Moving to BPOS: How we did it with the help of Amazon EC2

A short post about my experiences doing my company email migration.  A project that went from original requirement on 21st Dec to being fully up and running on the new platform by 24th Dec.   The journey takes in a hunt for a for dns services, some tweets, a few false starts and a bit of Amazon EC2 for good measure.  Before starting it’s worth explaining what BPOS is for those that are not familiar.

What is BPOS?

Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite is Microsoft’s first big effort at providing online services aimed at small to medium businesses.  Looking at what you get for your money it really is a very compelling solution.

With the recent (Nov 09) price drop in the UK from £10.04 to just £6.71 per user per per month you get hosted solutions for Exchange, SharePoint (WSS), Live Meeting and Office Communications (OCS)  all based on a secure, high availability platform.   There really is no way that a small/medium sized company could possible provide this level of functionality in house – I suspect the licenses are probably more expensive on their own.

Why did 21apps move?

Having recently grown the company, and being good agile practitioners (some like call it adaptive), we did a retrospective on Monday (21st Dec) looking at how the past 6 weeks had gone,  were there things that we could do better and how could we improve our own processes.  I will do a separate post on this, but for this post the problem area we needed to improve was Lines of Communication.

Area for improvement: Lines of Communication

We had been flipping between numerous platforms Skype, msn messenger, team viewer, mobile, landline, mesh folders, email, struggling with hotel broadband and clients firewalls etc, etc.

We needed a clear approach that was consistent and provided us with the ability to know when people were available an how they could be contacted.  And once contacted how to make the communication better.

Actions

Review BPOS as this looked to offer solutions for most of the issues around consistency in a single solution.

Get new phones (iPhones :) ) on the Orange network with tethering (remove dependency on hotel broadband)
* Those that follow me on twitter will know the hassle I have had with O2’s useless service and network coverage.  We’re not covering the iPhone bit here.

Looking at BPOS

21apps had been hosting email with Intermedia on Exchange 2007 since they first started offering it about 3 years ago.  The service has been great and I have had no issues.  They are also providing a BPOS equivalent (although only US based at time of writing, expected in the UK in Jan) – which uses Exchange 2010 (Microsoft don’t have this yet) but no Office Live Meeting.  The price is also slightly more for there offering.

The question was,  do I give the Microsoft offering a go or stick with Intermedia? 

Confession:  I had played with BPOS before as part of the beta program,  I like the concepts behind it so this is really a good time to see if it works for real and to be able to feedback directly with real world issues.   So I am doing this for everyone not just me :)

Signing Up

No win no fee, as they say a lot these days.  Microsoft are offering a 30 day trial with up to 20 users so you really have nothing to loose  (exception for some hair, sleep and hours in your day – but we’ll get to that later).

The sign up process was painless,  I blogged in more detail during my beta trial and basically followed the same steps

  • Sign in with Live Id
  • Create account
  • Setup the various services

Microsoft have done a good job of providing you with detailed instructions on how to do things.   If you following them fully you should have very few issues – although I did find the amount of information tended to hide some of the key messages, this was likely down to me skipping forward.

Migrating Mailboxes

I knew that this was going to be the hardest thing to do.  You know you have to do the hardest things first, right?. First stop the migration pages and help section,  this lead me quickly to the Migrate to Microsoft Online Sevices white paper – all 54 pages and 18,000 words of it.

The biggest confusion in the document is that they right differ between On-Premise Exchange mailboxes from Internet-hosted POP3 or IMAP4 mailboxes,  however when your mail services is an Internet Hosted Exchange Service it is not clear that you should treat this just the same as you do for the POP3 and IMAP4 mailboxes – which is exactly what you should do.

Now normally people would want to spend some time planning this out,  and I did to an extent.   The advantage of working with a small company is that you can do things that would be impossible in a larger one.   I got everyone to take a backup of their emails (local .pst) – when I say everyone,  Ellie is using an iMac at the moment so has Entourage , I just took a gamble on that one :)

Its all local!

I had hoped that with BPOS being in the cloud and my current email being in the cloud that I could just get them to talk to each other and let the transfer begin.   Sadly this is not the case,  all of the work takes place in the migration tool – which means all of the data has to be dragged down locally and uploaded to the new location.   This I was not looking forward too,  but thought hey leave it running while I get into the Christmas spirit.

You need a CSV

Having progressed pass the document and downloaded the migration tool I was ready give the migration a go.   I had already manually created my users in the BPOS admin site and activated the services for them.

At first I was looking for some simple form to allow me to add the users,  however as this is really aimed at bulk processing even for small numbers of users you need to create a simple CSV.   The question is which one?

The document gives you examples and defines the fields that can be used

  • · SourceIdentity (required)
  • · SourceServer (required)
  • · SourceLoginID (required)
  • · SourcePassword (optional)
  • · TargetIdentity (optional)
  • · SourceRootFolder (optional)

but there is nothing for you to go – hey for my service it needs this information.  So it’s a bit of trail and error.   Eventually, after a few goes, my CSV file looked something like this

SourceIdentity,SourceServer,SourceLoginID,SourcePassword
andrew@21apps.com,owa015.msoutlookonline.net,andrew@21apps.com,$$$$$

I originally tried to get the process working with an admin password that I use for my Intermedia account but it didn’t work.   If I had more accounts I may have looked into this more deeply.   As it was I just reset everyones email password and added them to the file.   The import options allow you to then use this for each account imported.

Tip: When you use the migrate wizard if it shows Unknown as the mailbox size you are likely to hit a problem.

I added the users via the CSV and started the migration.  Note my broadband connection (should I say wet piece of string) only gives me about 1.2MB down and 450KB down.  One of the downsides to living in the middle of nowhere.

 I may be some time

Although you might be saying,  12 minutes and you have about 5 % done thats not too bad.  Well this is after a couple of failed attempts, each of which took an hour to fail.

The error produced started like the text below and then went on to list the 5 items that had failed.

Elapsed time: 00:49:24

SMTP:andrew@21apps.com
Failed

Error:
The WebDAV injector has stopped migrating mail items for user SMTP:Andrew@21apps.com
because the number of failures has exceeded the failure tolerance of 5.
The injector will ignore any remaining items for this user's mailbox during this
migration session.

 

Try and Try again

Having tried the migration 3 times,  only one of the mailboxes (Jim’s) migrated as he only had about 20MB used,  mine with 800MB was another story.

I made various attempts are archiving off emails and got it down to about 200MB,  but still it failed.   Most likely cause was some really big emails that people send you with video and uncompressed 12mega pixel photos of the snow!

Time really was against me,  it was now about midnight – everything seemed to take ages and I was getting tired.   After a few rants on twitter – up popped an MSN messenge from Dan Usher.  The conversation stated along the lines of beer, but Dan quickly raised the idea of using the cloud for better bandwidth,  even hinting that

‘Make for a great blog post too… ;) “Utilizing the Cloud for migration from one mail host to another”’

Using the Cloud

Having only played with Amazon EC2 this was an ideal opportunity to try and use it for something real.   A few minutes later, and what was a very slick web authorisation using telephone and pin numbers, I had an account ready to go. 

Creating a new machine and getting the admin password is actually quite a nice process.  Pick the setup, select/create a keypair (this is used to retrieve the admin password), setup a security group if needed allowing RDP access and go.   The process of provisioning and configuring the machine takes about 5 minutes. 

For some reason my first VM, a windows 2008 box, would not let me login.  May have been due to changing the keypair in the wizard (you need to add the site as trusted as you need to download it).  I also found that the message you get when you request the admin password whilst it is still provisioning does not show up in IE8.   I had to use Chrome to see the message.

I terminated the first and then setup an new one based on Windows 2003 R2,  waited,  got the admin password and RDP’s onto the box – all very slick.

Logged in to the BPOS admin service,  downloaded the migration tool – in under a second!   Had to also get Powershell installed as this is needed for the application.  Windows was reporting something like a 5-6MBs download speed :)   in fact too quick to get a real number.

Migrate in the cloud from cloud to cloud

I imported the csv of users and started the migration process again. It reported the size of the mailboxes (a good sign) and clicked start.  Wow it was actually possible to see the progress bar move :)

Migration in the cloud with amazon

As you can see from the screenshot progress after only 6 minutes was way further forward than the previous one ever got in an hour,  and no reported errors so far.

Migration Complete

After only 25minutes I had migrated both email boxes,  that’s over 400MB of emails from Intermedia to BPOS.   I had a couple of errors,  but not worth worrying about – if they were important I should have dealt with them by now !

Mirgration Complete

 

The final steps

Migration was complete,  now I need to get get the DNS configured and switched over.   Based on recommendations by Spence Harbar I decided to use a DynDns account so I can once and for all split the DNS management from my mail/web hosting.  This does cost $29.95 per year but to quote Spence it’s really ‘Buttons’ – considering the flexibility and level of service you get.

With the DNS changes made,  it was 3:00am and time to go to bed and let the DNS mice do their stuff.

In Summary

Having had a slight lie in until 9:30 – I don’t do lie ins’ – I came to check on the services,  fired up Communicator and ping – James was already on playing with stuff and using the services – I hadn’t even emailed him to say it was done.

So in summary

  • 21st Dec – Decided we need a better line of communication
  • 22nd Dec – Looked at the options
    • Intermedia v Microsoft
    • better DNS management
  • 23rd Dec – Decided to go the Microsoft BPOS route
    • Setup trial account
    • Attempted migration of mail boxes – Failed
    • Tweeted and messenger’d a bit
    • Setup Amazon Cloud Compute account
    • Create cloud machine
    • Migrated from Cloud to Cloud in the Cloud
    • Setup DNS management and change name servers for 21apps.com
  • 24th Dec
    • Go Live

Having only done the process here once it was a learning curve,  I think next time it would be possible to get everything done and dusted in an afternoon.

How much?

Is this really such a good deal and worth migrating?

Before – monthly

Intermedia Hosting and Options $49.75  (£31.50)
  • 3 Users
  • Exchange Email with 2GB shared storage
  • Active Sync
  • Enhanced Spam and AV
 

 * Intermedia now offer BPOS style plans,  this costs is based on what I was actually paying.

Migration – one off.

Amazon EC2 $0.71 
Time  (2 days)

Yes that’s correct only $0.71 cents to do the migration using the cloud!  (see below).  I have not added the days here as these activities are part of doing business.  You could substitute your overhead costs in here if you wanted to.

 

After Monthly

DynDns  $29.99 per year $2.50 (£1.50)
Microsoft BPOS £40.76**
  • 5 users
  • Exchange, SharePoint, Communicator and Live Meeting
  • 25GB mail
  • 5GB SharePoint
 

** I’ve included VAT/Tax in these figures as it’s the real cost to the company as we use flat rate VAT scheme.

What’s the ROI?

The costs to the business have risen by about £10 per month,  but with this we get a significant number of additional features and should easily see a ROI on this small investment.  I know that some of the current versions offer limited capability, like SharePoint being unable to add custom code,  but these are being worked on for the next releases of the product.   I’m expecting the service offering based on BPOS to be a good first step but with major improvements with the 2010 product wave.

I will blog more on my experiences of using the Microsoft BPOS solution over time and would be very happy to help out if anyone is also looking to make this move.

I will also be looking much more at how we can utilise the bandwidth in the cloud to make ourselves more productive – we already have plans to use the cloud as an extension of our internal development process and this experience will likely accelerate those activities.

 Amazon

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