by Shane O'Neill

How to Move E-mail to the Cloud: 7 Planning Tips

Mar 29, 2011
Cloud ComputingCRM SystemsEnterprise Applications

Cloud computing providers can take enterprise e-mail off your to-do list, but how can you ensure a smooth transition? Forrester Research shares seven best practices.

E-mail is arguably one of the easiest apps to move to the cloud, yet some CIOs remain hesitant to hand e-mail over to a third-party cloud-based e-mail provider such as Microsoft, IBM or Google, says a new report from Forrester Research.

Half of the 934 SMB and enterprise IT decision-makers surveyed for the report say they’re “not interested” in adopting hosted e-mail.

However, pressure is mounting to drive down costs by moving parts of a company’s IT infrastructure to the cloud, according to Forrester. Despite the 51 percent of survey respondents who are holding on to e-mail, 46 percent are either interested in or plan to move e-mail to the cloud in the next year?

For the report, entitled “Learn from Those Who Have Made the Leap to Cloud-Based Email”, Forrester analysts interviewed IT pros at companies including pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and Fairchild Semiconductor — Microsoft and Google customers respectively — for tips on planning for and migrating to cloud-based e-mail systems.

For starters, an organization needs to know if it’s ready for the cloud. Some companies need to retain e-mail on-premise for compliance and legal reasons. Take a hard look at your e-mail environment. An evaluation process, according to Forrester’s research, should include:

  • An analysis of what employees need: What are their mailbox size requirements? Does the amount of legacy to migrate differ between users? Do they all have the same recovery requirements?
  • Mapping out application integration requirements: Employees aren’t the only users of a company’s e-mail platform — mail-enabled CRM, finance, and other business applications often depend on e-mail for workflow as well.
  • A comparative cost analysis: Forrester research has shown that many companies underestimate or don’t know the cost of their corporate e-mail service. The cost for cloud hosting is more transparent, with providers revealing their per-use, per-month costs for easy comparison.
  • An analysis of regulatory and other security requirements: Your company might be subject to regulations like HIPAA or FISMA that set controls for e-mail storage and access. Also, if your organization has security requirements beyond what government regulations dictate, migrating your e-mail to the cloud may not be feasible.

After determining whether an e-mail cloud migration is right for your company, it is now time to prepare for the migration. Here are seven planning tips that Forrester culled from various interviews with SMB and enterprise early adopters.

1. Clean Up Directory

It’s necessary to “clean house” when moving e-mail from on-premise to a cloud environment. That means cleaning out Active Directory (if you use Microsoft Active Directory) of stale records and outdated domains. One Forrester interviewee, a financial services customer, put it succinctly: “We didn’t want to replicate our own existing mess to a provider.”

2. Gauge Bandwidth Requirements

Moving e-mail to a cloud service will boost overall Internet traffic, so you will need to factor in an increase in bandwidth needs. Cloud providers such as Microsoft, Google and IBM all have tools that give guidance for bandwidth expectations.

“For instance,” writes report author and Forrester analyst Christopher Voce, “Microsoft states that for every 100 heavy Outlook users you have, you would need 37 KB/sec available for email, and for medium usage Outlook Web Access users, you would need nearly 85 KB/sec.”

3. Determine How Much to Migrate

The less e-mail and calendaring history you carry over to the cloud, the quicker the migration. So businesses should migrate what is essential, at least initially, to shorten the transition, as having one foot in on-premise and one foot in the cloud for too long can be painful, according to Forrester.

“Companies we interviewed who chose to bring a year or more of history all said that in hindsight they wished they had brought less,” writes author Voce.

4. Decide on a Migration Approach

The two types of e-mail cloud migrations are coexistence migrations and cutover migrations.

Both have pros and cons. A coexistence migration is a more gradual transfer of resources and thus less of a shock to users. But this approach can cause problems between users that are in the cloud and those that are not, such as not being able to view calendar availability, particularly if the underlying platforms are from different vendors.

A cutover migration, where little or no history is migrated to the platform, is done quickly and has lower implementation costs. But it does shift the transition burden to the employees.

Both Microsoft and IBM have “hybrid” tools to improve integration between on-premise and cloud-based deployments.

5. Get Creative Combining Cloud and On-Premise

Some companies could explore a two-phase approach by taking a snapshot of historical e-mail and migrating those e-mails to the cloud initially, while keeping all employees on the current on-premise system. Once the snapshot e-mail has been migrated and any changes made to the e-mails since the original snapshot have been saved, it is time to start migrating employees inboxes to a cloud service.

“Naturally, there’s a higher price tag with that effort, but it captures the best of both worlds,” writes Voce. “Your business leaders and knowledge of corporate culture will help you determine the best approach for your organization.”

6. Assemble Your Migration Team

Cloud migrations can be a burden, and, depending on the size of your company, you may not have the internal staff to handle it. Providers like IBM and Microsoft often include their own migration services or can recommend migration partners such as Quest Software, Avanade (only works with Microsoft products) and others to facilitate a migration. Forrester strongly recommends including migration costs in the negotiation of any cloud deal.

7. Keep an Exit Strategy in Mind

An important part of any cloud migration strategy is knowing when and how to pull the plug if it’s not working out.

“If something goes wrong during the migration you need to understand what your contractual requirements are with a provider,” writes Voce. “Acting on such a plan is rare, but it’s always a good idea to have an exit strategy.”

Shane O’Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at