Cloud Migrations: On-premises vs. Hosted Comparison

I've been involved with various mail migrations for a period of almost 15 years.  Without exception, migration projects of the past included 2 major tasks:
  • Build a migration infrastructure
  • Create a migration team
Both tasks represented a significant amount of effort and cost, and their completion was the key to a successful migration project. That was then ...has anything changed now?  Well, the answer depends on whether you are migrating to an on-premises messaging environment, to a hosted messaging environment, or migrating to the “the Cloud”.

If you are migrating to an
on-premises email platform, the only real choices for you are "to build" or "to buy" the migration framework. "Build"means to allocate hardware, install software, assign and train personnel, and to execute the project.  "Buy" means to acquire a physical or a virtual migration appliance operated by a specialized third-party. Which choice is better, simpler, or less expensive may be a topic for a separate posting; this one will focus on choices for the migration to the Cloud or, more specifically, the Microsoft Cloud, formerly known as BPOS and recently renamed as Office 365 (which is how I’ll be referencing it in this blog post).

So let's look at the migration choices for moving to the Cloud:

"On-premises" vs. "Hosted": The most obvious assertion about moving to
Office 365 is that an organization no longer wishes to invest in managing its own messaging infrastructure. Would an investment in an on-premises migration project align with the original goal?  One may make an argument that this is one last necessary investment, which would be accurate if there were no other migration alternatives. But an alternative does exist in the form of a hosted migration approach. For the majority of Cloud-migrating customersI’ve observed over the last few years, the concept of using someone else's infrastructure to migrate to the Cloud becomes more than just logical, it becomes self-evident. It's not even a pure cost-based proposition, it's really an extension of the philosophical decision that drove the Cloud choice to start with: no new hardware or software, no impact on network or security, no distraction for local personnel. Hosted migration becomes a new "migration black box" - all an organization needs to do is plug into it, establish a proper connection, and the rest is taken care of by someone else. Nothing seems to be simpler.

However, at times some counter-arguments surface, so to be fair and balanced, I will attempt to address them here:

  1. Data Ownership and Security: Can hosted migration assure no unauthorized access to the proprietary information?  With properly established migration process, data only "passes through" the hosted migration environment for a very short period of time where it is tightly protected against inappropriate access or mixing with data from other customers.  A hosted migration environment is no less secure than the Cloud itself, so if an organization has accepted the Cloud security model, it will be perfectly satisfied with one of the hosted migration.
  2. Project Control: Can hosted migration offer a structured migration schedule or is it a free-for-all approach?  Let's not overlook the fact that the customer controls the migration schedule not the migration vendor.  It's the customer that determines migration schedule.  What the hosted migration approach does is allow the schedule to be accelerated, so that the transition to the Cloud occurs over a shorter time period.
  3. Cost: Doesn't hosted migration carry a per-user cost that is higher than simply buying migration software?  Let's not forget that the hosted migration price is all-inclusive while in the case of buying migration software for an on-premises migration a great deal of additional investment must be made. When all costs are tallied, the hosted migration often comes out ahead.

To summarize, I’m obviously speaking from experience. For over 2 years,Binary Tree has been involved in migrating our customers from hosted environments to the Microsoft Cloud (in fact, we pioneered it). We’ve migrated hundreds of thousands of mailboxes to the Cloud with the highest levels of success and satisfaction. Most of our customers are amazed at how much easier the migration process becomes when it's performed by someone else. It's like everything in life: every daunting task seems less challenging when someone else does it  :-)

- Vadim