Road to cloud computing

How to successfully move email to the cloud

E-mail and collaboration services continue to be the top applications federal, state and local governments have identified as the best candidates to move into the cloud, as agencies seek to improve employees’ access to communications and mobile tools while reaping significant cost savings.

The Environmental Protection Agency is the latest, enlisting Lockheed Martin and Microsoft to move 25,000 employees to Microsoft’s Office 365, a cloud-based collaboration and communication service. The move to Office 365 is expected to save the EPA approximately $12 million over the four-year contract period.

EPA e-mail users will be transitioned to Office 365 for Government, a new multi-tenant service that stores U.S. government data in a segregated community cloud and includes e-mail, calendars, scheduling and collaboration tools for internal and external use. Lockheed Martin will manage the migration and provide engineering and ongoing integration services. The primary e-mail migration will be completed in early 2013, Lockheed officials said.

E-mail is considered low-hanging fruit for government IT managers who are starting down the road toward cloud–based services. But as industry experts have pointed out, that doesn’t mean the first step to an e-mail migration will be a walk in the park.

There are five pitfalls that could scuttle a cloud e-mail migration:

  • Lack of user support
  • Convoluted data migration plans
  • Customized applications that slip through the cracks
  • Underestimating the complexity of security compliance
  • Failure to consider mobile devices

Microsoft is helping agencies avoid these pitfalls as they migrate to the cloud, said Susie Adams, CTO for Microsoft's Federal Government business.  

“Each deployment is different, it depends on the current state of an agency’s operations,” which includes managing everything from the Microsoft Active Directory infrastructure to network connectivity to the way an agency has established Internet connections, Adams said.

Over the past few years several successful e-mail migrations have given agency CIOs and program managers as well as industry a better understanding of the processes and technology needed to move to the cloud, said Sean Patton, Lockheed Martin’s director of business development for Energy Solutions.

Both companies have migrated large applications, Patton said. This is not Microsoft’s first implementation of Office 365 nor Lockheed Martin’s first mission-critical application migration, he said. In fact, the Agriculture Department completed a migration of 120,000 users to Microsoft Office 365 in a dedicated cloud environment in September 2011.  Meanwhile, the state of Minnesota created a “collaboration ecosystem” to improve productivity and constituent services by moving 35,000 state workers to Microsoft Office 365.

Still, a successful migration requires developing a very detailed roadmap that brings organizations to what Microsoft describes as “service ready,” Adams said.  Microsoft has a very “prescriptive process,” meeting with key managers within an agency to go over technical principles and compiling a thorough, sophisticated tech check list.

“We have meetings where we have a solutions alignment workshop and look at the current status of the physical infrastructure at the user site,” including all the operating systems and the types of client systems installed.  “What we’ve found with many large agencies is they have multiple e-mail systems or multiple versions of the client software that has access to those systems,” Adams said. Often they will have multiple versions of Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes and multiple versions of Microsoft Office. 

After working with the agency, consultants and systems integration partners, Microsoft and its partners can develop a customized plan, giving the agency a clear understanding of the road blocks that need to be addressed and the best way to migrate mail boxes as well as archival systems to the cloud.  The defined process might not address everything that the team runs into, Adams said, but it does cut through the top five pitfalls that could scuttle migration to the cloud.

“The agencies do a good job of highlighting what they want, but once you go in, there are certain other areas that you have to address,” said Steve Kousen, vice president in charge of federal e-mail and collaboration with Unisys. Unisys has helped agencies move thousands of employee e-mail accounts to Google Apps, including those of 17,000 users at the General Services Administration, 25,000 at the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration and 5,000 at the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory.

Unisys has developed integrated project teams with agency representatives around functional areas such as mobility or security to give managers better insight into where they ultimately need to take the agency in this fast-changing IT environment.  The teams address issues such as: “What is your strategy for mobility,” Kousen said.  “ If you don’t have a strategy, here is what we see in the marketplace.  Here is where we see technology going and the issues -- pros and cons.” Unisys also passes on best practices and lessons learned through previous cloud deployments through these teams.

Holding these workshops in the beginning of a cloud migration puts all parties on the same page – defining where agency managers ultimately want to go, not just what the request for proposal says they want now or in the next six months, Kousen said.

At EPA, officials are well prepared to kick off the move to the cloud; their plan just needed to be tailored to Office 365, Lockheed’s Patton said. EPA officials had to take into consideration the types of tools and policies that need to be put into place. They have also paid attention to customized applications for existing e-mail services, assessing the impact of the move and what applications need to be revamped.

“They had a pretty good idea of what to do,” Patton said. “We found that to be refreshing and helpful.”


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