The University of Nebraska was facing increasing maintenance costs to keep its 12-year old Lotus Notes system alive. Recently, the university made migrated all of its 50,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff across four campuses to Microsoft's Office 365 and Exchange. The project took them the better part of a year, but the university saved close to half a million dollars as a result, with other anticipated savings down the road.
The university wanted a combined cloud/on-premises solution. When they considered vendors, one requirement was that the provider store their email data on American servers, since they do a fair amount of U.S. government work that has that as a regulatory requirement.
The migration had a few bumps in the road. At the Gartner Catalyst conference this week in San Diego, the CIO of the University of Nebraska, Walter Weir, described what they did and some of the decisions that they faced along the way.
Should you use consultants or DIY?
It really depends on your existing skill set and how confident you are with your staff. The university had a lot of expertise with Active Directory and Exchange, which enabled the university IT staff to do most of the work themselves when the conversion took place.
Understand your subdomains
How you carve up your entire email domain is important when it comes to assigning the ultimate email address for your users. At the university, they wanted separate subdomains for each of their campuses, so that users would have firstname.lastname@example.org instead of everyone having email@example.com. They also wanted to segregate their medical center campus and use a separate on-premises solution. "But this was mainly a political, not a technical decision," said Weir.
Assemble a task force and use project management tools to keep track
The university put together a 10-member task force to manage the transition. On average they had 43 people working during the implementation phase from all the campuses and different groups, including security staffers. They also prided themselves on having a solid project management plan (since that is actually one of the things they teach at the school) and following it, too.
Decide on your mailbox migration strategy
The university was faced with three choices, typical of these situations: migrate everything with some kind of automated tool, migrate nothing and start fresh for each user, or use a combination of automated and manual approaches for particular users.
They had some problems with the first migration tool they chose (Binary Tree), mainly due to the slowness of the conversion. They ended up with a tool from Quest, but still didn't convert the majority of their mailboxes, either through user choice or administrative fiat.
Understand all the component pieces and fine print
Moving to the mixed Microsoft SaaS-on premises based solution was going to require the latest versions of Exchange and Outlook and several other pieces to handle federating identities and IM communications. Don't forget about these when costing out your alternatives. The university also tried to get quotes from other providers besides Microsoft, but found the two primary competitors were more expensive than their existing Notes solution.
Know what you aren't going to do
The task force also made it clear what they weren't going to attempt during the project to set appropriate expectations, such as migrate Lotus applications, upgrade desktops to a new operating system, or transfer archived or personal email data.
Calculate all your costs accurately when selling savings
The university's maintenance agreements were costing them $250,000 annually, and they wanted to conclude the transition before they needed to renew the next agreement. Still, their projected total is $2.5 million over the next five years by making the move to Office 365.
So what happened? Several issues arose, apart from the migration tool chosen.
The biggest challenge was an increase in spam seen by end users. "We got really good at managing spam and malware in Notes, but when we fired up Office 365, we have had more spam coming through. We added a Proofpoint box to try to stem the tide but are still working on this issue," said Weir.
They also had issues with automatically populating their various groups across domains, issues with large attachments (Notes and 365 have different limits on them), and problems with voice mail attachments in Office 365. But these were minor. For the most part the conversion went smoothly, and the users are satisfied with their email in the cloud.