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My 12-person nonprofit, National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) in Minneapolis, began work on a Office 365 implementation in mid-April last year, and by late-May our email migration was complete. This blog provides an overview of how we did it.
Once we decided to go with Office 365 to simplify our IT support and make our data more secure, our next step was to plan for our email migration by signing up for Tech Impact's DIY Office 365 Setup and Email for Small Organizations workshop.
Tech Impact's $300 program provides a cohort group guided by expert help to assist you in a hands-on setup and migration process. It is a fantastic value, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
As we planned to execute the migration, we began to address it at every regular staff meeting. At the first meeting, we watched Microsoft's Getting Started with Office 365 video, and at subsequent meetings, I apprised my co-workers of progress on the migration prep and answered questions.
I emphasized that for the most part, there would be no change in the way the staff members would get their work done. Once the migration was complete, they would open Outlook and their email would just be there working like it always had.
I found out at the NTC Conference that nonprofits can mix and match Office 365 E1 and E3 licensing. E3 licensing is $4.50 per user per month, whereas the simpler E1 licensing is free for qualified organizations.
A full listing of what's available at each license level is also available. We decided to go with E1 licenses.
Here's the essential Tech Impact process in seven steps:
As is recommended by Tech Impact, our deployment was executed over a weekend in order to lessen the disruption on staff.
The opening step in our migration process was to get each client workstation prepared. That Friday, I switched our MX records (they tell senders where to send email for your domain) to begin the process of routing incoming mail to Office 365.
Then I went to the office to do several hours of work. I ran around and completed the following on every workstation:
IMPORTANT: I found out the hard way that I needed to ensure that the Outlook client on each workstation was configured to cache all mail locally, rather than 12 months, which is the default setting for profiles set up in Outlook 2013.
After the workstations are prepped comes the data push. In our case, I had planned to start the work on Friday evening, then complete everything on Sunday.
It's important to give the mail flow some time after changing the MX records so that any mail that straggles into the old server gets picked up and moved in the migration process. My steps were to:
Because we had an in-house mail server for about two decades, and several of our staff have been around nearly that long (or longer), we were holding on to some pretty large email archive files.
It turns out that when you enable in-place archiving on user accounts in Office 365, the default retention policy automatically moves every message older than two years into that archive mailbox on an ongoing basis. So for all staff members, I was able to combine both their current email store and archive PST into their Office 365 email.
In sum, I put several dozen hours into this project, from budget projections to uninstalling the Exchange Server from our domain (to writing this blog). It was absolutely worth it.
Like any major system migration, it's a ton of work fraught with challenges. But the end result is that our organization is now on the most up-to-date Exchange and SharePoint platforms available, professionally hosted and perpetually updated, with our data safely stored out in the cloud.
That's a huge relief as a system administrator and a huge win for the organization. I recommend it, and wish you good luck in implementing it for your nonprofit.
Find a more comprehensive version of this article on my blog.
This piece is a shortened version of Jason Samuels' Real World Lessons from Migrating Email to Office 365.
Image 1: Leo Reynolds / CC BY-NC-SA
Image 2: Pressmaster / Shutterstock
Image 3: enterlinedesign / Shutterstock