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SharePoint 2013 Migration... Why? And How?

SharePoint 2013 offers a large number of improvements over SharePoint 2010, and more and more of our clients are migrating to 2013. With migration always come two significant questions: “Why?” and “How?”

Sharepoint Migration 2013 Blue

Why?

As clients with previous SharePoint installations are fully aware, SharePoint offers a lot of functionality Out-of-the-Box and a great Application development platform. However as technology and social media move on SharePoint 2013 has more to offer than ever.

How you use SharePoint currently will effect what drives you to upgrade; those with public websites on SharePoint, and indeed Intranets, often are motivated by the improvements in the mobile compatibility and HTML5 support. SharePoint 2013 vastly improves its support for mobile devices. Instead of offering a basic mobile interface, it now offers options to customise the interface for different Device Channels, effectively allowing you to provide a different interface to meet different device requirements whilst offering the same shared content across all devices.

SharePoint public-facing websites benefit from significant investment in improving SharePoint’s Web Content Management functionality, specifically including features that were previously frequently requested, such as XML site maps. The other major stumbling block for SharePoint websites has also been dealt with to some extent; SharePoint branding was previously complex and required specialist skills to edit sites in SharePoint Designer. However, Microsoft has now opened the way for other standard web design packages such as Dreamweaver to interact directly with SharePoint and customise the branding.

Improved support for Public websites is not limited to improvements in the technology. Microsoft have also significantly reduced the licensing costs of Public websites by scrapping the ‘for Internet sites’ license, in favour of a much cheaper ‘normal’ SharePoint Server license.

Licensing is also simplified with the elimination of FAST search as a SharePoint add-on. SharePoint now benefits from the FAST search capabilities being built into the SharePoint Server product. The search not only benefits from the scale improvements that FAST search used to add but also now features rich previews of search results and personalised results based on your previous search actions.

All SharePoint applications benefit from the improvements in caching for Authentication, Social features, Transmission of Large files and Images.

Document and Records Management systems benefit from functionality previously limited to the ‘Best of Breed’ Records Management systems. A far more integrated Discovery Centre allows the discovery of records across SharePoint, Exchange and File shares. Files can now be exported for Legal inspection. Retention can now be applied at a Site level as well as an individual document level, something often required for those Project sites part of so many SharePoint deployments.

Business Applications and Document Management systems alike will benefit from the improvements in the new Workflow engine, which offers Looping functionality and improvements in the graphical display within SharePoint Designer 2013. Microsoft has further continued to strengthen the Business Intelligence capabilities within SharePoint and integration with those parts of SQL Server.

One of the key areas of investment for SharePoint is the Social networking capabilities, provided by the SharePoint out-of-the-box My Sites or by Yammer. SharePoint has an improved micro-blogging capability allowing for the use of #Hashtags and @User denotation. This results in the ability to Mention or Follow people, documents or sites.

SharePoint 2013 offers the most stable pre-SP1 release to date. We can also expect to see Service Pack 1 soon, as Microsoft say it is due for release in early in 2014.

How?

SharePoint migrations can be seen to be one of the most complex challenges for a SharePoint Architect. However given the right resources this can be a relatively pain free process.

The key difference between SharePoint migrations in SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 is no option to perform an In-Place upgrade, although in practice this was rarely used in SharePoint 2010. Instead the key method of migration is a Database Attach. A new SharePoint 2013 server is built and then the databases moved to the new SharePoint 2013 server and upgraded. This can be facilitated in various ways although Virtualisation often means the creation of new servers is simple. Once a new SharePoint 2013 environment is available content can be migrated by a series of simple steps:

  • Backup content databases on SharePoint 2010 environment, using standard SQL tools
  • Move backups to new SharePoint 2013 environment
  • Restore content databases on SharePoint 2013 SQL Server
  • Create new Web Application on SharePoint 2013 environment
  • Run Mount-SPContentDatabase to effectively migrate the content to SharePoint 2013 and to attach this to the specified Web Application
  • Open Web Application and test the migration

Sharepoint Migration KeyboardThe beauty of having both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 available at the same time is that it allows a test migration to occur on a backup of the content databases and full testing to be carried out, before this process is undertaken for the actual migration. Depending on customer requirements we have migrated a copy of the SharePoint content databases to the new SharePoint 2013 environment, days, weeks or months before the actual migration occurs - this allows time to resolve any migration issues and plan changes to the site in SharePoint 2013. It also reduces the risk, time and intensity of the migration outage.

The only significant difference during the actual migration is that the SharePoint 2010 site collections should be set to ‘read only’ before the backups are taken and users given appropriate notice.

SharePoint migrations are full fidelity in that they bring across everything stored in the content databases, content, permissions, permission groups and even instances of workflows. This means it can be a relatively seamless experience for end users; although they may notice the much cleaner user interface of SharePoint 2013!

There are two main aspects not contained within the SharePoint content databases: the SharePoint configuration (carried out from within SharePoint Central administration) and Custom solutions. Configuration varies quite significantly between SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 and therefore we normally manually migrate all configurations to the SharePoint 2013 environment during the build stage.

Custom solutions are also not migrated to SharePoint 2013, therefore each Custom solution should be considered in turn. Whether it is required with new functionality provided in SharePoint 2013, whether it should be re-worked based on changes in SharePoint 2013 or whether it should continue to function as per SharePoint 2010. Suitable changes to the Custom solutions can then be made and the new versions deployed to the SharePoint 2013 farm.

SharePoint 2013 also only provides support for Windows Server 2008 R2 (SP1) or Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 is no longer supported. This is similar for SQL Server in that SQL Server 2008 is no longer supported.

Hardware and Software requirements for SharePoint 2013 are detailed on TechNet: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc262485(v=office.15).aspx#reqOtherCap

A significant number of the SharePoint 2013 migrations that we undertake are from versions prior to SharePoint 2010. This effectively means migrating to each version in between. For example, migrating from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2013, involves firstly migrating to SharePoint 2010 before migrating to SharePoint 2013. This involves an additional temporary SharePoint 2010 environment to be created for the duration of the Project.

Unfortunately Office365 doesn’t not support this type of migration, third party tools are the only real option unless you wish to manually migrate data.

Summary

SharePoint 2013 offers many benefits and the migration process can be easily undertaken when the process is understood. The amount of downtime is minimal and can be reduced to the old site being made ‘Read Only’ for just a few hours whilst the migration to the new site occurs.

By Jenny Clayton, Associate Senior SharePoint Consultant

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Ballard Chalmers is one of the UK’s leading enterprise software engineering companies, specialising in development for the Microsoft Enterprise Application Platform. We are principally dedicated to software development and integration for the Microsoft Cloud, as well as on-premises and hybrid systems. Our expertise is in Microsoft .NET, SQL Server, BizTalk Server and SharePoint Server.

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