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UIS is developing a detailed plan to migrate the existing users of Hermes to Exchange Online, following approval of our proposal by the email technical scrutiny panel and the ISC.

In 2019, the ISC commissioned a review of strategic email provision in the University (see the announcement in the Reporter). The results of that review, and other findings, were then shared with Council, which agreed changes should be made to email systems.

The ISC has set up an email technical scrutiny panel, as directed by Council, to scrutinise UIS proposals for the future provision of email services in the University. Hermes is a reliable system that has served well, but the knowledge and expertise needed to keep it running are in very short supply, and email is a commodity service. UIS recently proposed to the technical scrutiny group that we commence work for migrating Hermes users to Exchange Online and decommissioning Hermes. We set out an outline approach and principles for migrating Hermes users to Exchange Online, and an assessment of the anticipated impacts on the users. The overriding principles are that we should minimise disruption to users, maintain continuity of access to services, and safeguard all the data held in Hermes. A high percentage of current users of Hermes are expected to experience no negative impact.

The technical scrutiny group, after considering the proposal, recommended UIS's approach to the ISC, and the ISC then approved it. UIS is therefore closing Hermes to new users, and to new shared mailboxes. We are also developing a detailed plan to migrate the existing users of Hermes, so that Hermes can be decommissioned no later than 31 December 2021.

The ISC's technical scrutiny panel will continue to receive updates on the project and will examine the technical approach as it is developed in greater detail. We will continue to communicate that plan and approach widely, alongside specific communications with institutions, computer officers and users.

What this means for Hermes users

The Hermes email service is well-regarded by many of its users and strong concerns have been raised about the importance of maintaining the functionality its users currently enjoy.

UIS is fully committed to minimising the disruption for Hermes users as the University transitions to Exchange Online. Above all, it has given a commitment to ISC that no user data stored in the Hermes email service will be lost during the transition process.

The experience for most Hermes users

UIS has undertaken extensive research into the extent to which Hermes capabilities can be replicated in Exchange Online and has thoroughly tested the user experience in the email clients that its data shows are currently in use.

Rigorous testing has confirmed that the most commonly used capabilities in Hermes can be replicated in Exchange Online, whether people choose to move to Outlook to benefit from email and calendar integration with other products on the Microsoft 365 environment or prefer to continue to use their current email client.

See: Capabilities of widely-used email clients interoperating with Exchange Online

The experience for a minority of Hermes users

Any change inevitably causes significant impact for some people. UIS anticipates that the worst impact, from a user's point of view, will be felt by two (perhaps overlapping) groups of user:

  1. those who rely on complex rules they have written for mail processing who will need to manually replicate the rules they have created in Hermes in the Exchange Online environment, and
  2. those who rely heavily on Hermes Webmail as their client for accessing a Hermes mailbox, who will need to get used to a different look and feel in the Outlook Web Access interface.

Roadmap for transitioning Hermes mailboxes to the University’s Exchange Online email service

The roadmap for migrating all Hermes mailboxes into Exchange Online by 31 December 2021 is as follows:

  • In the coming days, UIS will automatically apply any forwarding that users have applied to their Hermes mailboxes to their @cam pointer in Lookup. This will be invisible to the user. The result will be that where a user's Hermes mailbox is forwarding to another address, mail will be routed directly to that address without first being delivered to Hermes and then forwarded on.

    UPDATE: This has now been done.

  • As soon as UIS has created detailed email client configuration instructions to guide users through setting up their Exchange Online mailbox in their preferred email client, it will stop creating new mailboxes in Hermes.

    See: Hermes Project Update: Phasing out of new Hermes accounts for staff from Monday 21 September 2020

  • UIS will be working closely with institutional IT staff to agree an institutional migration plan. It will be possible to automate the bulk migration of both user and shared Hermes mailboxes, and UIS will provide support and assistance for institutional migrations.
  • Hermes users can continue to use the Hermes Migration Tool if they wish to self-migrate their mailboxes to Exchange Online before their institutional migration is scheduled.
  • Shared Hermes mailboxes will need to be migrated as part of an institutional migration.

UIS will be providing regular progress updates and will be starting to contact institutional IT staff in the near future.

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