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Choosing your upgrade path to SharePoint 2016

Choosing your upgrade path to SharePoint 2016

by: Sag Baruss

With SharePoint 2016 now available, one of the most common questions I get asked is, "How do I get to SharePoint 2016, and what will the upgrade look like?? Although technically two questions, the answer is, "It depends on which upgrade option you choose.?

At a quick glance, your options are as follows:

1. The Native Upgrade Option: The native upgrade option, provided by Microsoft, relies on a "database attach.? This means taking your existing content databases, detaching them from SharePoint 2013, and attaching them to SharePoint 2016. As they are attached, your content databases will be upgraded and the content will be made available through SharePoint 2016. More information has been provided by Microsoft in this TechNet article, but the most important thing to note is that this option is only available for those with SharePoint 2013.

2. The Parallel or Selective Upgrade Option: This upgrade option involves building a separate SharePoint 2016 environment parallel to your existing SharePoint environment and selectively migrating the content and functionality you want to keep to the new platform.

This migration option provides several key advantages over the native upgrade. First, as the name suggests, it allows for the selective migration of only the content you want to keep. It allows you to shed the content you don't want to keep and the components that aren't supported or that you no longer need.

Second, it allows a direct migration path from earlier versions of SharePoint in addition to SharePoint 2013.

Finally, this option provides a degree of flexibility to customize your migration, making changes to your content and the structure of SharePoint as part of your migration, which I'll discuss in more detail later.

Since it isn't a native migration option, a selective upgrade requires the use of third-party SharePoint migration software and a migration team with experience running this type of upgrade project.

3. The "Office 365 Bypass? Option: This option takes a different approach by upgrading to Office 365 instead of on-premises SharePoint 2016. Office 365 and SharePoint 2016 are currently quite similar from a features perspective, and given the born-in-the-cloud approach Microsoft is taking, some organizations are choosing to access those features by migrating to Office 365.

Since Office 365/SharePoint Online is the first version of the platform to receive new functionality, this approach allows organizations to always have the best of SharePoint and avoid all future "leap-frogging? scenarios from version to version of on-premises SharePoint.

Selecting an upgrade path for your organization
Determining which upgrade path is best for your organization requires you to consider each of the following questions:

Does your current version of SharePoint provide the functionality you need? For those of us who love technology, it's easy to get excited about all the new, shiny things and lose sight of whether the benefits of the new version justify the cost of upgrading. But do you really need the new functionality in SharePoint 2016 to help you solve a business challenge you are struggling with?

For organizations with aggressive SharePoint service-level agreements (SLAs), or those that are struggling to provide a consistent user experience across their on-premises SharePoint environments and in Office 365, the advantages of SharePoint 2016 easily justify the cost of the upgrade. Conversely, if you are currently on a version of SharePoint that is still well-supported (e.g., SharePoint 2013) and meets all of your requirements, then perhaps you are best served to stay where you are for now, and consider the upgrade later.

How complex is your SharePoint environment? In my experience, the more complex the SharePoint environment is, the less likely it is for an organization to feel comfortable with the "big bang? approach of the native upgrade. Comfort aside, organizations with such a complex SharePoint environment might also look to make changes to their content or structure on the way to SharePoint 2016-which they cannot do with native platform capabilities.

This question is important because, in general, the native upgrade option is best suited to smaller, more simplistic SharePoint environments. If you are using mostly out-of-the-box SharePoint functionality, haven't done much customization, and have less than 500GB of data, then you are a good candidate for the native upgrade option.

Do you want to migrate everything? If you've been running SharePoint for a while, have a large amount of data, or don't have strong information-management practices in place, chances are high that you are storing documents you don't need to keep. There is a cost associated with migrating and continuing to keep the content you don't need. Obviously your physical storage costs will be higher, but that extra content also impacts performance, increases your management costs, exposes your organization to additional risk, and impacts your user experience.

The question is whether you'd rather pay to migrate and store content you don't need or spend that money cleaning up your data and investing in proper information management.

What is your cloud strategy? No matter where you are now, you should consider how the cloud fits into your organization's future SharePoint plans. Given the tight integration between SharePoint 2016 and Office 365, it is recommended that you start thinking of SharePoint 2016 as a hybrid platform, offering possibilities available both on-premises and in the cloud.

Many organizations aren't ready to go "all in? with Office 365. However, most organizations have workloads and subsets of their data that are well suited to Office 365 (and if not Office 365 then perhaps SharePoint hosted in the cloud through Microsoft Azure).

Looking at your migration in this way opens up a complete spectrum of hybrid scenarios. It also requires you to think about your SharePoint 2016 upgrade differently, since some of your organization's data and workloads will move to the cloud while the rest stays on premises.

In this case, be sure to select migration software that supports both SharePoint 2016 on-premises and Office 365, allowing you to leverage a consistent migration methodology and toolset for your entire migration.

Are you meeting your legal and regulatory requirements? Most organizations are good at accumulating data, but are not well versed in what they actually have. When asked about which of their files contain critical or sensitive information, they generally don't know. More importantly, if asked how well they are complying with their legal and regulatory requirements, they also don't know.

Proper information management and data governance isn't a trivial undertaking, but is well worth the investment. If your organization is serious about doing a better job of managing your critical data in SharePoint, the upgrade to SharePoint 2016 provides a great opportunity to make some changes.

There is a lot of work you can do now to prepare for your transition to SharePoint 2016. I recommend starting with the list of evaluation questions included in this article. In order to answer those questions, you need to understand how your organization is using SharePoint, your business and technical requirements, and your cloud strategy. With that information, you can begin the planning and pre-implementation work that will need to occur before you begin your organization's transition to SharePoint 2016.

Sag Baruss is the Senior Solutions Architect at AvePoint with more than 15 years of experience designing, implementing and operating services built around the Microsoft technology stack. He specializes in information architecture, enterprise security, and systems management.

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