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Two week ago, Microsoft scored a notable client: Facebook.

Facebook CIO Tim Campos announced the news from the stage of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. According to Facebook, its 13,000 employees would start with access to Office 365 email features and it would make more features available as needed.

Facebook said little more than that, but no big surprises there: Few companies willingly discuss internal software and application needs in anything other than very general terms.

Nor do they discuss migrations from one application to another, or one platform to another. 

Facebook is no different. 

In a statement to CMSWire about its plans for Office365, Genevieve Grdina, manager corporate communications for Facebook, simply said:

“I can confirm that we will be using Office 365, but we are not disclosing details of the partnership at this time."

But, with 92 percent of global enterprises voicing concerns about the security risks associated with a shared cloud infrastructure, what steps can Facebook take to reap the benefits of cloud-based email without incurring greater risk?

Answering the Question, 'Why Migrate'

Office 365 is powerful, but not perfect. By moving to Office 365, Facebook will face some challenges involving accuracy, speed, data protection, amongst other considerations. 

How will Facebook — or any company looking to migrate — manage this?

Although Facebook did not offer specific details about its migration and post-migration plans, we asked some migration and security experts what kind of problems large migrations face, and how to overcome them.

Our first question was why bother? If migration poses so many challenges, why not just leave data in legacy systems and simply add new systems for future projects? 

David Hood, director of technology at email security vendor Mimecast, said this:

“One of the major benefits of the cloud is the ability to provide unprecedented mobility to a workforce. By getting data out of legacy systems, access to information is that much better and there is far greater potential for increased collaboration among workers, no matter where they are," he told us.

“Another benefit is to get out of the business of maintaining infrastructure and systems. Legacy systems often run on-premises, which requires a footprint in a data center, databases and file storage that increases over time and skilled staff that must support the applications. By moving to the cloud, organizations can focus IT resources to areas that give them a competitive advantage.”

Whaling and Other Email Risks

Hood points out that Facebook’s decision to move to Office 365 is no surprise given the latter's traction in both the small-to-medium enterprise space, as well as the large enterprise space.

In fact, research recently presented (registration required) by Larry Cannell, research director at Gartner, found that 78 percent of respondents were either on Office 365 or were planning on using it within the next six months, up 13 from Gartner's last Office 365 study, published in 2014.

And while 13,000 users may sound like a lot, the issue for Facebook is not one of size, but security:

“Regardless of the number of employees, email is proving to be a security challenge. Email is the number 1 attack vector, with 91 percent of attacks starting with the email channel,” Hood said.

What’s more, threats continue to evolve which strain organizations' ability to provide protection. Another major risk is called business email compromise or whaling.

“Whaling attacks, for example, do not have a malicious payload (no URL or attachment) and instead use social engineering techniques to get a victim to initiate a fraudulent action by impersonating a senior executive, most often the CEO of a company,” he said.

“These show the need for every company to combine technology solutions with proactive employee training to create a ‘Human Firewall’ at an organization that is capable of identifying threats and neutralizing them before they become a problem,” he said.

Factors Which Add to Migration Complexity

Statements from Facebook indicate that its initial use of Office365 will focus exclusively on email, which sounds like a very large hammer to crack a small nut.

However, Adam Levithan, director of product management at Microsoft-environment migration specialist Metalogix, said it is a little more complicated than that.

He said the main motivation for keeping the scope to email migration is storage. Email boxes within Office 365 allow for 50 GB of storage. In addition, Office 2016 applications allow users to easily archive emails.

“This removes an even further burden on IT infrastructure that is only for 'keeping the lights on.' I can only imagine that Facebook would rather spend its funds on innovation rather than base technology that can be securely managed in the cloud,” he said.

“Moving not only email but all other content from legacy systems into the Office 365 ecosystem provides the power of context that Microsoft Graph and Delve represent. It has increased individual users’ productivity, and has the potential to ensure that time is not the boundary on a good idea.”

Levithan also argued that a migration of 13,000 isn’t that large of a number. Some early adopters of Office 365 included organizations of over 50,000 employees. However, the number of users is not the only variable that indicates complexity with migration.

Some other considerations include:

  • The total size of data being moved
  • The time frame in which the move must take place
  • The distribution of users across the world
  • Transformation of data, and regulatory requirements

Issues around licenses and IT involvement in the process also arise:

“Some key areas when moving to Office 365 are the application of licenses and the pre-creation of OneDrive for Business. It’s a tough challenge to recover from an end-user experience when they can’t log in, or they go to a link and are asked to wait while their drive is being created,” Levithan said.

Success of migration projects — like many other projects — requires IT and business alignment. IT will have the burden to understand business-specific reasons that will benefit users, beyond the storage and cost benefits to the organization mentioned above.

Migration Planning Priorities

Simon de Baene, CEO of migration specialist for SharePoint and Office 365 Sharegate, said that migration, like all other enterprise IT decisions, needs careful planning:

“Whether you're performing a small or large migration, the most important part of it all is planning. What's going to go where, and by when will it be done? Of course, communication and a good change management plan is required to deal with the biggest challenge facing a migration: People,” he said.

“With an inventory of what you have, and knowledge of the destination platform, the technical side of the migration can often be the easiest part of the process. But changing people's routine and habits impacting their work is where you'll need to roll up those sleeves and manage the expectations of the migration.”

Baene recommends starting with a piecemeal approach, taking the migration one step at a time: 

“When trying out a new platform for a large amount of users, it can be a good idea to start piecemeal. In this case, it [Facebook] opted for the email and calendar features,” he said.

“Quickly, it will notice that to take full advantage of things like email, it will want to store its attachments as links from OneDrive for Business, or even SharePoint, to benefit from security, versioning and much more that only they can offer. Office 365 is built to work as a suite of services or products working together.”

Businesses decide to migrate for many reasons, but one thing is true: to reap the full benefits of the platform, the data has to follow. This is particularly true of migrations to Office 365, given its productivity role. 

It remains to be seen how the Facebook migration will play out. But regardless of its big name, it still will have to deal with the same migration considerations that every other company faces.