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Beware the hidden cost in Microsoft cross-tenant migration

Mon, 2nd Oct 2023

In a recent online video, Mark, a seasoned IT consultant who calls himself The Cloud Geezer, shared his discovery about the ‘free’ cross-tenant migration tool from Microsoft. He discovered that it’s not free.

Mark was in the midst of a migration when he received a notification that his attempt had failed. In order to complete the project, he was required to purchase a cross-tenant migration licence for each user.

He also found out that he would not be able to use the tool at all unless one of the tenants involved was under an enterprise agreement.

“It’s a bit of a sad thing,” Mark lamented to his YouTube subscribers. “They’re not free tools anymore, unfortunately. So, your best bet, really, is to not use them at all. There’s much better functionality with third-party tools.”

Tech people don’t need to be exceptionally sceptical to know that free doesn’t always mean free. Hint: Keep an eye out for an asterisk (*) or a lot of small type in a shaded box.

Sometimes, using a free version makes sense if an organisation wants to try something out or their techs are willing to put in extra time to make it work.

The Microsoft cross-tenant migration tool provides only basic functionality for mailbox and OneDrive migrations, and it appears to be only available as an add-on for the largest accounts.

Mark, The Cloud Geezer, puts the trade-off this way: “MRS tools have always been a ton of work, (requiring) lots of configuration, lots of matching, (and) you had to destroy the source when your target goes live – all the things that you would put up with because it was a free tool. And now you’ve got to pay for it. So why wouldn’t you use a third-party tool?”

When a project is important, and reputation relies on getting it done right, free might not be the best choice.

So, what do you look for in the ideal third-party migration tool? My company’s own app is a good alternative, but here’s what to seek in a migration tool.

It should be intuitive and full-featured, hence good value for any size migration. It doesn’t require specialised training but still includes features for granular customisation.

It will not be cost-free, but there are multiple licence options available, and a proactive customer success team will help to select the licences that will work best for a given project. Also, look for honest, transparent pricing.

Email and office productivity suite migrations are high-stakes projects that are strategic to the customer organisation. The greater the number of users and the bigger the mailboxes and data stores, the higher the risk there is for customer downtime or a migration that accomplishes less than 100% fidelity.

Microsoft and Google provide tools for migrating users to their office productivity suites, which come with an irresistible price point: free. But it’s wise to look past the price. Consider the full business case for passing on these free first-party solutions in favour of a more robust and full-featured third-party tool.

Migration speed. The ability to move a large number of users and a high volume of data is critical when the plan is to cut over all users in a weekend and get the customer back to business as usual on Monday.

The first-party tools can handle smaller, simple migrations up to a few hundred users. Third-party tools are optimised for speed, can migrate several hundred users concurrently, and leverage the elasticity of the cloud to scale and support user counts in the thousands.

Range of migrated items. The first-party tools can handle the basic components of a mailbox, including mail items, calendars and contacts. Third-party tools often go beyond the basics by handling files, folders and, in some cases, collaboration solution configurations, settings and data.

Configurability and control. Careful planning and smart configuration are key to any successful migration. First-party tools can handle a narrow set of ‘plain vanilla’ projects and require lengthy and cumbersome manual configuration.

Often, the expected profit margin from using a free tool is quickly eaten away with costs like additional support or engineering labour to work around the tool’s shortcomings.

Third-party tools offer a much higher degree of fine-grained control. Advanced features such as date range filtering, recipient mapping, configurable error thresholds and automated end-user notifications support different migration strategies and are accessible through a GUI.

Advanced PowerShell users can script repetitive tasks through an SDK for handling large enterprise engagements. Through their architecture, third-party tools can also help reduce the bandwidth required during the cutover, allowing larger projects to be completed in less time.

Visibility throughout the project. Despite careful pre-planning, migrations rarely go exactly as planned. First-party tools may not provide the same level of live, granular reporting that the third-party solutions offer.

The latter can log every item migrated and give detailed information about error messages, migration speeds and overall project status. Understanding where errors occur allows IT to troubleshoot and guide migrations along, which is especially important for high user-count or compliance-critical environments.

Support availability and costs. First-party tools tend to be lighter on documentation and training materials, and support tickets are handled alongside all of their other customers. That’s not useful when tech requires help with a time-sensitive migration project.

Third-party providers specialising in migrations have built the entire business around these engagements, so the documentation is more thorough and 24/7 dedicated support services for all aspects of the project are built into the licensing cost.

The bottom line recommendation for decision-making is this: Execute a pilot migration with a subset of users to test whether the first-party tool is up to the unique challenges presented by an individual migration project.

The first-party tool might be perfectly adequate. But often, the free price comes with hidden or unplanned costs that aren’t apparent until the project is underway.

The third-party option might cost less in the bigger picture. More importantly, a robust, feature-rich third-party tool takes out the lion’s share of the risk that’s inherent with a large, customer-critical migration.

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