The quick answer to this is, of course, no. You don’t need a partner to help you migrate to O365, you could do it yourself. But you might want to have a partner, specially so if you do not have internal resources that understand all that is involved with a migration.
Office365 is built on numerous Microsoft technologies and just like you could do on-premise, you could perform the basics of your migration doing the classic “next, next,enter” process and be on O365 just like that. But would you want to and would you be best served by doing so?
As I have stated in earlier blog posts, the driver for most organizations to go to O365 is Exchange Online, all of the other pieces such as SharePoint “come along for the ride” in these cases. It is Exchange that is the driver. If you are a large organization with a large on-prem Exchange install then chances are you have Exchange admins that “get” how complex things can be migrating Exchange from one platform or revision to another can be. Those admins will know how complex the process can actually be and are probably painfully aware of how many things can go wrong. They know that Exchange migrations are not for the faint of heart. They will plan and test and will probably even call in outside help to ensure the migration is smooth.
Smaller organizations, on the other hand, are liable to try and go it alone. These are organizations that probably have never had an Exchange migration performed and may still be on Exchange 2007 or even Exchange 2003. They may or may not have knowledgeable help available to them and they probably think “how hard can it be”? After all, Microsoft indicates that this kind of migration is supported and doable and that is correct. But start doing your reading and you will find out very quickly that there are any number of things that can prevent the migration from going smoothly and, worse, a bewildering array of pre-requisites that need to be met before you can push the buttons to make it all work.
You can accuse Microsoft of many things but one salient fact stands out, they build things that just work and that continue to work for the long haul. There are many, many installations of SBS out there — all versions from 2000 through 2011 – that have had no “love” lavished on them, that haven’t been patched since the Clinton era and which keep soldering on. They may not work as well as they should (or could) but they do work. But while they may work they are also prime candidates for O365 migration disaster due to the fact that they have never been properly maintained. You can be assured that there will be problems encountered on a migration to O365.
In scenarios like this (and not just with SBS but with any Exchange install that has not been “loved”) you really do need a partner’s expertise to help you get to where you need to go. Harking back to my earlier point, admins that have been through this process many times will know what to look for and what to mitigate before the migration even starts. They will understand the process and the go/no go points along the way. They will plan and test and have contingency plans “just in case”. And they will have all of this because they have already suffered the pain of a botched migration (yup, trust me, we have all been there). This is what an O365 partner will provide, as well. The partner has the knowledge, the processes and the tools to ensure your migration is planned and executed correctly.
OK, I know this may read like I’m fear mongering and maybe I am to a small degree but I am trying to make an important point. We (itgroove) have been through a number of O365 migrations both large and small and not one has been exactly like another even with all our planning and up-front prep work. Every single migration offered up some kind of challenge or obstacle that had to be overcome; some because of weirdness in the old system, some because of weirdness inside O365. If it is challenging for us, a partner that performs migrations fairly frequently, imagine what it must be like for someone that has never done it before!
My point is simple: make the investment in having an Office365 partner assist you with your migration. It will be money well spent and your migration will go a lot more smoothly than if you try to go it alone. And this is particularly true if you are on one of those older SBS systems that I referred to earlier (you know who you are …). Office365 really is a dynamite platform but it is only going to be as good as the process is that gets you on to it; if that process and experience is “bad” then the whole O365 experience is liable to be “bad”, as well. Set your self up for success, engage with an Office365 partner up front and then enjoy the benefits of a well planned and executed Office365 migration.