Chris Westgor and Sam Ferguson say the village of Schaumburg, Ill., can serve up FOIA requests much faster, thanks to the robust archiving ­capabilities of cloud e-mail.

Jan 17 2012

5 Tips For Migrating Your Email To The Cloud

Governments have chosen to save money and ease support by moving to Microsoft cloud services. Here’s how several handled the implementation.

The village of Schaumburg, Ill., used IBM Lotus Notes for about 15 years. Over that time, it developed a number of custom Domino applications. "But it got expensive," says Sam Ferguson, Schaumburg's director of IT. "We were paying a lot to maintain our Notes platform."

Moreover, Notes had become the IT department's top support problem. It was difficult to recover user passwords, and the client software was ­proving cumbersome, especially when it crashed. "Because we were changing direction, we weren't enhancing or upgrading the IBM platform as we probably should have," Ferguson says. "The clear direction, especially from an application development standpoint, was to move away from that."

Schaumburg began exploring software as a service. "Our enterprise resource planning software dictated the e-mail client," says Chris Westgor, Schaumburg's technical services manager. The ERP client used Microsoft Outlook, and the system wouldn't integrate with Notes or other products. When the IT department compared cloud services from Google and Microsoft, the latter worked better.

In January 2011, Schaumburg completed a migration to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS). The village will upgrade to the successor to BPOS, Office 365, by spring. For less than $5 per seat, it now runs 750 e-mail accounts in Microsoft's public cloud.

Ferguson expects the first year of using BPOS e-mail to be a break-even proposition. Whereas his department was spending roughly $50,000 a year on Notes e-mail maintenance, the migration to BPOS and first year of usage is projected to cost about the same amount. "But we've noticed a huge drop in e-mail–related requests for support," Westgor says. Thanks to the new platform's streamlined archival and retrieval capabilities, Freedom of ­Information Act (FOIA) requests that used to take 20 hours now take 20 minutes.

Many state and local governments, including Schaumburg, are learning lessons about migrating to Microsoft's cloud-based e-mail platform. Here is a sampling:

1. Determine what must move to the cloud.

Despite moving to a new e-mail system, Schaumburg did not move its lega­cy e-mail to the Microsoft cloud. The
village migrated its contact and calendar functions but left the e-mail database untouched. That's because the village needed to support those custom apps until it could convert them to Microsoft .NET. "We were encouraging users not to migrate old e-mail because it could be fraught with issues," Ferguson says.

At the same time, the IT department established an e-mail retention schedule of one year.

2. Get buy-in from all affected parties.

The state of Nebraska is currently migrating approximately 16,000 e-mail users to Microsoft Office 365 in the public cloud. Jayne L. Scofield, network services manager in the office of the CIO, says the state had come to recognize that e-mail had become a computing utility. "It was in our best interest to redirect our resources toward non-utility services," she says.

But the state didn't simply make a blanket decision and impose it on the agencies. "We approached this as a state of Nebraska decision, so our CIO was very inclusive of all of the state agencies by holding public forums, creating steering committees and providing updates on a regular basis," ­Scofield explains. She notes the importance of understanding your customers' business needs and drivers and keeping them in mind throughout the implementation.

42% State and local government respondents who say vulnerability to security breaches is the biggest barrier to public cloud adoption

SOURCE: "Pulse on Public Sector Virtualization and Cloud Computing Study" (Quest Software and Norwich University, April 2011)

3. Consider your cloud model.

Like other state and local governments, Minnesota is moving its e-mail platform to Office 365. When completed, the state will have migrated 35 agencies and 35,000 e-mail accounts to cloud-based e-mail, according to CIO Carolyn Parnell. "As with many states that face growing deficits, we are continually being asked to do more with less," she says. "Technological advancements like cloud computing offered us a way to save locally across all units of government, and to realize operational efficiencies, both of which were crucial parts of the solution for us."

Unlike others, Minnesota eschews the public cloud model, in which e-mail resources are shared among many customers. "[Our] service is based on Microsoft's Office 365 dedicated cloud service, which, given our implementation, adheres closest to a hybrid cloud model," Parnell explains.

To ensure the privacy of state data, its Microsoft Office 365 cloud applications are hosted in a stand-alone, dedicated infrastructure and delivered online through a direct, secure connection to the state network. "Combining the superior architecture of the collaboration applications and the state-of-the-art physical security of Microsoft's facility increased our data security severalfold, providing an instant upgrade to the state's security posture," Parnell says.

4. Anticipate what you may not have anticipated.

"If we'd been running Microsoft ­Exchange Server in-house, we probably wouldn't have gone to the cloud," says Tom ­Trobridge, CIO of the city of ­Alexandria, Va. But ­Alexandria was running Lotus Notes, which was no longer meeting its needs. So the city began a two-step e-mail migration.

Alexandria started by signing an enterprise agreement to include Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, saving the city $1.2 million in licensing alone. "Then we said, 'Now that we have Outlook, we can save even more money by skipping an on-premise installation and taking it right to the cloud,' " Trobridge says.

Alexandria used migration tools from Quest Software to move data out of its Notes database and get 2,700 mailboxes into the cloud. What it didn't count on was how big the mailboxes would become. "One thing Lotus Notes does well is data compression," Trobridge says. So although some of the Notes mailboxes were already pretty big, they tripled in size when moved to Exchange. "They were too big to get into the cloud, so we went through a very deliberate process of telling all employees they had to get their mailboxes down under a certain size."

5. Sell your service.

One of the biggest benefits to migrating e-mail to a cloud-based system is that it gives the IT department a way to bill departments and agencies for their e-mail usage. That's the case for Klamath County, Ore., which moved 450 users to Office 365. "We re-bill e-mail service on a per-account basis," says IT Director ­Randy Paul. "That allows our departments to see very clearly what their e-mail investment is. They know what they're paying and what they're getting, and it helps them understand that ­e-mail's really not a free service."

<p>Todd Winters</p>

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