Butler University is a nationally recognized comprehensive university encompassing five colleges—Arts, Communication, Education, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Pharmacy and Health Sciences— and the Andre B. Lacy School of Business. Together, they offer more than 60 undergraduate areas of study, eight pre-professional programs, and 19 graduate programs. Around 4,700 students are enrolled at Butler, representing 45 states and 49 countries. Butler students have extraordinary opportunity to participate in some form of internship, student teaching, clinical rotation, research, or service learning by the time they graduate, which prepares them for their careers. This community-centered immersion is coupled with classroom learning that nurtures critical thinking, effective communication, cooperative teamwork, and ethical decision making to prepare students for both professional success and to have lasting impact in their communities.
The University’s 50-person IT department supports more than 10,000 clients, including students, affiliates, staff and faculty, and 160 applications across a multi-operating system and platform environment. Butler IT has implemented some cloud-based applications, however, Exchange Online is the first system used by the University’s entire community.
In 2015, the IT department decided to migrate its internally-hosted Microsoft Exchange email system to the cloud. “The system was working fine, but it wasn’t providing strategic benefit,” said Zach Skidmore, Information Systems Analyst at Butler. “Meanwhile, a cloud system could save ample administrative time and allow IT to provide more differentiating value to the University.”
Challenge: designing the right strategy
Butler’s IT organization reviewed Google’s and Microsoft’s cloud email platforms. While both vendors provided similar feature sets, Exchange Online was selected because it provided a more seamless experience for clients, according to Skidmore.
Once that decision was made, he knew that seeking the help of a consulting partner would be instrumental in getting the system up and running quickly and smoothly across a diverse, active client base.
“One of our biggest challenges is that while we have a lot of talent, we have time limitations. We also didn’t want to hand everything over to a consulting firm,” Skidmore said. “We wanted a partner that would allow us to work with them in a collaborative way.”
That criteria led Butler to SADA Systems, a Microsoft National Solutions Provider and a well-known expert in Office 365 cloud migrations and deployment. SADA led the IT team through a thorough evaluation and planning process all the way from testing, data migration and deployment for the first set of students.
Particularly helpful were the ‘value envisioning workshops’ where SADA walked Butler’s team through the Office 365 platform and scenarios for deployment, according to Tamra Thomas, project manager at Butler. Ultimately, Butler chose to deploy Office 365 as a hybrid implementation, with Microsoft Exchange remaining on the backend and all client accounts hosted in the cloud. The hybrid implementation would allow the University to migrate its large numbers of clients in batches and better manage support with its IT team. The hybrid implementation was also helpful for clients who were in the cloud to easily connect with internally-based people whom had not yet migrated. As well, there were technical benefits of the hybrid approach to ease the overall migration process.
Results in progress: A milestone toward cloud-first IT
By mid-summer 2016, all 5,000-plus student email accounts had been migrated to Office 365 successfully and with no disruptions in service.
- Butler’s IT department is already seeing the benefits of moving to Office 365: primarily, more time to focus on initiatives that provide more strategic value to the university and reduced infrastructure costs. The University will also cut IT costs long-term, due to the avoidance of periodic and time-consuming upgrades of internal servers.
- Office 365 will better support the data needs for clients by offering more storage. Instead of being limited to 1GB per user of email storage, now people can access up to 50GB of storage with unlimited archiving.
- Clients will also benefit from having access to the latest versions of enterprise-grade productivity tools, including popular Microsoft collaboration applications such as OneDrive and SharePoint, which are included with the Office 365 subscription. With the Microsoft promise of 99.99 percent uptime, the IT department won’t have to worry about unplanned downtime, either.
- Working with SADA helped Butler get up and running on Office 365 significantly faster than the IT department could have done on its own.
“SADA has the complete package: tech expertise, project management skills, communication strategy and change management and was a key partner in helping us achieve success with this important project,” stated Thomas.