O365-“Free” migration vs paid-for migration services

You may have heard that Microsoft has announced “free” migration services for organizations looking to migrate to Office365.  This is great news for many organizations but you need to be aware of what the “terms and conditions” are of the offer.

For now, Microsoft is limiting the migration services to email only (SharePoint migrations are said to be following down the road) and there are a number of conditions that are wrapped around the offering.  At this point it is bound to “vanilla” email migrations which translates to “simple”.  It doesn’t look like complex migrations (meaning multiple forests, public folders (if coming from Exchange) and a number of other things) are being considered as Microsoft will still try to have organizations connect with partners for the “complex” migrations.

Frankly, if you have a simple email config at this point you could probably do the migration yourself BUT there is some “warm and fuzzy” in knowing that Microsoft will perform the onboarding and email migration process for you.  Keep in mind that Microsoft is a big, monster corporation and they have to design their engagement framework to fit a certain baseline, there is not going to be a lot of latitude for the Microsoft O365 techs to stray from the guidelines they work under (as in they won’t be able to do much tailoring to fit any “quirks” you might have).  If you have anything “weird” or complex in your current config then you will be better served by working with a partner that can tailor the migration engagement to fit your specific needs.

To be fair to everyone, O365 can be a bit “daunting” to configure when you first get into it but it really isn’t that hard to migrate a few email users into it provided you have done your prep work (just like many other things in the IT world, prep can be everything).  But when things go wrong, and they often do, it can get pretty hairy pretty fast, specially so if you have a timeline that you have to meet.  There is a reason why there is an “industry” that has sprung up to support O365 migrations.  One of the biggest reasons is that users and organizations do things inside Outlook and Exchange that the good folks at Microsoft never dreamed of when they laid down the “features list” for the various versions of Exchange and Outlook.  Things that you might consider to be “normal” might be considered quite mad by the Outlook and Exchange teams and it is this kind of “madness” that can really mess up a migration.  Oh, and there is the whole issue of “cleanliness” or “hygiene” inside Outlook that also raises the bar.  I have seen truly idiotic things being done inside Outlook that will bork a mailbox migration to O365 dead in its tracks only to have the user dig in their heels over the things that need to be done to “clean up”.

So, back to my initial point:  there may be value in the free migration being offered by Microsoft and if you fit within the parameters then you should take advantage of the offer.  But if you know you have a complex or “weird” environment or if you are looking for more than just an email migration (as in you want SharePoint, too) or if you just don’t know then you should still look at working with a Microsoft partner that knows the “ropes”.  They should be able to advise you on the options including the free migration from Microsoft if you are a fit.  It’s worth it to do the groundwork as there is nothing like messing up a Cloud migration to truly sour your day ….