120,000 mailboxes - you need the dedicated Office 365 service!

New York State plans to move 120,000 mailboxes to Office 365 by the end of 2013. Even though they have six times as many mailboxes to move, I think they will have an easier time during the migration than their counterparts in Boston, who are moving to Gmail. NY probably won't use the common-or-garden Office 365 standard service that's intended for the likes of me. Instead, Microsoft is likely to roll out the red carpet and provide NY with a dedicated instance of Office 365, which seems appropriate for the number of users they'll support.

The announcement from New York State that they have decided to consolidate 27 different email, word, and data processing systems, including the migration of 120,000 mailboxes, by moving to Office 365 by the end of 2013 is interesting for many reasons. One is to know whether the NY folks have an easier time of migration than their counterparts in Boston, who announced in May a decision to move 20,000 mailboxes from Exchange to Gmail instead of what seemed to be the logical choice to use Office 365. No doubt some interesting project comparisons will merge over the next few months.

The NY project aims to move a lot of mailboxes very quickly. It might be the case that the mailboxes are small and therefore easy to move across the Internet to the Office 365 datacenters. Or it might be that a decision has been made to “fast track” the migration by giving NY users new Office 365 mailboxes and leaving their old data behind pending a subsequent migration. In either case, Microsoft has to migrate about 20,000 mailboxes every month to meet the end-2013 deadline. My feeling, based on previously being involved in a project that successfully moved 100,000 mailboxes to the older Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) platform, is that meeting the goal will take a lot of preparation, solid project management, technical support, bandwidth, and flawless execution.

In any case, it’s unlikely that NY State will be using a tenant domain in the standard shared Office 365 infrastructure. Enterprise customers (anything over 10,000 mailboxes) tend to be happier with Microsoft’s dedicated Office 365 service. Although a dedicated service costs more, Microsoft provides the customer with dedicated hardware (servers, storage, and network), private connectivity between their network and the Office 365 datacenters, greater ability to customize different aspects of the service, and a lot more effort dedicated to supporting the customer. Sometimes this is known as the “white glove” service because of the way that Microsoft sales and services personnel hand-hold the customer transition to Office 365.

Microsoft has run dedicated Exchange environments for customers going back to the Exchange 2003-based “Microsoft Managed Solutions” in the 2004-2005 timeframe. This was followed by a more general launch into the hosted email space with BPOS, which was based on Exchange 2007 and later Exchage 2010 (it wasn't very good at all when running Exchange 2007). Today’s dedicated Office 365 service largely runs Exchange 2010 with new customers being implemented on Exchange 2013 and plans in place to move all customers to Exchange 2013 by the end of 2014.

Of course, like when you pay for a Platinum American Express card, you get more opportunity to discuss aspects of how Office 365 is delivered with Microsoft when you use a dedicated service. The inertia present in many large enterprises means that they are notoriously slow at deploying new technology. One of the big benefits promised by cloud services is “evergreen technology”, meaning that new features are made available much more quickly than in on-premises environments because customers never have to upgrade – everything is done for them. Dedicated Office 365 doesn’t move at the same snappy pace as its shared counterpart because its customers are able to decide when upgrades happen so that things don’t change, for instance, in the middle of financial reporting season.  

As NY looks forward to migrating 20,000 mailboxes per month, I’m sure that Microsoft is busy making sure that the dedicated service created for NY will be ready to accept the load. However, the devil is invariably in the details when projects like this are implemented. I sure hope, for instance, that all the clients running in NY state agencies are capable of connecting to Exchange Online!

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Tony Redmond

Tony Redmond is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro and the author of Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 Inside Out (Microsoft Press) and Microsoft Exchange Server 2013 Inside Out: Mailbox...
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