise. Core productivity in the cloud offers tempting visions of enhanced business agility, real-time communications, functionality that can be turned on and off at will – and, of course, cost savings.
With Windows Server 2003 hitting its end of life next year, the push is on for even faster migration. But the path is a complex one, and careful planning will be your best friend. Having spent a number of years helping customers along this road, here are my top tips for a safe journey.
1. Plan early to ensure that what you get is what you expect
Are you looking primarily for a more collaborative environment for employees? Do partners and customers have a role to play in that collaboration and if so, how will you manage their access? Are you expecting the same functionality from cloud apps as from their on premise equivalents?
For example, if you rely heavily on Sharepoint to the extent that you’ve built custom integrated environments around it, be aware that Microsoft is discouraging customization during the transition in favor of a standardized experience. Yammer, Microsoft’s enterprise social network platform, is getting a lot of play, but it’s not geared towards integration with CRM, e-commerce, support, marketing automation, and other standard customer-facing web applications.
2. Determine the most appropriate licensing options for your business
Along with differential functionality, you’ll need to consider differences in licensing options. Office 365 licensing options differ significantly from on-premises Office 2013, SharePoint, Lync, and Microsoft Exchange implementations.
Take care with the license types you choose, too. While each Office 365 licensing plan includes Exchange Online and SharePoint Online as core individual services, Project Online is a separate add-on service, and Yammer Enterprise is missing from a number of configurations.
Consider also the financial implications of your choice of migration route. The Transitions approach is intended for organizations looking to change their Enterprise Agreement to a user-based license model, while the simpler Add-ons approach enable organizations to continue to pay for existing on premise licenses and pay an additional fee (which can be as much as 24%) to access Office 365.
3. Ready your infrastructure
Assess the hardware and software infrastructure changes you’ll need to make to ensure a smooth transition and optimize all of your systems ahead of time. At a minimum, Office 365 requires Azure Active Directory, Azure AD Directory Synchronization appliance (DirSync) and Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) to be deployed. Then there’s SQL Server if you have larger directories, and, if you have more than one Active Directory forest or want to sync with an additional LDAP directory, factor in a custom deployment of Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 (FIM). And make sure all of your software is up-to-date.
Phew! Now the infrastructure piece is mapped out, you can identify which groups of users and applications to migrate first, which projects you need to table until after the migration, and how you’re going to keep everything under control.
4. Choose your identity management model
You have three models to choose from; take the time to understand what each model will mean to your rollout and your business
The reality is that most businesses will want real-time authentication based on AD, desktop single sign-on (Integrated Windows Authentication), support for a complex directory infrastructure, and/or require more advanced compliance reporting capabilities. So federation is probably where you’re going to end up. Then you need to determine whether to go the Microsoft route or the approved third-party route through a cloud-based Identity Access Management(IAM) vendors. These vendors are increasingly referred to as Identity as a Service (IDaaS) vendors.
5. Don’t forget the data protection piece
As you consider your IAM options, think about roles and responsibilities during and after the migration. Take an inventory of user profiles and map them to roles, then categorize the role each user has, the sensitivity of the information and applications they have access to, and whether that user is able to access that information from outside the firewall and/or using a mobile device. Determine the frequency of synchronization you need for provisioning and deprovisioning users as well – for some users, daily synchronization will be fine, but for others, real-time will be essential.
6. Identify any outside assistance you may need
As you consider your options for managing your migration, make vendor expertise part of your RFIs and RFPs. For example, that custom deployment of FIM (see #3 above) will take some serious ADFS chops. You may also need assistance with moving/reconfiguring custom integrations around Sharepoint if you have significant investments in that area. Map out the critical paths and look for holes you may not be able to fill with current resources.
7. Communicate the benefits of the Office 365 rollout early and often
You know that you’ll encounter users who are resistant to change – we all know that “but this version is just fine” – so make communicating the benefits of cloud migration to your users a priority. Offer drop-in sessions to talk through change anxieties. Make videos that show them how easy the software is to use (and how little their behavior will need to change). Tell them about that terabyte of cloud storage they’ll have (if you dare!)
8. Track and validate the success of your cloud migration
Something else to ask your vendor partner about – monitoring tools to help track, monitor, and analyze the benefits the company is accruing from the move to the cloud. You can use the same tools to measure the user experience – something that should prove particularly valuable as you move from pilot groups to wider deployment. And encourage users to give you feedback – there may be areas you find intuitive that leave others scratching their heads in confusion.
And once you’ve made it through the move – well, you can start working on integrating other legacy applications and cloud services. Not to mention those mobile devices …