Migrating your email archive to the cloud

Danny Bradbury

Migrating email to the cloud can bring significant benefits, but if your email is moving there, then your email archive should too. A cloud migration can give organizations the chance to revamp their enterprise email archiving strategy (or perhaps create one), and set the stage for a robust, compliant email retention system in the future. Here are some steps to consider along the way:

Audit your existing infrastructure

migrationMuch will depend on what email archiving solutions and techniques you already use. Some users will archive directly within an on-premise installation of Exchange using its in-place hold capabilities (formerly known as a Personal Archive in Exchange 2010). Others will have little more than rudimentary storage, using PST files captured on local computers and housed separately when an employee leaves an organization.

Historically, Microsoft has provided a PST Capture Tool, which looks for PST files scattered across the organization. It collects all of the files together and then uploads the contents directly into mailboxes within Exchange Online.

Alternatively, IT executives may be using dedicated email archiving solutions from third parties designed to work alongside their existing email system. These tools will have their own requirements and foibles when it comes to extracting email archive data, and they will have various levels of compatibility with Office 365.

Clean your archive

shutterstock_113762419Cleaning an email archive is an important first step when considering migration. The less data an IT department has to move, the better. Examine existing email retention policies and see if they accurately reflect the organization’s needs. If the company is keeping emails longer than it needs to, then now is the time to reconfigure those policies, and strip archived email that don’t need to be there.

Decide what archiving tool to use

shutterstock_92928403Before you take the plunge and move your archived email to an online store, consider what email archiver you will use. Office 365 has its own internal archiving capabilities, although there are limitations. IT departments with more sophisticated archiving needs may want to consider a third-party cloud email archiving service that sits outside Microsoft’s infrastructure.

IT departments can get this right by understanding their requirements early on, saving themselves headaches later in the process. A significant portion of the work in email archiving goes into system design. As carpenters like to say: ‘measure twice, cut once’.

Map your retention policies

Once IT staff have chosen the right eye carving tool in the cloud, they should configure it properly. Having already refined and reviewed email retention policies and settings locally, they should now carefully map those retention settings into the new system, making it ready to receive archived email when the migration begins.

Use a migration tool

shutterstock_148220288Now comes the tricky part. Having designed the perfect cloud email archiving system, IT staff must get the existing data into it. Export data from an existing email archive if necessary using a specialized tool. These can simplify and automate some of the more difficult tasks, such as archive cleansing and formatting. They can also provide additional features such as email verification and chain of custody documentation, which should keep the compliance department happy.

Then, IT administrators must transfer this data to the new system. Microsoft has been piloting a newer program called the Office 365 Import Service, which enables network uploads of PST files to its servers. This service, available in free preview through the end of 2015, will be officially launched as a paid service in Q1 2016.

The big problem comes for organizations that have large amounts of archived email to shift, even after the cleanout. In this case, the company advises copying the relevant PST archive files onto hard drives and mailing them directly to Microsoft so that it can put them into its data centres. It copies the PST files internally and imports the mail directly into Exchange Online. The disks are then couriered back to the owner.

Clued-in IT managers will do all of this in close consultation with the compliance department. This will help them to ensure that any changes in retention policies are approved, but also to tick any legal boxes necessary during migration. The technical skill required for the data migration is only one part of the puzzle. Good inter-departmental relations and the ability to speak business and legal language will also stand IT managers in good stead.