How to migrate from Exchange Server to Exchange Online

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Microsoft Exchange Server is a great on-premise solution that provides millions of businesses with:

  • email services,
  • calendar software, and
  • contact management features.

It’s recent update even offers a faster user interface, tighter security, and enhanced search features.

However, it does have its limitations. Managing your own Exchange Server requires dedicated hardware and in-house technicians, which are expensive. Many companies are skirting these issues by opting for Exchange Online. This is a cloud version of Exchange Server that offers more flexibility and messaging features at an affordable price. So if your company is thinking of migrating to Exchange Online but doesn’t know where to start, here’s a step-by-step guide.


There are a few things you need to consider before migrating to Exchange Online. For starters, you must:

  1. Compile a list of email accounts.
  2. Check how much storage space you use.
  3. Delete any unused user accounts.

Migrations are prone to errors with old versions of Exchange Server, so make sure your systems are up to date. Finally, schedule migrations outside office hours to avoid straining your internet bandwidth.

Choose a migration path

When migrating mailboxes to Exchange Online, you have two methods to choose from. The first is a cutover migration, which extracts emails and accounts from on-premises Exchange servers and copies them to the cloud. This method is quick and easy, and mainly designed for small and medium-sized businesses with fewer than 1,000 mailboxes.

The second is a staged migration that uses similar techniques to the cutover method, but mailboxes and data are migrated in batches. Companies with thousands of email accounts and large volumes of emails benefit the most from this method, although this can take several weeks to a few months to complete.

Connect Exchange Online to your email system

Next, you’ll need to link the on-premises server that hosts your email systems to Exchange Online. To do this, go to Exchange Admin centre > Recipients > Migration > Migration endpoints and select New. From there, you’ll be asked to list the email addresses that will be migrated, set account privileges, and choose a password for the administrator account. If the connection is successful, you should be able to migrate your mailboxes.

Run tests

Regardless of the migration path you chose, it’s a good idea to conduct a pilot migration program. For example, you can create test mailboxes loaded with messages, contacts, and calendar entries to see how well they migrate to Exchange Online. You can take it a step further by migrating a small group of user accounts. The goal here is to find and resolve issues early to make sure you’ll have fewer problems when migrating the entire company.

Migrate mailboxes

Go back to the Migration menu, but this time select Migrate to Exchange Online and choose a migration type. Keep in mind that if you opt for a staged migration, you’ll be able to migrate 2,000 email accounts at a time. Then, press Start and Exchange Online will do the rest. You can also follow the syncing process through the migration dashboard.

Activate licenses

The next step is to assign Exchange Online licenses for each user, so they can gain access to their mailboxes. In the Office 365 Admin centre, go to the Active Users page and select who you want to assign licenses to. You have the option to subscribe to a standalone Exchange Online service. However, it’s also included in every Office 365 Business Premium and Enterprise package.

Route email to Exchange Online

Email services use Mail Exchange (MX) records to know where to deliver your email. Currently, your MX record should route emails to your on-premises Exchange Server. You will need to configure it so messages are delivered to your company’s Exchange Online accounts. This process can be fairly technical, so ask your managed services provider (MSP) for support.

Decommission Exchange server

When you’re certain that all user mailboxes have been migrated and routed directly to Exchange Online, it’s time to uninstall Exchange Server. All you have to do is open the Control Panel, click Uninstall a Program, and select Microsoft Exchange Server.

There’s a lot that goes into Exchange Online migrations, but Empower IT Solutions can ensure yours goes smoothly. We have a team of migration experts that can devise a plan and assist you with every step of the process. Call us today to get started.