Thanks to its use of open standards and open source, SugarCRM has emerged as a healthy and well-supported alternative to other proprietary customer relationship management (CRM) applications like Salesforce.com

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and Act. That said, more people now use products other than SugarCRM. So in many cases, if you deploy SugarCRM it will involve migrating from another product. In this article, I'll discuss some of the ways SugarCRM and its partners have created solutions for migrating from other products.

The first consideration is the platform from which you're migrating and, in particular, the impact of that move on Linux. Migrating the data and how that data may be handled or transformed on the Linux side are the two most important issues. The first is generally easy enough, since the data can be exported in any number of cross-compatible file formats or through a network link. The second is trickier and involves factors like case-sensitivity of search. If you're moving from a platform where searches are case-insensitive by default (such as one hosted on Oracle or Microsoft SQL Server), you may need to configure SugarCRM's database to handle case-sensitivity or retrain users to conduct searches differently.

Apatar: Migration made easy
When it comes to extracting data from an existing CRM application, a powerful way to get data into (and out of) SugarCRM is a third-party application called Apatar, which enables SugarCRM to speak to third-party databases and applications with minimal effort. Apatar uses data maps to describe how data is, well, mapped from one program to another. In a migration, one of the major advantages of using Apatar is that no matter which third-party program you use, data maps have almost certainly been created for the migration process.

As you can imagine, using data maps makes Apatar useful as a migration tool, and the open source Apatar -- also an open source product -- has created several pre-made scripts to get you up and running quickly with the program. Apatar also has its own source repository with live questions and answers and prefab data maps that make it relatively easy to migrate to and from most programs. Note that Apatar has a binary version ready to go for 32-bit Windows, but the source code is written in Java and can be run on Linux as well. But the existing packaged version runs most readily on Windows.

Dedicated importing and exporting tools also exist for other products. On the SugarForge site (where code authors contribute to SugarCRM's library of tools and code), there's the Act Importer project, which works with Microsoft Access and Act's Exporter for Act to speed things up, synchronizing SugarCRM between Act Importer and QuickBooks. Note, however, that one capability not automatically covered by this tool is consolidating multiple Act databases into a single, unified SugarCRM database, which is not a trivial task. QConnector for Intuit's QuickBooks is an example of a more upscale project (and it's certified by SugarCRM as well). Currently, QConnector runs only on MySQL (Windows and Linux), but a SQL Server (Windows-only) version is in the works. The Sugar server needs access only to the QuickBooks server via HTTP or HTTPS, so these servers don't have to share the same hardware or OS to work properly.

Keep in mind that a given CRM product may also have its own add-ons or expansions for migrating in both directions either written by the maker or added by third parties. GoldBox 7 for GoldMine 7, a third-party general-purpose GoldMine utility, also includes outward migration tools and works with Microsoft SQL, Firebird or dBase implementations of GoldMine. A free trial version is available; if it suits your needs, it can be converted immediately into the full version of the product. Note that GoldBox does not run on Linux itself; it's meant to run as a companion product to GoldMine on Windows.

Finally, if you're planning a migration to SugarCRM down the road but want to test SugarCRM in a provisional and self-contained way, you can do so without committing an entire machine to the project. The Sugar Appliance is a self-contained installation of SugarCRM with everything you need, all wrapped up in a VMware virtual machine image that can run on several platforms, not just Linux. There's an Amazon EC2-hosted version of the appliance if you have an EC2 account, although it's limited by the way EC2 handles "stateful" data in its virtual machines.

About the author: Between 1994 and 2001, Serdar Yegulalp wrote for Windows Magazine covering a wide range of technology topics. He now plies his expertise in Windows NT, Windows 2000 and Windows XP as publisher of the Windows 2000 Power Users Newsletter and writes technology columns for TechTarget.

This was first published in September 2007

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