Turning on Cruise Control
for Office 365 email migrations
(Marc Kean, Senior Consultant, rhipe Solutions | firstname.lastname@example.org)
No matter which side of the fence you sit on, email migrations can be very scary just the mention of it. Whether you’re the IT person doing the back end work, or whether you’re the end user, everyone has experienced un-expected things that happen during email migrations. As large or small that ‘thing’ is, no one likes change.
No matter how many hours an IT person spends planning and doing the backend work migrating users’ mailboxes, there’s always something that will go wrong, its human nature. Let’s face it, we are not perfect. Weeks can be spent working on an email migration, sometimes months even – the fact is that the IT landscape is so diverse now that it’s nearly impossible to get a 100% satisfaction rate with any email migration. With an ever increasing trend of a distributed workforce and BYOD (bring your own devices) it proves extremely difficult for any IT person with a scale of 1 to many users to get an email migration 100% right. The Holy Grail would be to have one IT person for every end user to personally see that each user has successfully been migrated, but this can’t happen and is too expensive.
Let’s imagine we have a team of IT engineers in the backend working endless hours and late nights migrating user mailboxes. The end user has no clue of the amount of manual labour. Most of the end users that have been migrated still won’t have any clue as to the effort put in from the backend IT people as most end users will have no issues at all and experience a smooth email migration. Sure there’s the few users that will have various issues, but no matter how large or small the issues are, the back end IT people always get the blame, even for something as small as not bringing an email signature across. Likewise, the IT people in the background don’t get any thanks from the end users for their endless hours spent on the email migration, the end users expect a smooth migration and simply don’t understand the effort involved. After doing many email migrations, it can start to cause a burden on the email migration engineers, the amount of work versus end user satisfaction doesn’t really meet in the middle.
Let’s take a step back and think about all the aspects involved in an email migration. End users, changes to end user computers, changes to on-prem mailboxes, changes to DNS or changes to Active Directory. Most of these elements are executed by humans which can naturally introduces risk. The more IT people that are put on an email migration project costs a lot of money with the intent to try and counteract the risk that is associated with an email migration. rhipe is one of few companies in Australia that distributes licensing for a fully automated cloud based Office 365 email migration tool that massively reduces risk and manual labour.
SkyKick is an advanced email migration tool un-like anything else available to Microsoft Partners. What sets SkyKick apart from the rest is massively reduced risk, split email protocol support, massively reduced manual labour and a zero touch end-to-end email migration. The way SkyKick pulls this off is with their own distributed work force of robots and agents. The best way I can describe the tool is with a hierarchy of machines. The puppet master at the very top is a robot that has been developed by some of the very best email brains in the business, ex-Microsoft engineers. These guys saw the massive opportunity to help resellers move customers to Office 365, so they left Microsoft years ago and started SkyKick. As you would expect, SkyKick has exploded in size and popularity. While Office 365 has all its advantages, trying to get people there can prove difficult and this is where SkyKick comes in.
With SkyKick, the puppet master at the very top in the hierarchy talks directly to its puppets underneath, the puppets being an Exchange Assistant, Outlook Assistant, DNS and email reporting. SkyKick puppets all sit in an idle state waiting most of the time for instructions from the master at the top. During a migration it’s the puppet master at the very top that calls all the shots. The Outlook Assistant and Exchange Assistant replace the humans and is the same as having one IT person for every user. These agents do everything a human would do anyway, the difference being they are there 24/7 listening ready to apply instant action, a directive from the master at the top of the hierarchy. Likewise these installed agents send important information back up the hierarchy. As SkyKick has its legs set firmly in all aspects of the migration, it knows everything and can see exactly what is happening in each area, and can make necessary changes at the exact time to ensure a totally smooth email migration.
The Outlook Assistant fully sets up a new Outlook profile for end users at the right time, bringing over PST files, email signatures other mail accounts etc. The Exchange Assistant does its work at the appropriate time (migration o’clock) by disabling Exchange’s Outlook Anywhere Service, converts mailbox enabled users to mail enabled users running scripts to add target addresses and changes the Service Connection Point (SCP) for each Client Access Server (CAS) so that it points to autodiscover.outlook.com.
SkyKick send out pre-configured email notifications to all stakeholders during the entire email migration process including the end user. People know exactly what is happening, what has happened and when. The very nature of sending these emails to numerous groups of users, especially in a staged email migration can be impossible for a human to do. There can be literally thousands of emails that are sent to users which only SkyKick can handle at the exact time the email is needed to be sent out to the correct recipients. You might be wondering, why email? Is sending email a good idea in the middle of an email migration? This just proves that there is really no risk of email being lost during a SkyKick email migration.
DNS sync is another service that SkyKick offer and they highly recommend that they control the entire DNS changes themselves. When I mention the term DNS, I might make many people very nervous. There’s two components to the DNS sync process. DNS sync is stage one, SkyKick does a full sync of the company’s DNS records where they are currently hosted with an exact copy setup automatically on SkyKick’s DNS name servers. This includes all DNS records e.g. SRV, CNAME, A, MX and TXT records. Once SkyKick have fully sync’d the company’s DNS records, they take care of contacting the domain registrar of the domain to change the DNS name servers, changing to SkyKick’s DNS name servers. No one notices any difference as all DNS records remain the same. The DNS name server change is only temporary while the email migration takes place. SkyKick do this for a reason, they have full control over DNS records to change them at exactly the right time during a zero touch email migration. They also drop the DNS TTL values to a much lower value which greatly speeds up DNS sync and updates around the world.
SkyKick supports SMB and Enterprise email migrations, they are fully setup for either type. Their recommendation is that anything less than 250 mailboxes to do straight cutover migration (all at once), while more than 250 mailboxes is recommended to do a staged migration. SkyKick is compatible with any mail server in the market and is unique in that the folks at SkyKick can customise their email migration robot to do split protocol migrations upon request. This means that they can use IMAP for mail and ActiveSync for calendar and contacts for example.
Please note that while manual labour is greatly reduced, SkyKick needs to be setup in the first instance with a comfortable understanding of the SkyKick product itself, tools, requirements, terminology and rich feature set. SkyKick is an Office 365 email migration tool only but they support virtually any source email system:
- Exchange Online
- Lotus Notes
- GroupWise etc.
There is normally other work needed such as AD remediation/clean-up, DirSync/AADSync/AD Connect, ADFS, password sync etc. rhipe can sell SkyKick licenses to Microsoft Partner resellers and also offer IT services bundled around this. rhipe Solutions have a highly experienced professional services team that can take care of a full end-to-end project of moving users to Office 365.