E-mail Migration: Plans, Risks, Strategies Revealed in Report

Exchange 2010 is clearly the favorite solution for e-mail migrations, but the risks are clear. Even so, many enterprises aren't planning to conduct basic preventive measures such as data backup.

With the end of Exchange 2003 support, IT administrators are making plans to upgrade their e-mail solutions. A new survey sponsored by Mimecast and conducted by Loudhouse sheds light on what your colleagues are planning -- and the problems they're anticipating -- during their e-mail upgrades.

The survey of 500 "IT or e-mail decision makers" was conducted in July 2011; 200 respondents were in the UK, 200 in the U.S., and 100 in South Africa; 29 percent have at least 1000 employees; 49 percent are smaller enterprises (50 to 499 employees).

More than half (57 percent) plan to upgrade in the next 12 months; 77 percent say they'll upgrade their e-mail system in the next two years. Microsoft Exchange 2010 is the clear winner when it comes to upgrade plans -- 83 percent of companies planning to upgrade in the next 12 months are moving to it. Of these organizations, 62 percent say they'll hostExchange on-premises and 21 percent say they'll use a hosted service. (Regional preferences are evident here. For example, 76 percent of South African enterprises prefer an on-premise approach.) Office 365, at 13 percent, is the second most popular option; cloud-based e-mail systems are part of the plan for just 3 percent of those interviewed.

Mimecast says there's no single "killer benefit" to Exchange 2010; easier administration is cited by 50 percent of respondents, followed by improved security (49 percent overall, but the top benefit for 66 percent of South African enterprises) and support for larger mailboxes (49 percent). Staying up to date with features and capabilities is the top driver for an update according to 57 percent of those taking the survey; the same percent say the push is because they're upgrading their "server estate."

Risks and Rewards

No update is without risk; over half (58 percent) of survey respondents are "hesitant to make any changes that might impact the performance of e-mail." Just over half (52 percent) worry about a potential data loss or e-mail down time (44 percent) and 71 percent believe e-mail archiving is a "key part of any strategic change in e-mail management), yet only 53 percent plan to archive their data before the transition. Strangely, the other 48 percent appear to be keeping their fingers crossed. Good luck to them.

As Mimecast notes: "Those who are taking this route [backing up their data] are best placed for a seamless transition whilst others appear to be either oblivious to the risks or simply hoping for the best as they shift huge amounts of valuable company data from one e-mail system to another."

There are other risk-prevention strategies planned: data encryption (43 percent), use of cloud storage (35 percent), and e-mail continuity planning in case services go down (36 percent). Over half (55 percent) say they'll use third-party support during the migration, and 86 percent are "open to the idea of paying a premium to mitigate against any loss."

I asked Orlando Scott-Cowley, Mimecast's director of product marketing, if there were any other strategies his company recommends.

"It's important to consider all the single points of failure, too. Most environments will have quite a degree of complexity built into them, so IT departments must look at each and every solution that 'touches' their e=mail service and consider how the upgrade and migration might affect that solution.

"It's too late to find out that bespoke application you have doesn't run on Exchange 2010 or those tailored Outlook forms don't work anymore. Solving the obvious problems like Big Data means you're halfway there in terms of assessing the risk to the migration project, but as usual it's the detail that takes time and is often overlooked."

For Many, A Big Job Ahead

Forty-one percent are worried about the volume of data involved -- and with good reason. For two-thirds of companies (65 percent), the migration will likely involve transferring over 100 GB of data; a third (36 percent) of South African enterprises will transfer over 500 GB.

For some shops, the upgrade may be easy: 28 percent predict the transition will take no more than a day and 24 percent think the task with take a full day. For 14 percent of U.S. firms, it could be even easier -- no more than "a couple of hours". For 9 percent, however, the process is expected to take at least a week. The upgrade is part of other upgrade plans: 56 percent are also upgrading their office software at the same time; 52 percent are using the opportunity to update their operating system, and 48 percent say an update to their anti-virus protection solution will occur at the same time.

Despite the costs, one third (34 percent) of respondents believe they'll recoup their costs within 6 months (the figure is 42 percent for U.S. respondents); another 39 percent expect to recover their costs within 12 months. Eight percent don't expect to make back the upgrade costs.

So what makes a positive ROI possible? According to Scott- Cowley, "The general increase in productivity comes from upgrades likes this. Consider the organization may well be upgrading their Exchange environment as well as their desktop Office apps like Outlook. The added features available to users of both mean much more can be done in much less time, and with fantastically more collaboration than ever before. Consider how Exchange 2010 works alongside apps such as SharePoint, OneNote, Dynamics CRM, etc.

"It is also important to note that if you're migrating large amounts of data as part of this upgrade project, and the business has chosen to move that data to a cloud solution like Mimecast prior to the migration, then the ongoing maintenance and complexity of the e-mail management environment is dramatically simplified. No longer will the e-mail administrators have to worry about their big back-end data problems, its associated backup and storage requirements -- and how they manage the next big migration. Moving the big data out to the cloud breaks that boom/bust migration cycle we have to go through every few years."

Were there any surprises for Mimecast in any of the survey results?

"It surprised me that when asked what plans the respondents had to minimize risk during the e-mail migration, a higher percentage said that working out-of-office hours (47 percent) would help them minimize risk rather than deploying a continuity service (36 percent) or even reducing the complexity of the environment before the migration (33 percent)," Scott-Cowley told me.

"This tells me that IT departments seem resigned to the fact they'll be working weekends and nights to get these projects done, even when there are more sensible and 'protective' solutions that can be used to minimize the effort required to complete the task, and therefore minimize the risk. Is this because they have yet to build a business case for continuity solutions or that they have to make do with what they already have?"