The challenge of moving data to the cloud

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Organizations and consumers alike are becoming increasingly dependent on online communications and high-tech IT networks, but sometimes can a more traditional low-tech solution work better?

It’s becoming a connected world

It seems possible now for us to do almost anything online, from managing our finances or paying a bill, right through to doing our grocery shopping, watching TV or sharing our photos with friends. We are encouraged to store our data ‘in the cloud’, and to download our music over the internet rather than going out and buying a CD. In this highly connected world, the links between all our computer systems and end user devices are becoming of critical importance.

There is little point in having the very latest iPhone or smart TV if it doesn’t have a good and reliable network connection, so vast sums of money are continually being invested in upgrading our communications infrastructures. Traditional copper phone lines are being replaced by fiber broadband links, and phone companies are introducing high speed 4G mobile data networks.

We live in a connected worldMicrosoft has been delivering online services for many years, but this has recently become the major focus for the company. Online solutions for consumers include products such as Hotmail (now rebranded as and Xbox Live, and for businesses there are products such as Office 365, Lync and CRM Online. They have also acquired other online solutions such as Skype, and now operate one of the largest communications networks in the world. And looking to the future, the next version of Windows is designed around the assumption that any device it runs on will be connected to the internet or some other sort of network.

Given this commitment by Microsoft and other similar organizations to doing everything online, I was interested to learn about one development by them that appears to contradict this trend.

Being online is great, but getting there can be problematic

Problems migrating data to the cloudOffice 365 is possibly the most successful product Microsoft has ever launched, and it is continually being enhanced to expand existing capabilities and add new features. But customers moving to Office 365 can face a big problem: how to all get their existing data migrated from their local office or datacenter into one of the central Microsoft datacenters.

The only way for them to do this at the moment is to upload it via the internet, but the issue with this is that the internet, and cloud services such as Office 365, are designed and optimised for high volumes of small individual transactions such as web pages or email messages. This transactional infrastructure is not well suited for uploading significant numbers of files, large volumes of historical email and other such data. Customers moving their data to Office 365 are finding that their data uploads are ‘throttled’ to prevent the volume of data involved impacting the operation of the Office 365 service for other customers.

They are also finding that their internet connection, whilst being extremely fast at an individual transaction level, simply does not have the bandwidth to migrate all their data within a reasonable timescale. The end result of these problems is that migrating existing data to Office 365 can be a complex and lengthy exercise.

Designing around the problems

Here at Barracuda we are very aware of the issues customers have been facing when migrating their data over the internet into Office 365, and we took these into account when we built our PST Enterprise product. As a result, it is a great example of how good product design can overcome technical issues such as these.

PST files have been a problem for IT administrators for many years. Created by end users using Outlook, and used by them to store email data locally, they are an unreliable and insecure data format, and represent an ongoing risk to the business as well as being a significant support overhead. Moving to Office 365 provides organizations with the ideal opportunity eliminate the use of these files, and bring the data they contain back under central control. PST Enterprise provides an ideal solution to locate all PST files wherever they exist, and migrate the data from them into Office 365.

When migrating data from PST files over the internet to Office 365, PST Enterprise is designed to move data on an message-by-message basis (rather than moving a whole file in one go). This matches the transactional nature of the internet, and makes best of network capacity as well as proving a more reliable and robust solution. It also moves data from each source location (such as end user laptops) directly to Office 365, taking a parallel processing approach, rather than routing all data via a central server and creating a potential network bottleneck.

Could a low-tech solution be a better approach?

Microsoft publish a Roadmap for Office 365, describing what they have planned and what is being worked on currently for Office 365. Reading through the ‘In Development’ section recently, I noticed a new feature they call “Drive Shipping”.

drive shippingTo quote Microsoft, “The ability to import data into Office 365 in a quick and easy manner has been a known constraint of Office 365, and a solution for this issue has emerged as a key request from customers”. In response to this, they are going to make it possible for customers to put their data on a USB drive or similar device, and ship the physical drive to one of the Microsoft datacenters. Microsoft will then copy the data from the customer’s drive directly into Office 365.

Whilst at first sight it might seem that resorting to using physical media to move data around is a retrograde step given the investment that is being made in network technology, this low-tech solution is actually a pragmatic answer to the problem and recognises the need to use the right technology for the task. One of the key features of the internet is that it has a very low latency (i.e. data is transferred almost instantly), but the amount of data that can be transferred in a given period of time (the bandwidth) is always going to be limited. Contrast this with shipping a physical device; it may take a day for the drive to get from the customer to the datacenter (so therefore it has a very high latency), but the ‘bandwidth’ or amount of data that can be transferred each time on a set of disk drives is vast.

Latency is not important when migrating existing data such as email to Office 365. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get there immediately, what is more important is that very large amounts of data should be transferred predictably and reliably, and this is exactly what Drive Shipping can achieve.

Our PST Enterprise product will be equally well suited to migrating data to Office 365 using Drive Shipping when that becomes available later this year. The product is already able to locate and migrate all the data from PST files, wherever they exist, direct to a chosen location. In order to use Drive Shipping, customers will simply have to configure it to move data to the drive that they are going to ship to Microsoft.

It’s still not a good idea to migrate everything

Online solutions such as Office 365 offer almost unlimited amounts of storage, but it still makes sense to migrate only the data that is actually needed. Just because Drive Shipping means you can now migrate all of your existing data very easily, it doesn’t mean that you should.

Don't move everything to Office 365This is a great opportunity to put in place a strategy for data retention and deletion, and to use policy-based migration tools such as Barracuda’s PST Enterprise. These can automatically identify and delete redundant or duplicate data, and only migrate information that still has value to the organisation. This approach will allow an organisation to reduce or eliminate the risks associated with storing large amounts of unmanaged files and emails, as well as supporting their IT requirements for Compliance and eDiscovery.

Whichever approach you use for migration, either the high-tech route of sending data via the internet or the low-tech route of drive shipping, moving less data will also make your migration project quicker, cheaper and easier to manage

Find out more about how Barracuda PST Enterprise can help with an Office 365 migration

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