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April 23, 2013
5 Min Read
Office 2013: 10 Questions To Ask
Office 2013: 10 Questions To Ask (click image for slideshow)
Thomas Allen wasn't easily sold on SkyKick, a new tool for migrating from on-premises email servers to Microsoft Office 365.
"I was a cynic out of the gate," Allen, marketing manager at managed services provider CyberStreams, said in an interview. "The first time we talked to them, it was pitched like a bit of a miracle product."
That made two of us. An initial PR pitch described SkyKick as an Office 365 migration tool that "automates the entire IT consulting project with a push of a button." That sounded optimistic. Allen thought so, too. When CyberStreams joined SkyKick's beta program, the managed services provider (MSP) began padding its customer estimates to avoid getting burned by pie-in-the-sky promises.
In reality, there's no one-click magic -- but Allen is a convert nonetheless. "It did turn out that my caution was highly unnecessary," Allen said. "We had some very pleased customers [because they received] invoices that were for much, much less than the low end of our estimates."
[ Is Office 365 right for you? Read Microsoft Office 365: How One Company Saves Big. ]
The reason, according to Allen, is a more holistic approach to cloud migration that takes into account everything from the sales process to post-migration support. In Allen's view -- and SkyKick's -- other migration applications focus mainly on the actual server-side transfer of data to online platforms while ignoring the other moving parts and pieces. As such, SkyKick is actually composed of four different Web-based products.
-- Web Planner handles the discovery and planning process, such as assessing existing hosts and mailboxes, and automates much of the statement of work and project plan for partners like CyberStreams.
-- Migration Sync moves the actual data: email, domains, calendar, contacts and so forth.
-- Outlook Assistant configures Microsoft's email client for end users, including their settings and customizations, and helps handle the actual switchover.
-- Portal is an app that enables project management, reporting and similar administrative tasks for the IT consultants in the trenches.
SkyKick, whose team includes former execs from Microsoft's Office and Bing divisions, emerged from beta Tuesday. Its customers are MSPs and other IT providers that comprise the vast universe of "the channel," which depends heavily on small and midsize businesses (SMBs) for its own client base. Microsoft itself put CyberStreams in touch with SkyKick as part of its effort to mobilize its vast partner ecosystem in its push for greater Office 365 adoption among SMBs. "They're trying to push partnerships that can help their channel better deliver to customers," Allen said.
While there's not necessarily a light-switch approach to moving businesses online from legacy servers, Allen said SkyKick has helped alleviate some key pain points for third-party IT providers like CyberStreams. For one, the end customer no longer needs to know much about its own infrastructure to enable a successful migration project. After some initial data input, SkyKick can answer many of the technical questions itself. "If you're talking to a typical business owner and ask questions like 'where is your DNS hosted?' -- they don't necessarily know what that means," Allen noted. Or, they might think they know what it means and give an incorrect answer.
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8 Things Microsoft Could Do To Save Windows 8 (click image for slideshow)
Automation is another key part of the puzzle, from switching domains to generating system emails notifying an end user that he or she hasn't completed a required task. In effect, it reduces the amount of at-the-desk grunt work for the IT pros involved. "When everything's set up and end users have properly followed the instructions and everything's going well, it's going to actually do a DNS change and a data sync and [other] settings and aspects of a migration which, typically, my team would have to do," Allen said.
As for the "button push" claim, Allen said there's some truth in it -- provided the Web Planner piece of the project goes smoothly and that the customer isn't problematic. "Assuming that everything has been properly discussed, once we're done with the Web Planner we simply press play," Allen said. "The rest of it is us sitting back and making sure nothing goes wrong -- and it doesn't, at least not so far. We haven't had a situation post-pressing that button where we have to freak out." CyberStreams has completed around 20 migration projects to date using SkyKick.
While some Office 365 work may be moving products and services like Outlook, Office applications, Lync, SharePoint and others towards a more integrated model, SkyKick is focused on email and legacy Exchange servers. SkyKick wouldn't handle a cloud migration for an on-premises SharePoint environment, for example.
Beyond that scenario, Allen noted that there are certain kinds of migration projects that might not be a good fit for other reasons. He gave SkyKick credit on that front, though, saying that the firm has no problem saying "no" to new business if the project is a bad fit for the platform.
In the bigger picture, Allen had this to say about demand for Office 365 among SMBs: "I would describe [demand for Office 365] as blowing up," Allen said, noting that more MSPs and similar IT providers are showing interest. "It's a pretty big deal."
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