#TechThursdays: Upgrade or Migrate? Understanding your options for modernising your SharePoint environment

With the GA release of SharePoint 2019 in October 2018, the role that SharePoint will provide in the future of the modern, digital workspace has become clear. Either on-premise, in the cloud or a hybrid configuration, SharePoint is Microsoft’s application platform for providing modern, powerful document management and collaboration solutions in the modern workplace.

SharePoint is now about to enter its 18th year, and over that time SharePoint has made significant leaps regarding functionality and complexity as it supports a modern digital workplace for its users. In order to take advantage of the exciting new features that the newest version of SharePoint provides, existing SharePoint customers should consider many factors when deciding their chosen upgrade path when moving from legacy versions either to SharePoint or SharePoint Online in Office 365.

This post will discuss some of the key decisions that need to be made during the planning phase of a SharePoint upgrade or migration project.

Lee Drinkwater

Lee Drinkwater

Senior Consultant

Why consider upgrading a SharePoint environment?

Reducing risk and cost

A common driver for considering an upgrade or migration to a newer version of SharePoint is with support for the platform by the vendor. SharePoint 2007 was retired in 2017, and as of October 2018, the 24-month countdown has started for extended support for SharePoint 2010. From October 13th 2020, SharePoint 2010 will join SharePoint 2007 in retirement and any customers still on this version will no longer receive support from Microsoft.

In April 2018, SharePoint 2013 also reached and passed its mainstream support date so is now in extended support. This means Microsoft will still provide security hotfixes but no design changes or feature requests. Any customers that have business-critical solutions built on any of these legacy versions of SharePoint are therefore at risk in the next couple of years and should begin planning for a move to a later version on-premise or online as part of Office 365’s suite of products.

Moving to a newer version of SharePoint, therefore, can immediately be beneficial in reducing the risk and cost associated with maintaining a legacy application with no vendor support.

Taking advantage of new features

Microsoft constantly develops and deploys new features for SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2019 across four areas of innovation; however, none are developed for legacy versions that are either in extended support or out of support completely. Some of these features include:

• Simple and powerful file-sharing and collaboration on any device.
• The mobile and intelligent intranet, with modern team sites publishing and business applications on your desktop and in your pocket.
• An open and connected platform that evolves SharePoint extensibility to embrace modern web development.
• Investments in security, privacy and compliance across Office 365.

SharePoint 2019 represents a whole new generation of SharePoint that is born in the cloud and has been designed to represent the ease-of-use that SharePoint Online currently provides to its customers. SharePoint 2019 provides new user experiences that are entertaining and engaging with rich, relevant content by way of the modern sites, lists, libraries and pages that were released in 2017 for SharePoint Online.

With the constant release of new features for both SharePoint Online and 2019 on-premise, either migrating to SharePoint Online or 2019 on-premise will ensure your business is in the best position to receive the latest features and security updates. This will ensure your document management platform can continue to grow with your business and take advantage of modern document management technology that previous versions may not support.
Legacy SharePoint versions also may not be as responsive when viewed via mobile devices, so another key driver towards an upgrade or migration is mobility.

Upgrade routes to SharePoint 2019

The upgrade path to SharePoint 2019 has been published by Microsoft and is very similar to 2013 and 2016.

As with previous versions, there is still no direct upgrade path, but instead staging farms must be used at various version levels throughout the process to upgrade the database schema and the site collections through the different versions. The following table describes the sequence of steps to upgrade from 2007 to 2019:

Native upgrade options

In-place upgrade vs database attach

An in-place upgrade involves applying an upgrade directly to the SharePoint farm and its content databases. This is extremely risky because this approach cannot be reversed so no roll-back will be available in the event of any issues. The farm will also be unavailable throughout the upgrade process so will incur a large amount of downtime.

An alternative, and much-preferred option is to perform a database-attach upgrade instead. This process will require a SharePoint 2010 farm to be built, but instead of a direct upgrade will require the backup and restoration of the content databases from SharePoint 2007 to the new SharePoint 2010 farm. The parallel/selective upgrade will allow the administrator to be selective about which content databases and sites are to be upgraded and is considered lower risk because it does not require an upgrade to the entire 2007 farm in-place.

With either approach, if your SharePoint platform has any 3rd-party customisations such as workflow or custom forms, then these will need to be evaluated, reconfigured and redeployed post-upgrade. To manage expectation, these customisations should be captured during the planning phase and evaluated before any upgrade attempt is made.

Parallel/Selective Upgrade

This method requires a separate SharePoint farm of a newer version to be built alongside the existing platform to be used to upgrade the content databases. With this method, you can selectively migrate only the content databases and sites that you wish to upgrade to the newer platform. As with an in-place upgrade, any 3rd party customisations such as workflow, forms or farm solutions will need to be evaluated, reconfigured and re-deployed. It is also possible some customisations or 3rd party solutions are not supported at a higher SharePoint version so these should be considered during any upgrade planning prior to deployment.

The parallel/selective upgrade path requires staging farms to be built in order to upgrade the content databases as the versions are changed and uses the database-attach method. The databases are attached to the newer farm, tested and then upgraded to the later version before the site collections within are upgraded. The administrator can be selective about which databases and which sites are to be upgraded; however, no restructuring can be performed as part of the upgrade so may not be suitable should a content restructure be a project requirement.

Migration as an alternative to upgrade

The Information Architecture currently in-use within your SharePoint environment may have reflected your business when it was deployed, but how does it compare now? Is it an accurate reflection of the different divisions or business units throughout your organisation? Does it contain many items that could be considered redundant and potentially archived? Does it allow you to collaborate easily between different areas of the business or externally, or are you still reliant on email or another file-sharing resource such as DropBox or Box?

As already mentioned above, in order to perform the parallel migrations, it will involve the creation of staging farms in order to upgrade the content databases as they make their journey towards the final target version. This process is very time-consuming and can be error-prone if many customisations or 3rd party solutions exist, but at the end of the process, the structure of the content will still closely resemble the legacy system. If your business could benefit from re-structuring the content, then an attractive alternative to this is migration.

If a migration is conducted instead of an upgrade, then only the new target farm will be required. It will not require several staging farms to be built in order to migrate the databases and the actual processing of the content can be handled by a migration tool.

In a similar way to the parallel/selective upgrade, a migration allows an organisation to be very selective about what content migrates out of the source but also which target the content will go. A distinctive advantage of using a migration as opposed to an upgrade is the entire structure of the content can be re-modelled during transit in combination with a new Information Architecture deployed to the target. This offers a significant restructuring advantage when compared with an upgrade as you have even greater control of not only the content that migrates but where it goes.

If you are exploring how best to move your on-premise SharePoint content either to a later version of SharePoint on-premise or to SharePoint Online, please get in touch with us at info@pythagoras.co.uk to discuss how we can help achieve this.