It often comes as a surprise to people that the guy from the Exchange Server Pro website would use Google Apps as his email provider, but the fact is I’ve been a Google Apps user for many, many years. In fact, as far as I can tell I started using Google Apps sometime in 2008.

There were a few reasons I went with Google Apps at the time.

  • It was free (it no longer is)
  • It had a decent user interface
  • No need to mess about with email clients on my various computers
  • It had some handy features for managing different sender addresses
  • The spam filtering was very effective

Basically it did the job, and there were few if any alternatives out there worth looking at.

office-365-logo

In 2011 Microsoft launched Office 365. I’d had some less than impressive experiences with their BPOS service before that, so I didn’t think too much of it at the time. All my work continued to be on-premises deployments of Exchange Server, and the thought of moving from a free Google Apps service I was happy with to a paid Office 365 service was not all that appealing.

In 2012 I was awarded as a Microsoft MVP for the first time. One of the benefits offered was a 1 year Office 365 subscription for a small number of licenses, that we can use for testing etc. Not having much free time I didn’t give it more than a quick look. Again all the local work I was doing was on-premises, though I was well aware that Office 365 was a big focus for Microsoft and my fellow MVPs in other parts of the world were doing quite a lot of work with it.

In the last few months I’ve been increasingly frustrated with some of the moves Google is making in various areas, and their email service in particular. They’re all little things, but they add up over time, and the last straw was an update to the Gmail app for iOS that turned a perfectly functional user interface into a horrible experience.

I decided to make the move to Office 365.

This was not just about getting away from Google Apps, there were several positive drivers for this decision as well.

  • At $60/yr for the single user license I needed, it was on par with $50/yr for a Google Apps service only Office 365 also has Lync
  • The “Wave 15” service is actually very good, running on Exchange 2013 and having an excellent Outlook Web App interface
  • A small business I look after will be moving from SBS 2008 to Office 365 soon, so this lets me kick the tyres a bit
  • I am a Microsoft IT pro, and as much as possible I like to stay in the Microsoft space despite all the ups and downs of this year (*cough*TechNet*cough*)

Now you might be wondering why price comes into if I get a free Office 365 subscription as an MVP.

Basically I want to own the license, purchased properly through the local channel, and not run into any problems later with my email sitting in a “trial” subscription in the wrong part of the world. $60/yr is no big deal when you look at it from that perspective.

I had a few false starts signing up due to an expired 30 day trial still attached to my account with Telstra (the Australian reseller for Office 365). After that was cleared up signup was quick and easy.

Adding and verifying a domain is done via the usual methods, such as adding a TXT record with a value that Microsoft provides to you. It was interesting to see that Office 365 can host your DNS for you. I really should have chosen that option as I then ran into problems adding all of the required SRV records to DNS using my DNS host’s admin interface. Eventually I found a solution for that though, and after changing my MX records to point each of my domains at Office 365 I started looking at my options for migrating all my email across.

There were three migrations options I considered:

  1. Using a Connected Account (basically pulls the mail across using POP or IMAP)
  2. Using the Office 365 migration tool (I did not end up trying this)
  3. Using MigrationWiz, a third party service (they have not paid me to mention them here)

First I tried the Connected Account method. This seemed to be working okay at first. Everything was being downloaded to the Inbox, which was going to mean a bit of tidy up afterwards, but that was not a concern.

Unfortunately after about 24 hours and only about half my email being migrated the process got stuck and nothing more came across. I thought perhaps I had run into one of the daily download limits that Google Apps enforces, but even after a couple more days it still wasn’t working.

Since I was considering MigrationWiz for the upcoming small business migration I decided to give that a try instead. At $11.99 for a “Premium” license it seemed like a good deal to me. An added bonus was the option to convert Gmail labels into folders, rather than everything go into one single folder. This can mean some duplicate items in the destination mailbox, but since most of my mail was either given a single label or none at all I didn’t see any serious problem there.

MigrationWiz has been a pleasant surprise. The process is not flawless, and some folks have mentioned a few caveats to me for certain scenarios, but for my needs it has done the job quite well. There has been a bit of tuning required to increase things like error limits, which will be of no surprise to anyone who has had to migrate an Exchange mailbox with a lot of bad items in it. In the end it did exactly what I needed it to do, brought across all of my email (minus a few errors) and turning labels into folders which has let me tidy up a lot faster than having everything dumped into one folder.

With the migration finished I am now settling in to my new Office 365 mailbox and doing a little fine tuning of spam settings and inbox rules. I’m using Outlook Web App most of the time, as well as the OWA app for iOS on my iPhone and iPad. As I get my mailbox organization back under control I will probably start using Outlook 2013 on my main computer as well.

As a side benefit of the move I also split out my personal domain name and attached that to Outlook.com, so my business and personal emails are now separate again.

Overall I am very happy. For all the drama lately with the perception that Microsoft is pushing everyone to the cloud, and that the cloud has too many cons to offset the benefits, I have to say that Office 365 is an excellent service and well worth considering.

About the Author

Paul Cunningham

Paul is a former Microsoft MVP for Office Apps and Services. He works as a consultant, writer, and trainer specializing in Office 365 and Exchange Server. Paul no longer writes for Practical365.com.

Comments

  1. Ayman

    Thanks for your article, I am on IMAP migration project from Google suite to exchange online and I noticed that the mailbox size has increased after migrating mailbox contents almost twice of the mailbox size in Google. I need to figure out what’s the reason behind that.
    Thanks.

    1. Paul Cunningham

      Gmail uses labels to organize email, Exchange uses folders. So if you have a message in Gmail with two labels, the migration creates two copies of that message in two folders in Exchange. There are probably other data conversion overheads that also inflate the data size during the migration.

  2. Christina Coleman

    Does Migration Wiz work to migrate to an in house on-premises Exchange 2016 server rather than office365 in cloud?

    Thank you.

    1. Paul Cunningham

      You should take a look at the MigrationWiz website or contact their sales team to talk about whether their current tool set supports your requirements.

  3. bilal

    Paul,
    im in the boat where I gotta move 100 Google Apps account to Exchange 2016 server.. any words of wisdom?

  4. Brad

    Do you know how long you can still access your google mail after you switch your mx records?

  5. Oscar Gonzalez

    Paul,
    Thank you for your article. I think I have a very special deal here. We jumped from Exchange 2000 back in 2004 to Mdaemon mail server (not a good experience), then to Google Apps mail. Now I just setup a brand new 2013 Exchange server on a 2012 Windows Standard R2 edition.
    The main accounts I will have to migrate out of Google Apps mail are huge. I’m talking of about 30 GB worth of mail in every one of the 5 accounts. Each account has lots of labels going deep in levels as subfolders

    I’m planning on using MigrationWiz. Would you be so kind and give me any suggestions in his case?

    Thanks!

    1. Paul Cunningham

      You should expect mailbox sizes to grow if there is multiple labels assigned to mail items, because each label becomes a folder and the mail item gets duplicated into each folder.

      Other than that, and the fact that it will take a lot of time to move that much data, I don’t have much else to share.

  6. Cameron

    Paul,
    If we were migrating a few hundred users with MigrationWiz, would we have to touch Outlook for each person that had configured for Google Apps/Gmail and create a new Outlook profile pointing to Office 365? Or is configuring autodiscover part of the migration process?
    Thank you.

    1. Paul Cunningham

      MigrationWiz doesn’t handle any of the client-side changes as far as I know.

      You configure your own Autodiscover records in DNS for the Office 365 service though.

  7. Jeff

    Hello,

    I was wondering that, can we manage more than one email address on Office 365? I used to have trial account but we were not able to add custom SMTP server to send out emails.

    Is that the still case? Can we add SMTP/POP accounts now? just like Google Apps?
    thank you

    1. Paul Cunningham

      No, Office 365 doesn’t have that feature. I used to use that in Google Apps but have since simplified my email life and don’t need it any more.

  8. Laurent

    Like you I am looking to migrate from google app to Office 365. What is blocking me at the moment is the lack of copy/paste of pictures while you create an email on Office 365/OWA. That’s something google apps does very well and I use everyday.

    1. Paul Cunningham

      I just tried copy/paste of an image/screenshot into a new email using OWA for Office 365 and it pasted in just fine. Maybe they have added that feature recently.

      FWIW I was using Chrome when I tried it.

      1. Laurent

        Indeed working fine with Chrome but no luck with IE10. That’s a good news. I just need to plan my migration

  9. Peter

    One of my clients is contemplating this move. I’m always suspicious of Microsoft, so I’m wondering how stuck you might get in the future if you then want to migrate away from Microsoft? Is it as simple as using an email client with Outlook today via IMAP? It does seem attractive to use desktops, macs, and ipads to run Office software if it works.

    1. Paul Cunningham

      You won’t be stuck.

      Steve Goodman (Exchange MVP) is presenting at the MEC conference in April on how to “off board” from Office 365, so it is entirely possible. I believe he looks mostly at using hybrid configuration to migrate back onto Exchange on-premises, but Office 365 also allows access via protocols like POP/IMAP to migrate in/out.

      You could also check out services like MigrationWiz which seem capable of migrating out of Office 365 to Google Apps or any other IMAP-capable system.

  10. Ravi

    Great News Paul, I believe we can expect some new articles soon on O365 from Exchangeserverpro… 🙂

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