Migrating to SharePoint 2010 – what you need to know

As Microsoft’s SharePoint Solution has matured over the last decade, more and more organisations have implemented SharePoint to make use of the Enterprise Content Management and Collaboration capabilities to overcome the obstacles of collaborating and sharing structured and unstructured data. The recent release of SharePoint 2010 means that many of these organisations will be looking to migrate from the older versions to the new release – something that is not as easy as one might expect, mainly due to content migration issues.

However, by understanding the challenges involved, choosing the right tools and understanding the benefits of third party content migration assistance, organisations can ensure that the transition is a smooth one.

The shortfalls of the ‘out-of-box’ approaches

There are two kinds of ‘out-of-box’ migration approaches, both of which place significant limitations on the migration process. Of particular significance is that neither of these approaches allows for migration of content from SharePoint 2003 directly to SharePoint 2010, and they don’t allow administrators or business users to reorganise content during migration.

The ‘In-Place Upgrade’ approach entails upgrading all site content on an individual server at the same time to SharePoint 2010. Not only does this require a great deal of preparation, but it is also the riskiest migration strategy of all as there is no fall-back strategy if something goes wrong and there is no way to return to the pre-upgrade state. Other shortfalls of this approach include the fact that the environment is completely down during the migration process, and an interruption – such as a power failure or running out of disk space – causes the environment to become unstable and unsupported. Aside from this, the user account running the upgrade needs to have full local admin rights to all servers in the farm, including the SQL database server, which might jeopardise an organisation’s security policy.

The ‘Data Attach’ approach allows databases to be attached to the new SharePoint 2010 farm and upgraded in the new environment. However, it also has several limitations which should be considered before opting to migrate data using this process. Firstly, granularity is limited to individual content databases, which means that everything in a particular content database has to be migrated at the same time. This process often causes many of the problems in the old database being carried over to the new SharePoint 2010 database, as well as issues such as broken navigation elements, strange formatting and malfunctioning web parts. Because all settings in the new farm must match those in the original farm -and this must be done manually – the Data Attach process is also time and resource intensive. All customisations must also be done manually and if they are not transferred, the upgrade may fail.

How to overcome migration problems to SharePoint 2010

In order to overcome the issues outlined above, organisations should choose a content migration tool that is easy to use and designed to ensure a smooth migration process. When assessing such a tool, the following functionality should be considered:

1. Support for granular migrations and pilots
This functionality is useful as it means that the content owners can decide what portions of content should be migrated first, allowing for a phased migration approach, instead of having to do the entire migration at once.
This greatly mitigates the risk that is associated with content migration, allowing content to be moved over to the new environment in small manageable chunks.

2. No service pack or hardware prerequisites
By choosing a content migration tool that has no service pack or hardware prerequisites, organisations that are currently using SharePoint 2003 or 2007 can migrate directly to SharePoint 2010. The tool should also enable organisations to move between different SharePoint editions (such as migrating from Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 to SharePoint Server 2010), and migrate from 32-bit hardware to 64-bit hardware.

3. Migration based on permissions
One of the key features a SharePoint content migration tool should enable is the ability to allow content owners – rather than only the IT department – to take control of the migration of their content and offer the flexibility to let them fit the process into their schedule. Not only does this make more sense from a security perspective, but it also ensures buy-in from the whole business, and reduces the workload on IT staff.

4. Reorganise or re-template sites during migration
SharePoint content migration tools should allow content owners to reorganise content and redefine site structure during the migration process. Tools should combine this functionality with the ability for content owners, instead of just IT, to migrate content. After all, it is the content owners who are familiar with their information, and can better decide how it needs to be structured and organised.

5. Simplicity – copy and paste
Perhaps most of important – the content migration process to SharePoint 2010 should be made as easy as possible – as simple as ‘copy and paste’. Organisations should choose a tool that is user friendly in order to ensure that content owners can migrate content without needing to call on IT for assistance.

6. Ongoing ROI
When looking for a SharePoint 2010 content migration tool, organisations should consider whether or not the tool in question will add value to the business after the migration has been completed. The tool should, for example, offer features that make the management of the SharePoint database easier on an ongoing basis, thus continuing to provide benefits long after the migration process. For example, such functionality could include the ability to restore items from the SQL database directly to the SharePoint database, bypassing the need to set up a ‘recovery farm’.

Any migration is no doubt a daunting task but organisations can minimise the risk and ‘pain factor’ with the assistance of third-party tools in the case of migrating to SharePoint 2010 from previous versions of SharePoint, as well as from other 3rd party document and content management solutions. Although they might appear to create additional costs and investment, there
is a fast return on investment when considering the ease at which organisations can migrate and the mitigation of risk that can potentially cost a company far more.

Soarsoft Africa
Chris Hathaway