SharePoint Migration: Options, Advantages, and Downsides

8 min.

Have you been using an intranet on SharePoint 2010 for years, while it’s high time to get a modern solution on SharePoint 2016? Do you support SharePoint On-Premises, while the rest of your corporate software has been already running in the cloud? Do you use scattered collaboration apps but want to unite them all under the same hood? If your SharePoint story is similar to one of the above scenarios, your only way to enter a better SharePoint world is through SharePoint migration.

However, a promising way to an improved SharePoint experience, migration comes together with numerous challenges and risks that often lead to negative outcomes. According to the 2017 SharePoint and Office 365 State of the Market Survey by Concept Search, almost 40% of all SharePoint migration projects fail. Not only can organizations underestimate their migration investment, development, and customization effort, but also they can choose the wrong migration path.

In this article, we will explore three available migration options, listing their challenges and advantages, to help you decide which SharePoint migration plan is optimal for you.

Staying with SharePoint On-Premises

Organizations keep their server-based deployments if they want to preserve their IT infrastructure, solutions’ logic, and collaboration models unchanged, as well as to stay away from compliance and security debates. At the same time, even if your company sticks to SharePoint On-Premises, you shouldn’t leave your solution unchanged for years. To keep in step with the platform advance and meet users’ growing demands, you can go for SharePoint upgrade or migration.

When you perform a SharePoint upgrade, you move up to the next version of the platform using Microsoft-supported upgrade methods, including the database attach technique and in-place upgrade. When you choose a SharePoint migration, you can move to any version of SharePoint from any third-party application or from SharePoint itself through an automated or manual migration process. To add more, migration implies SharePoint’s physical movement to a new farm along with the solution’s restructuring.

When to choose SharePoint On-Premises migration or upgrade?

  1. You want to replace a server-based legacy system. If you run an on-premises legacy workflow, content management, or collaboration solution and don’t plan to move to the cloud, migration to SharePoint On-Premises is the path to follow. SharePoint will let you create a solution with wide collaboration capabilities preserving legacy content and workflows if you need them.
  2. You don’t plan to dismiss your infrastructure and IT staff. If you aren’t ready to reconsider your approach to managing SharePoint solutions, stay on-premises. Migrating or upgrading to the SharePoint latest versions allows you to ensure the solution’s higher performance and better management capabilities for years ahead.
  3. You are satisfied with SharePoint On-Premises capabilities. By moving up to a higher SharePoint On-Premises version, you can offer a better user experience to your employees as well as be more flexible in development and customization terms.

Get ready to face challenges

Multistage migration. Until now, there are no Microsoft-enabled methods to jump through several SharePoint versions in one leap. For example, if you currently run a SharePoint 2013 solution and you are waiting for the SharePoint 2019 release, you will come to the final point only by moving to SharePoint 2016, first, and then by making the second migration step to SharePoint 2019. You can solve this issue using SharePoint migration tools; however, they will require additional effort, investment, and technical skills.

Rework is necessary to get visible benefits. If you just migrate your existing solution to the latest SharePoint version without any changes, there will be little to no visible advantages for end users, which can bring migration effort to nothing. Once you take up SharePoint migration, consider improving the solution along the way. Introduce new features, refresh the solution’s design, and make it mobile-friendly to get users’ loyalty.

You will still lag behind cloud solutions. If you stay on-premises, accept that your solution will lack capabilities available in SharePoint Online and Office 365. For example, SharePoint On-Premises owners can’t use communication and hub sites available in SharePoint Online, while Office 365 subscribers can benefit from a whole array of productivity apps beyond SharePoint.

Moving to the Cloud

SharePoint migration to Office 365 or Microsoft 365 is very popular today due to the great popularity of the cloud collaboration suites. Cloud migration can be particularly beneficial for companies running outdated solutions. Instead of diving into a complex on-premises migration, they can move directly to the cloud and start a new collaboration experience.

Why take up a cloud migration?

  1. Broadening collaboration capabilities. At the moment, there is no other suite that would offer as many collaboration capabilities as Office 365. Leveraging a multitude of Office 365 collaboration tools organizations can meet employees’ diverse collaboration preferences as well as cover external collaboration and knowledge management needs.
  2. Simplifying maintenance. For many organizations, moving to the cloud means getting rid of server-based infrastructure that requires ongoing support. As Microsoft took up the responsibility for all Office 365 functional and security updates and support, organizations should just follow them to ensure that their deployments are sound.
  3. Bringing collaboration to cloud enterprise solutions. By moving to Office 365, organizations can use a variety of ready-made or custom connectors and expand collaboration across other cloud enterprise solutions, be it a Salesforce CRM, an SAP-based ERP system, or a ServiceNow ticketing system.

Your cloud-related risks

Differences in solutions’ logic. If you got used to the SharePoint On-Premises structure, it can be hard to accept the one of Office 365 at once. As we’ve mentioned, in SharePoint Online, you can find more types of collaboration sites. Besides, there are critical functional differences. For example, the cloud-based SharePoint lacks MySites. So, if your current on-premises deployment has well-developed MySites with employees’ blogs and document storages, you will have to distribute them across Office 365 apps, Delve or SharePoint blogs, OneDrive and SharePoint document libraries.

Collaboration overload. End users might feel confused about the abundance of collaboration tools in the cloud. That’s why you should consider beforehand how to avoid a collaboration chaos and how to make employees use Microsoft Teams, Yammer, SharePoint, Skype for Business, and Office 365 Groups effectively in line with their collaboration needs and your corporate policies.

Management concerns. When it comes to migrating to Office 365, multiple concerns seize SharePoint owners. Some organizations are pulled back by Office 365 ownership and security matters, some of them worry about limited customization capabilities, and some reveal the negative side of ongoing monthly payments.

All in all, if you aren’t ready to accept Office 365 rules, then it’s reasonable for you to look at the third migration option.

Becoming Hybrid

The SharePoint hybrid deployment model started to gain popularity together with the Office 365 advance, as it enabled companies to benefit from both on-premises and cloud worlds. The 2017 SharePoint and Office 365 Survey proves that hybrid deployments are much in demand, so your organization can also choose it as the SharePoint migration goal.

What does hybrid bring?

  1. Getting the power of two environments. Migrating to a hybrid deployment, companies get a unique chance to leverage both on-premises and cloud capabilities simultaneously. For example, they can continue using SharePoint On-Premises to host bulky content, manage deeply customized solutions, and provide employees with the latest collaboration features available in Office 365.
  2. Following compliance and security requirements. Hybrid is the right migration endpoint for organizations that can’t move to the cloud completely due to security or compliance reasons, but want to use Office 365 toolset to manage internal and external collaboration.
  3. Saving migration costs. During a cloud migration, you have to move all on-premises content, customizations, and integrations and adapt them to Office 365 requirements, which can be problematic, time-consuming, and pricey. Going hybrid, you can leave on-premises complexities as they are without trying to put them into the cloud bounds.

When hybrid becomes tricky

SharePoint On-Premises version matters. If you still run an older version of SharePoint On-Premises, thinking about a hybrid solution is unreasonable due to the huge gap between them and Office 365. Microsoft put great effort into hybrid experience within two latest versions of the platform in order to make it easier to use and manage, so choose SharePoint 2013 or 2016 to start your hybrid experience.

Double management effort. Hybrid deployments are the most complex in terms of management, as you have to balance content, features, compliance, and administration within both on-premises and cloud environments. Before going hybrid, make sure your admins can handle the deployment, otherwise look for SharePoint consultants who will take up the hybrid challenge.

Hybrid disruption. If managed inappropriately, a hybrid environment can transform from a business enabler into a headache maker. Data inconsistency, site collections randomly hosted on servers and in the cloud, badly set search are just a few things that can hinder employees’ experience in hybrid SharePoint.

SharePoint Migration Options

  On-Premises Upgrade & Migration Cloud Migration Hybrid Migration
Medium High High
  • Improved SharePoint capabilities
  • Unchanged management methods
  • Low adoption risks
  • Broader collaboration capabilities
  • Simplified maintenance
  • Easier integration with enterprise cloud solutions
  • Synergy of on-premises and cloud environment
  • Security & compliance benefits
  • Lower migration costs (comparing to cloud migration)
  • Multistep migration
  • Optimization is required
  • Functional gap (comparing to Office 365)
  • Different logic of on-premises and cloud solutions
  • Collaboration overload
  • Ownership & management concerns
  • Preliminary upgrade of an on-premises component
  • Double management effort
  • Hybrid disruption

How to tackle SharePoint migration?

Now, let’s take a quick look at the SharePoint migration process itself. Here are possible ways to fulfill a migration project.

Do it yourself or delegate. If you have an in-house team of SharePoint developers and admins, you can migrate on your own.

A DIY migration is risky, though. As many internal projects, it can become a secondary activity for developers to take up in their free time. This way, a migration can become a long-lasting project, while employees will have to use half-baked solutions. If you don’t have available internal specialists, better go for SharePoint consulting and hire an external team to complete the migration project as required.

Use migration methodologies and tools. The larger your deployment is, the more time and effort you have to spend on SharePoint migration.

Fortunately, to make the process faster and easier, you can use dedicated SharePoint migration tools and methodologies from such vendors as Sharegate, Metalogix, AvePoint, Ampio Solutions and more. Remember that tools can’t handle the entire migration but they can help developers speed up particular migration steps. For example, tools enable you to analyze the initial deployment and reveal issues that can affect the migration process or move large content libraries automatically.

Cooperate with Microsoft. Microsoft launched their own free SharePoint migration tool in 2017 to help Office 365 subscribers migrate their contents from SharePoint On-Premises to SharePoint Online or Office 365.

Apart from that, owners of SharePoint 2010 and 2013 can use the SharePoint Migration Assessment Tool (SMAT) to scan your SharePoint environment and identify existing problems before migration. Companies can also benefit from the Microsoft FastTrack migration program that offers the assistance of Microsoft experts during cloud migrations to Microsoft 365, Azure, and Dynamics 365.

Planning is the key to success

SharePoint migration isn’t just a technical but also a strategical task. That’s why without a preliminary planning you risk joining the companies with failed migrations. Once you choose the final destination of your migration, analyze your existing solution and decide how you can optimize it so that end users can see clear migration benefits. Apart from potential technical issues, consider possible adoption challenges and draw up a user adoption strategy beforehand, particularly if you switch from on-premises deployments to the cloud.