In a moment of catastrophic network failure, an emergency migration to Google transforms a College’s communications and collaboration.
After a catastrophic system failure, Amherst College was able to complete a full migration for 4,537 users to Google Workspace for Education Plus in 5 days with over 20 years of data transferred in 5 weeks.
Amherst’s cloud migration has completely transformed security, efficiency, and collaboration at the College. Google Drive has become a single source for all files and emails and working together has never been so easy.
How does choosing the right cloud provider improve the efficiency, security, and collaboration of an entire college? Can a migration also solve Google adoption hurdles effectively?
On the Monday afternoon of February 11th, 2019, the entire Amherst College network went down without warning. There was no file access, no email, no website; the entire college was immobilized. Over 3,000 students, faculty, and staff and close to 30,000 alumni could not communicate; it was the greatest fear-turned-reality for any IT department. Upon inspection, the reason for the system failure was identified as deferred maintenance on several key network systems that created a cascade of other issues. With the network immobilized, their next challenge was finding a solution to restore services. With plans of migrating to the cloud already in motion for later in the year, it was time to expedite the hard-line question of which cloud provider to go with, Google or Microsoft.
Luckily, in the fall of 2018, the CIO of Amherst College requested that Luis Hernández, Associate CIO for IT Services and Outreach, build out a working group composed of students, faculty, and staff to determine which cloud system the college should adopt. They explored beyond the technical features as the team felt Google and Microsoft could both provide viable products. Instead, they wanted to be sure they chose a partner that shared the College’s focus on diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and a strong commitment to maintaining and supporting its products. While it took many attempts to connect with Microsoft, Google was immediately engaged. On January 16th, the Google team visited Amherst for a full day of meetings to discuss the long-term technology goals for the College. They took time to consult with the working group, the accessibility team, the networking team, and IT leadership in order to fully understand their needs.
On February 11th, right after their final meeting with representatives from Microsoft, the network, coincidentally, began to have issues. By the end of the day, Amherst’s network had reached catastrophic failure. The college needed to act fast, so when asked by IT leadership to provide the recommendation of the working group on which provider to choose, Luis was easily able to say – Google. On top of the ease of communication around migrating to the cloud, the support and additional security features available from Google Workspace for Education Plus sealed the deal. After Luis made his initial call to Google to alert them of the decision and the not-so-timely network failure, Google and Amherst reached out to Amplified IT to quickly step in and address the situation.
“In the middle of our network outage, we were able to establish –in one call with Amplified IT– the process we would follow during the five weeks it took to transition more than 20 years’ worth of emails, calendars, contacts, and other items from Exchange.”
– Luis Hernández, Associate CIO for IT Services, Amherst College
Within five days, Amherst was able to re-establish the network and enable G Suite’s collaboration tools for the entire College. Over the next five weeks, Amplified IT’s technical team was able to migrate over 20 years of data including mail, contacts, calendar, resource calendars amongst other digital assets to Gmail and 4,537 users to Google Workspace for Education. This process involved daily updates with the Amherst College’s IT team on accounts in migration so they could keep the campus community, and those users whose migration was complete, fully informed about the process.
During the process of migration, Amplified IT encourages institutions to use a pilot group of Gmail users (10 or so). This pilot provides time for technical staff to actively interact with Gmail and provide a chance for users to ask questions prior to going live campus-wide. Amplified IT always suggests that institutions use a few technically savvy instructors to experience the platform as end-users and further assist in directing potential questions prior to going live. Luckily, because of the exploration the working group had completed months leading up to the change, the migration process was able to be streamlined.
The technical team at Amplified IT immediately started the project by making certain that all users and alias email addresses were created in G Suite, that MX records were correctly updated to point to Gmail, and that SPF records were correctly updated to help ensure the delivery of messages sent from Gmail. Routing rules for Gmail were reviewed, and the rules which had been in place to redirect mail from Gmail to Exchange were disabled. The team also verified that forwards were enabled on all Exchange mailboxes to forward all email from Exchange to Gmail; this guaranteed that the settings were working properly.
After verifying mail-flow, the user data migration was ready to begin. A list of 340 VIP users and the most recent six months of data was migrated first to ensure the most relevant data was available within Gmail as soon as possible. Once that was completed, the next step of migrating the rest of the VIP data was quickly finished followed by all other users in the same format as server capacity and Exchange performance allowed.
While data was migrating, Amplified IT supported the team at Amherst by working through the remaining pieces that were necessary for a successful transition to Google Workspace for Education. This included creating all groups with appropriate group memberships, and configuring Google’s SMTP Relay server so that copiers, scanners, etc. could be updated to use that server instead of Exchange for sending email. The Amherst IT team received mostly positive reactions from faculty and staff and the students were extremely quick to adapt. The migration to Google and Google Workspace for Education Plus has allowed Amherst College the ability to give full control to document owners about how they manage their own documents.
“Our colleagues have become much more open to cloud services and apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Things that are second nature to other institutions are now becoming second nature to Amherst College.”
– Luis Hernández, Associate CIO for IT Services, Amherst College