For the best web experience, please use IE11+, Chrome, Firefox, or Safari

What is a SharePoint migration? Types and benefits

What is a SharePoint migration?

SharePoint migration is the process of moving from one SharePoint environment to another one. It can involve transferring files (current and previous versions), lists and libraries, site structure, workflows, permissions, metadata, and other crucial elements. Key criteria for success include maintaining data fidelity and integrity, minimizing downtime and disruption for users, ensuring strong security, and driving user adoption.

What are the types of SharePoint migration?

The core types of SharePoint migration are:

  • On-prem to on-prem — Moving from an older version of SharePoint of SharePoint Server to a more modern version
  • On-prem to cloud — Migrating from on-premises SharePoint to SharePoint Online (a part of Microsoft 365)
  • Cloud to cloud — Migrating from one online SharePoint environment to another
  • Non-SharePoint to SharePoint — Migrating to SharePoint from another platform, such as Lotus Notes, QuickPlace/Quickr or Domino.Doc

What are the benefits of SharePoint migration?

Migrating to a newer version of SharePoint Server or SharePoint Online can be a huge win-win for organizations, enabling them to enhance user productivity while strengthening security. Indeed, a SharePoint migration is a prime opportunity to:

  • Archive stale content — Removing clutter helps users find what they need more easily and reduces the attack surface.
  • Address sprawl — Over time, sites and subsites can outlive their usefulness, and similar or duplicate sites can crop up. Moreover, as the organization grows and changes, the original site structure may no longer serve the business’s current needs. As part of a migration, you can redesign the information architecture to improve the user experience. Of course, you need to be sure to retain all data required for legal or regulatory purposes.
  • Take advantage of new capabilities in SharePoint ServerMicrosoft SharePoint Server 2019 introduced the modern SharePoint experience, including:
    • Communication sites
    • Modern lists, libraries and enterprise search that provide a consistent user experience across SharePoint, Windows and OneDrive.
    • OneDrive and personal site OneDrive sync 
    • Personalized SharePoint home pages that give users unified access to all their sites, both on-premises and in the cloud
    • SharePoint mobile app
  • Take advantage of new features and capabilities in SharePoint OnlineMigrating to Microsoft 365 offers even more benefits, and Microsoft is constantly enhancing the online SharePoint experience. In particular, you can take advantage of Microsoft Teams, which uses SharePoint under the covers. More broadly, you gain the business benefits of a cloud platform, including anywhere access to support the modern workforce, easy scalability and reduced management overhead.
  • Reduce costs — Cleaning up your environment reduces management overhead. Migrating to SharePoint Online delivers even more cost savings by eliminating tasks related to platform updates and other maintenance, as well as the expenses associated with an on-prem installation.
  • Reduce risk — Migrating away from a SharePoint version that has reached end of life is essential for security and compliance; you need to use a version that receives regular feature and security updates, bug fixes, technical documentation updates, and technical support. But even if your current SharePoint version is still supported, migrating to the current on-prem version will give you better security capabilities, and migrating to the cloud will give you the most modern security features, which Microsoft is constantly enhancing.

What are the steps in a SharePoint migration?

The key steps in a SharePoint migration include the following:

  1. Choosing a migration methodology — Migration is a complex and time-consuming process that many IT pros have little experience with. Consider whether it makes sense to perform the migration in house or to engage an experienced partner. In addition, carefully weigh the benefits of using a third-party migration solution; they often deliver a sound return on investment by minimizing the time, effort and risk involved with manual processes and native tools.
  2. Assessment — Evaluate the current SharePoint environment, identify content to be migrated, prioritize it based on importance and relevance, and identify integrated systems and other dependencies that need analysis and planning. Also be sure to check for features that have been deprecated, as well as new functionality on the target platform that you can take advantage of.
  3. Cleanup — Clean up unused and duplicate data, organize content, resolve any issues with metadata, and ensure compatibility with the target SharePoint version.
  4. Planning — Develop a detailed migration plan that includes tasks, schedules, roles, responsibilities and contingencies. For more details, see the section on migration planning below.
  5. Testing — Thoroughly test the migration process in a staging environment to root out potential issues. Be sure to resolve them before proceeding to the next step.
  6. Pilot migration — Conduct a pilot migration with a small subset of data to test the migration process, validate settings and identify issues. Note that the pilot migration should not be used for performance throughput calculations.
  7. Production migration — Execute the migration jobs as planned. No matter how thorough your testing was, be prepared for errors and warnings. Keep in mind that sometimes you have to retry a migration for it to succeed.
  8. Validation — Check that the migrated content appears correctly in the target environment and that permissions are correctly applied. Also be sure to verify functionality, especially for the integrations and dependencies identified earlier. Address any issues that you uncover.
  9. Decommissioning — Once you’re sure your migration has completed successfully, you should decommission your old SharePoint environment to reclaim hardware, reduce your attack surface area and minimize IT overhead.
What are the steps in a SharePoint migration?

How to create a SharePoint migration plan

SharePoint migration planning can be time-consuming, but every minute you invest will pay off in the long run. Be sure to include all of the following core tasks:

  • Solicit input with stakeholders — Identify everyone who has a stake in migration requirements or outcomes, including management, legal teams, compliance officers, helpdesk technicians and business users.
  • Define and document your objectives — Clearly outline the goals of the migration and the criteria for success.
  • Choose your migration approach — Select your migration strategy based on factors like data volume, environment complexity, source and target locations, and your specific business requirements. At a high level, there are two core approaches: a big bang migration that moves everything at once and a phased migration that proceeds in steps. For all but the smallest SharePoint environments, a phased approach is generally recommended to reduce risk.
  • Define roles and responsibilities — Define roles for key stakeholders involved in the migration, such as project managers, IT administrators, content owners and end users.
  • Develop a timeline — Create a detailed timeline for the migration, including preparation, testing, execution and post-migration activities. Be sure to take business needs into account; for example, avoid migrating the accounting team’s resources during their busy quarter-end period.
  • Prioritize critical data — Identify vital content, such as critical business data and frequently accessed files, and prioritize its migration to minimize disruption to business operations.
  • Plan for data that will not be migrated — Be sure to develop a detailed strategy for content that you want to keep but that cannot or should not be migrated.
  • Identify risks and mitigation strategies — Identify risks like data loss, downtime and performance issues. Then develop strategies to mitigate them, such as backup plans and rollback procedures.
  • Training — To ensure quick adoption of the new SharePoint environment, plan effective training for all users. Make sure support teams are sufficiently educated and staffed.
  • Communicate — Build a comprehensive communication strategy to keep all stakeholders informed with relevant and timely communications about progress and expectations, as well as any updates or changes to the plan. Be sure your strategy details the audience, method (such as email or meeting), objective and frequency, as well as who is responsible for which communications.
  • Security — Ensure that permissions are correct in the source environment before you begin and that they are mapped accurately to the target environment. Also ensure that your migration tool and partner adhere to strong security standards.
  • Plan for post-migration management — A critical but often overlooked part of planning is ensuring you have proper SharePoint governance tools and processes ready for the target environment.
How to create a SharePoint migration plan

Which SharePoint migration tool to use

When selecting a migration tool, consider the following factors:

  • Compatibility — Obviously, the migration tool must support your current source and target environments. But also consider whether it will handle your future SharePoint migrations.
  • Deployment options — Some tools need to be installed on premises while others offer software-as-a-service (SaaS) flexibility and convenience for remote IT teams.
  • Functionality — Carefully evaluate the capabilities of the migration tool. Be sure to look for comprehensive pre-migration analysis, support for your desired migration methodology, and effective reporting for the migration team and other stakeholders. Also be sure to consider scalability and performance.
  • Ease of use — An intuitive user interface and streamlined workflows will simplify the migration process and minimize the learning curve for the migration team.
  • Security and compliance — Verify that the migration tool adheres to security best practices by using encryption and other data protection methods, and that it supports any applicable regulatory requirements.
  • Support — Check out the documentation, tutorials and other support resources available to help with the entire migration process. Furthermore, assess the expertise of the tool vendor and the availability and responsiveness of their support team.
  • Repeatability — If your organization anticipates many SharePoint migrations in the future, perhaps because of frequent merger and acquisition (M&A) deals, you will get a great deal of benefit from establishing a repeatable migration process.
  • Trust — When you’re migrating business-critical data and workloads, you need tools and experience you can count on to get the job done right and on time.

What does the SharePoint Migration Tool do?

The Microsoft SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT) is a free tool for migrating content from an on-premises SharePoint environment to Microsoft 365. Note that all SPMT functionality is also supported in Microsoft PowerShell. Key features include:

  • Pre-migration assessment — SPMT 4.0 and higher can scan your source sites for potential issues and resolve them before starting your migration.
  • Site migration — SPMT can migrate out-of-the-box SharePoint sites that don't use any coding or third-party tools. You can migrate a single site or include its subsites, and you can modernize site structure during the migration.
  • Content migration — Supported content includes SharePoint lists, document libraries and workflows.
  • Bulk migration — You can list multiple sources in a CSV or JSON file and upload that file to SPMT.
  • Tracking and reporting — Migration teams can monitor the progress of the migration in real time and generate detailed reports on job status, errors and warnings.  

Microsoft offers add-on licensing for cross-tenant OneDrive migration. It moves content from the source to target, leaving behind a redirect link on source; incremental and delta migration passes are not supported. A cross-tenant SharePoint migration feature is currently in private preview.

What permissions are required for SharePoint migration?

The account performing the migration needs to have appropriate permissions to content in the source and destination SharePoint environments:

  • In the source environment, you need SharePoint credentials that have read access to the content you plan to migrate.
  • In the destination environment, the following Microsoft 365 admin center roles are required:
    • To migrate at the organization level, you must be a Global or SharePoint Admin.
    • To migrate at the site collection level, you must be a Site Admin for that site collection.

What are the limitations of SharePoint migration?

The limitations on SharePoint migration depend on where you are migrating to, how much customization you have in your source environment and which migration solution you are using.

For example, when migrating to the cloud, you need to consider:

  • Storage, number of sites and number of users — These limits vary by the type of Microsoft 365 subscription you have.
  • File size — Each file (or file attached to a list item) uploaded cannot exceed 250 GB. At the other end of the spectrum, zero-byte size files are not migrated.
  • Number of file versions — Selecting all file versions rather than a limited number of versions can dramatically increase migration time.
  • File path length — The entire decoded file path, including the file name, cannot have exceed 400 characters.
  • Naming limitations — Almost all characters and strings can be used in file and folder names, but there are a few exceptions.
  • Throttling — Microsoft uses SharePoint throttling to limit the impact of uploading content and thereby protect the reliability and availability of the SharePoint Online service. Throttling cannot be disabled or suspended, and the throttling rules are dynamic and can change without notice. Migration service providers are required to back off when throttling notices are sent. To avoid throttling, aim to schedule migration jobs during evening and weekend hours for your region.

Specific limitations of Microsoft SPMT include the following:

  • There is no support for migration of customized pages.
  • Not all types of web parts are supported.
  • Site navigation can be migrated only if it matches a predefined template.
  • The disk space available for the migration working folder must be adequate for the size of your source file.
  • To migrate some web parts, you need to allow users to run custom scripts on personal sites and self-service created sites in your Microsoft 365 tenant.

Start your free trial today!

Migrate directly to SharePoint, OneDrive for Business, or Office 365