Email and office productivity suite migrations are high-stakes projects that are strategic to the customer organization. We cover some of the reasons at a macro level in two other articles. MSP Alert: The Rise in Tenant-to-Tenant Migrations for Microsoft 365 looks at the sheer number of migration opportunities. Sizing Up Your Opportunities: Tenant-to-Tenant Migrations for MSPs delves into the business drivers behind these projects. Some of these engagements can be quite large. However, the greater the number of users and the bigger the mailboxes and data stores, the higher risk there is for customer downtime or a migration that accomplishes less than 100% fidelity.
Microsoft and Google provide tools for migrating users to their office productivity suites, and they are certainly better than doing the entire migration manually. They also come with an irresistible price point: free. But for an MSP that has staked its reputation on successfully migrating a high-profile client, it’s wise to look past the price. Consider the full business case for passing on these free first-party solutions in favor of a a more-robust and full-featured third-party tool.
Migration speed. The ability to move a large number of users and high volume of data is critical when the plan is to cut over all users in a weekend and get the customer back to business as usual on Monday. The first-party tools can handle smaller, simple migrations up to a few hundred users. Third-party tools are optimized for speed, can migrate several hundred users concurrently, and leverage the elasticity of the cloud to scale and support user counts in the thousands.
Range of migrated items. The first-party tools can handle the basic components of a mailbox, including mail items, calendars and contacts. Third-party tools often go beyond the basics by handling files, folders and in some cases, collaboration solution configurations, settings and data.
Configurability and control over the migration. Careful planning and smart configuration are the key to any successful migration. The first-party tools can handle a narrow set of “plain vanilla” projects, and require lengthy and cumbersome manual configuration. You’ll often find that the profit margin you expected to gain from using a free tool is quickly eaten away with costs like additional support or engineering labor to work around the tool’s shortcomings. Third-party tools offer a much higher degree of fine-grained control. Advanced features such as date range filtering, recipient mapping, configurable error thresholds and automated end-user notifications support different migration strategies, and are accessible through a GUI. Advanced PowerShell users, however, can script repetitive tasks through an SDK for handling large enterprise engagements. Through their architecture, third-party tools can also help reduce the amount bandwidth required during the cutover, allowing larger projects to be completed in shorter time windows.
Visibility throughout the project. Despite the most careful pre-planning, migrations rarely go exactly as planned. First-party tools may not provide the same level of live, granular reporting that the third-party solutions offer. The latter can log every item migrated and give detailed information about error messages, migration speeds and overall project status. Understanding where errors occur allows IT to troubleshoot and guide migrations along, which is especially important for high user-count or compliance-critical environments.
Support availability and costs. First-party tools tend to be lighter on documentation and training materials, and support tickets are handled alongside all of their other customers. That’s not what you need when you require help with a time-sensitive migration project. Third party providers that specialize in migrations have built the entire business around these engagements, so the documentation is more-thorough and 24/7 dedicated support services for all aspects of the project are built into the licensing cost. To gain a sense for the depth of knowledge and resources that come with the third-party tools and how they lead to more-successful migrations, read Tenant to Tenant Migrations: A Best-Practices Primer for MSPs.
The Value of Real-World Testing
The bottom line recommendation for making the decision is this: Execute a pilot migration with a subset of users to test whether the first-party tool is up to the unique challenges presented by an individual migration project. The first-party tool might be perfectly adequate. But often, the free price comes with hidden or unplanned costs that aren’t apparent until the project is underway.
The third-party option might not only cost less in the bigger picture. More importantly, a robust, feature-rich third-party tool takes out the lion’s share of the risk that’s inherent with a large, customer-critical migration.