Recently, we decided to go back to school, but not the way you think. We never argued with professors or RAs, we didn’t stand outside in the middle of the night wearing our Spiderman pajamas due to a prank pulled fire alarm. We never snuck over to the soft serve ice cream machine in the middle of the night, or drank and danced ’till dawn and hangover time. And best of all, we never needed to lie to our parents or hide under our desks about getting a grade lower than an A.
But we did take a good look at the old mess this College’s email system was in. We looked at each other a bit baffled, scratched our heads, and Frankie mumbled something under his breath we can’t repeat here.
Each of our projects has an in-house name that is often very appropriate, and sometimes silly. This one we coined the “Life Support Project”. The old Zimbra/IMAP environment was the “center of life” for all the students, faculty, staff, and hundreds of clubs, but it was so outdated. We were amazed it was still standing. The team onsite was remarkably enthusiastic, and they couldn’t wait to get the *beep* (insert sound effect beeping sound with your tongue at the roof of your mouth) off of Zimbra.
About “College Z”.
Our client, who we’ll call “College Z” (how mysterious!) is ranked in the top 10 of the 2017 U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of Baccalaureate Schools in the Midwest. In fact, College Z has been ranked in the Top 10 every year since the rankings started in 1985.
So, when College Z invited us to work with them on their project for migrating off of Zimbra mail to Office 365, we were thrilled to help! We were a bit nervous because Zimbra is not a favorite email platform, but we love an interesting technical challenge, especially since it was a college with enthusiastic, nice IT folks.
Zimbra was the ancient email platform upon which everyone at College Z depended on for email communications. Imagine that! Even worse, it was run on servers that were even older than Zimbra itself. A lot older, in fact. Back when College Z decided on these servers, email was still a novelty. The word SPAM just was admitted to Webster’s dictionary. Smartphones were not yet a twinkle in Apple’s eye. Most of us had desktop computers bigger than a bread box. Google hadn’t launched Google that long before.
Macs looked like this…
PCs often took up the entire square footage of someone’s office cubicle. We needed to call maintenance to move it across the desk…
We hear this is what Bill Clinton’s laptop looked like…
You get the point, right?
Wait, here’s more… This is what our emails looked like!
But I digress. Back to College Z. We stumbled into the type of mess that our competitors would run away from, hands flailing and expletives flying out of their mouths. All modesty aside, we do migrations very, very well. Our customers know it. Our competitors know it. And our partners know it.
The migration from Zimbra.
I know that this sounds like herds moving in the night silently on footpaths in the deepest, darkest planes. But as I said before, Zimbra was actually a super old (but cool) open source platform that lived in College Z’s IT Department in the middle of rural America. The College needed to move 2,500 unfortunate souls off of Zimbra.
The Zimbra technology was a bit strange — think of a giraffe with no neck, or crocodiles without teeth. We needed to organize it so that the project stayed within budget, ahead of the committed schedule, and so that any sort of problem account could be found easily and fixed. The data conversion type is unusual — not many tech articles or blogs are written about it. But we love stuff like this.
Here is how we solved the ZIMBRA puzzle.
We knew we had to be organized, or we were in for a tech tornado of sorts; late nights, and early morning grumblings ($@#%!). The last thing we wanted was to wake up to “wtf” emails from our friends in College Z’s IT Department. Even worse, we didn’t want to be uninvited from the campus ice cream party.
We chose BitTitan’s MigrationWiz for the project because it was compatible, well-vetted, and it’s cloud-based, so we didn’t need to install any new servers into the struggling Zimbra environment.
Here’s 8 tips that helped us to make this a great project that came in under-budget and ahead of schedule. We hope they help you as well.
- On the Zimbra server, ports 443, 80, and 7071 need to be opened. Otherwise, nothing will work. Seriously. It won’t.
- SOAP web services need to be available from external resources.
- A Zimbra service account must be used with connectivity from the outside and be able to access all Zimbra source mailboxes.
- In Office 365, a service account with an Exchange Online license must be used to access all destination mailboxes.
- We found that with 2,500 accounts in MigrationWiz, the mailbox connectors were more efficient if separated into groups of 150 accounts each. Otherwise, the connectors periodically hang.
- We organized the connectors by 3 variables:
- By department or type of account (students, faculty, IT, executives, shared mailboxes)
- Alphabetically (for example, students A-D in one connector, faculty A-D in another)
- Trial-sized mailboxes. These were low-priority accounts with less than 10 messages per folder, and smaller than 5 MB (for example: small service accounts, seldom-used conference room accounts, untouched mailboxes). They were all put in groups of 150 each, to take advantage of free MigrationWiz trial licenses. We also wanted to make sure we didn’t use premium MigrationWiz licenses on accounts that qualify for free licenses. Trust me, it happens, and it ain’t pretty my friends.
- Timing is everything. We made sure to schedule all of College Z’s accounts ahead of time, so the migration ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until all accounts completed. This helped to run the project like a heavily-caffeinated morning jogger. No rest for MigWiz, but the engineers usually got to sleep through the night, minus the onset of email migration insomnia (we reread our old blogs to fix that problem).
- Scheduling regular status calls kept the team in sync and allowed us to talk the customer down from trees as needed.
Truth be told, we reconfigured our connectors 3 times before we got it right, and we were sure that everything was properly organized, precise and validating as designed. It was a learning process, but we love to learn. That’s why we went back to college.
Then… we can finally schedule the cutover
We push a few buttons and voila, all the users connect to their new mailboxes. A lazier consulting group can go on vacation for two weeks and just get notified, but that’s not our style. We prefer to stay in the trenches with our customers. The first morning after the cutover, we get on a bridge call and help the on-site support team with their confused users and staff. We also address any accounts that fail to migrate due to unusual issues.
An alert message might look something like this:
“We have failed to migrate from source email@example.com to destination firstname.lastname@example.org.
REASON: Error: mailbox does not exist: email@example.com
If you have any questions regarding this request, contact your IT administrator, College Z (firstname.lastname@example.org).
That wakes us up! We want IT to nap without worrying about migration alerts. That’s our job. IT folks already get buried with alerts all day and all night.
Why Cloud Advantage
We are hands-on. All universities need current, state-of-the-art technologies to be effective and competitive. To guarantee a productive learning environment, the infrastructures need to be new, powerful, and collaborative platforms that are more secure, and have more control over spam, security functionalities, and features. We can get you there.