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Exchange 2010 upgrade: Migrate or export mail to PST and start fresh?

In one of my recent articles, we looked at whether we should upgrade Exchange 2010 to Exchange 2016, Office 365, or Hosted Exchange. In this article, we take a different approach. Here we will examine whether you should build a brand-new Exchange 2016 or Exchange 2019 server, which means you will export all your email to PST files and remove your domain including all your Exchange servers, or just do a migration and import the PST files.

Jumping to conclusions about the double-hop

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On the forums, Microsoft and third parties, I am starting to see a trend. IT admins don’t seem to want to spend the time performing new installations of Exchange or doing double-hop migrations. What is a double-hop? If you are running Exchange 2010, the highest Exchange version you can migrate to is Exchange 2016. You then need to remove Exchange 2010 completely before you can introduce Exchange 2019. Yes, this is a lot of work, especially when you dealing with thousands of mailboxes. It can take you as much as three months to migrate to Exchange 2016 and then you have to do it all again to get to Exchange 2019.

But here’s a question you should ask yourself: Doesn’t exporting mailboxes to PST actually take longer? What about the risk of corruption of those PST files especially when they are 100GB or higher? Both options take up storage, but if you migrate you get rid of the whitespace on the Exchange 2010 databases. Other questions that come to mind are: SLA? Compliance? Risk of data loss?

How do you explain to your CEO that all his or her email is gone because you exported the mail to a PST file and now you cannot access it? Some might say, well, there are scripts that allow you to split the PST files into smaller ones and then do imports. Yes, Exchange 2019 has that feature where you can drop the PST file with the name as the email address and it will pick it up and import it, but the time it’s going to take to do exports vs. installs is still the important question.

A vote for migrations

I prefer migrations for an Exchange 2010 upgrade as Exchange controls the moves. Yes, you might have corruption in the mailbox and lose a few emails but as mentioned you get to start with a clean database. But migrations involve planning, and this includes:

  • Storage.
  • NameSpace, new or the same.
  • Newer hardware to host the more demanding exchange servers.
  • SSD disks vs. conventional disks.
  • Firewall rule upgrades.
  • Load balancer upgrades or changes. If you use F5, you will need to ensure you have a valid license and support (and version 15 is now available with a whole lot more features). Maybe you use Kemp. If so, you need to plan the changes or bring in new ones. Is it cheaper to purchase additional VMs or physical ones?
  • Domain controller upgrades to support the newer version.
  • Client upgrades of Office packages.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of planning to be done. If you have remote branches, this makes it a bit more tricky and prolongs the upgrades as companies generally leave the branch offices until last and focus on the head office.

Now let’s take a look at this new approach. You can spend many hours exporting mail to PST or you just take the bull by the horns and shut down and delete everything and build new domain controllers with new Exchange servers. You create all the new mailboxes — can be from a script or manually — and then you end up using a third-party software to open the EDB files and export to PST.

This means users coming in will have no access to the old profiles machine-wide. Not only that, but because you going to create a new profile to login to the new domain, Outlook won’t be configured.

Exchange 2010 upgrade: Avoid the chaos

All I see is chaos. You have brought down the company. Forget about the fact that you need to configure everything on Exchange and get mail-flow working and URLs setup again, you have locked users out of everything: printing, accessing old information — the list just grows. Users who are configured have blank mailboxes as you are still trying to do exports. They cannot work or follow-up on anything, the CEO does not know what meetings he has to attend as the account on his phone no longer works and he has lost his calendar.

Please do not go this route. There is just so much that can go wrong. The best approach is to talk to your CAB (change advisory board), advise them that you will be doing multiple hops as the company wants to move to the newer Exchange versions and domain controllers. Build a timeline, plan it, communicate with your end-users so they know what is going on. If they understand, it will make it easier. Yes, they will complain about the changes, but at least you are not leaving them in the dark, let alone getting yourself fired because you want to take the quickest route.

Exchange migrations are never quick, but with the correct planning, they can be done without you losing any files or you losing your jobs. Make sure you set up schedules of what will happen and when it will happen so nobody’s surprised.

Featured image: Shutterstock

Edward van Biljon

Edward van Biljon is an experienced messaging specialist working in the IT and services industry. He is skilled in WSUS, domain name system, datacenters, printer support, and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). He has a background as a strong IT professional and has an international diploma in programming focused on computer programming.

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Edward van Biljon

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