To the Cloud! Know what you’re getting into before your migration

To the Cloud!
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Set up a Microsoft Office 365 tenant, spin up a few SharePoint Online sites for your teams, and you’re off! In a perfect IT world, this kind of fresh start seems like the easiest way to go.

But then, well…reality hits. You have an on-premises farm with years of collected content, customizations, workflows, InfoPath…Oh no – suddenly this is starting to sound complicated. But it doesn’t have to be.

We at Olive + Goose help companies navigate these challenges every day. And we find that if you just break the process down into a few steps, the titanic problem of how to migrate an on-premises SharePoint deployment to the cloud can be relatively easy to solve. Although the steps vary for each customer, there are four common denominators for every migration we have been a part of:

  1. Have a plan
    What do you want your SharePoint Online environment to look like? Are you going for all the new bells and whistles, or do you just need to get out of the hardware business and plan to “lift and place” your old SharePoint environment as is?
  2. Know what you have
    What are you moving? How many sites? How much content? What are your security needs?
  3. Have the right tools
    How do you plan on moving everything?
  4. Be realistic
    What is your timeline? Do you need this over a weekend or over the course of a year?

1. Have a plan

Office 365 and SharePoint Online  are full of new and fun features, and more are added on a monthly basis.

So here’s the $1,000,000 question: Are you going all “New,” aka “Modern”? New pages, new webparts, new views, mobile first, Apps for mobile devices — are you jumping head first into this new world and taking the migration as the perfect opportunity to modernize your applications?

Or is there a different motivation? Your servers need upgrades, data growth is killing the storage, you have a hosting contract that is about to expire…the decision has been made to get everything into SharePoint Online ASAP and move to the Modern sites down the road. Basically, you want to lift and place your environment into SharePoint Online “As Is” (a “Classic” deployment).

Or are you looking for a combination of these two approaches?  Whatever you decide, you need to have a plan.

Remember: if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never get there.

2. Know what you have

Before every engagement we have the same initial conversation.

Customer: “How long will it take?”

Us: “I don’t know yet.”

Not a popular response, but it’s the truth. We can’t tell you how long a migration will take if we don’t know what we’re working with. If any consultant gives you a set date without looking at your farm, either lock them in for the massive underestimate, or tell them to go away.

When you’re planning a migration to SharePoint Online, it’s extremely important to know what you’re working with, before you can say what it will take.

How many sites? How much content? What version of SharePoint are you coming from? These are just a few questions you’ll want to know the answers to. For a complete migration, you’ll want to dig as deep as you can — even the best managed farm will have some black holes. After a few years of use, it’s surprising how many unexpected file types and customizations can work their way into a SharePoint site.

Unmanaged growth is another area of concern. It’s often surprising how quickly a SharePoint List or Document Library can grow by size or item count. The reality is that even when the users don’t report any problems, growth can go unchecked until it’s time for an upgrade.

Other variables — custom solutions, InfoPath forms, web parts, workflows –can also add to the complexity of the migration efforts.

A pre-migration analysis is vital to a successful migration. Site collection by site collection, a crawl needs to take place to get a clear picture of what you are working with. The results of the crawl can then be used to  map your migration and track its progress. Skipping this step is setting the project up for trouble.

It will take some time, but if I wasn’t clear before I’ll clarify now…

You can’t know what you’re doing if you don’t know what you have.

3. Have the right tools
With your plan and your inventory in hand, now you’re ready to get to work.

Unless your plan is to start fresh and new, don’t expect to perform the migration without some sort of dedicated migration and management utility. If you have any intention of retaining the preexisting information in your SharePoint sites you will need the right tools. Sharegate, Metalogix, and AvePoint are a few of the more popular third=party companies that have built  solutions for migrating and managing SharePoint content.

The cost of using one of these tools for a migration is generally based on the total amount of content to be migrated. Here’s where the pre-migration analysis will help: now you know exactly how much you have, what you want to keep, and what you want to archive. The more data you move, the more the tools will cost, so be as precise as you can with room for testing and rerunning sites that get missed.

Be sure to have the right device to perform the migration. Setting up a separate VM, or a few VMs, to run the tasks will make this go so much better. All the third-party companies will have their minimum requirements, be sure you give yourself plenty of horsepower and a solid connection. Don’t skimp on the RAM and connection speed. If possible, setting up VMs in Azure that are in the same region as your SharePoint Online or leverage Azure Blob Storage will help with the process.

Also, go with a current OS: Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016. The newer the better – the latest OS will be the most compatible with Office 365 and SharePoint Online. Don’t limit yourself by using an older OS. You’re moving to the cloud…it’s new…use new stuff!

4. Be realistic
Be prepared, set realistic expectations, and keep your user community informed, and you will keep the angry mob at bay.

“Is it done yet?”

This may seem obvious, but surprisingly we often need to remind companies that their migration could take some time. When you are moving years of content with multiple versions and unique permissions, there is no way to make it go fast. Unless you have a very small amount of content, don’t set the expectation the migration can be performed over a single weekend. Back to your plan and analysis: lay out a realistic timeline to give yourself the time you need to complete.

“It doesn’t work!”

Web parts will break, documents and list items will be missed, permissions will get broken, interfaces will look different.

Something will happen…That’s OK!

SharePoint Online is not an on-premises farm; there are features in the cloud that do not exist on your servers. Remember, you still have that old farm, and you can always get back to it. Anything that is missing can be recovered and migrated again.


“Plan your work and work your plan!” 

– Mr. Obvious

Pre-migration analysis of the source content is the first step in a successful migration to SharePoint Online. Detailed information about what content you have, what tools you will use, what you hope to achieve, and how you want to get there is vital to a successful project.

If you are not sure about your options, we can help. If you are not sure what should migrate, we can help. If you are not sure how to migrate, we can help.

At Olive + Goose we have a team of skilled and experienced Cloud Architects with years of experience ready to assist – reach out to us today.