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The benefits and challenges of migrating to SharePoint Online

Moving to SharePoint Online has its upsides -- like someone else managing your patches -- but there are also logistical and technical considerations, according to expert Brien Posey.

During the past several years, Microsoft's marketing department has been doing everything possible to convince...

customers to migrate to the Office 365 cloud. These marketing efforts seem to be effective, as a recent Gartner survey indicated that about 78% of the 461 survey respondents were either already using Office 365 or were planning to in the near future.

From a SharePoint perspective alone, there are several very compelling reasons to consider Office 365. For starters, migrating to SharePoint Online can free administrators from the chore of performing patch management on SharePoint servers. Microsoft handles all of the server maintenance for SharePoint Online, including patch management.

SharePoint Online is also often bundled with other Office 365 products. These products may include OneDrive for Business, Skype for Business, the Office Applications or major Microsoft server products, such as Exchange Server.

Yet, there are still challenges -- both logistical and technical -- to migrating to SharePoint Online.

Logistical challenges tend to be related to the actual data migration. For example, an organization may determine that its existing site structure, permissions structure or even its approach to SharePoint governance is not conducive to using SharePoint Online. As such, it is important to objectively evaluate an existing SharePoint deployment to determine whether any restructuring will be required prior to beginning a migration.

Another barrier to SharePoint Online migration is the cost: While Microsoft offers subscriptions, the cost varies based on the organization's Office 365 plan. The rates tend to be quite reasonable, but a subscription still represents an ongoing expense. In essence, subscribers are leasing server hardware and SharePoint licenses, as opposed to purchasing them. While it is true that this approach can save an organization from having to make a large Capex investment, a SharePoint Online subscription will probably end up costing more than an on-premises deployment in the long run.

It is important to objectively evaluate an existing SharePoint deployment to determine whether any restructuring will be required.

Migrations to SharePoint Online can also be fraught with technical issues. One of the first steps in the process, for example, is domain verification. Domain verification is the process through which Microsoft verifies that an organization actually owns its domain name. Microsoft accomplishes this by instructing the organization to create a special record on the DNS server that is associated with the domain. Microsoft then checks for the existence of the record and treats confirmation of the record's existence as proof of domain ownership.

The domain verification process normally goes smoothly, but there have been situations in which an organization, which had previously set up a trial subscription to either Office 365 or Azure, accidentally assigned their domain name to the trial subscription. In these types of situations, it can be difficult to reclaim the domain name for use with SharePoint Online.

Perhaps the biggest technical issue that can derail a SharePoint Online migration is directory health. Migrating from an on-premises SharePoint deployment to Office 365 commonly involves setting up directory synchronization and federated identities. However, common Active Directory health issues can cause problems with the directory synchronization process. Fortunately, Microsoft offers a free tool called IdFix that can be used to detect and correct Active Directory health issues that otherwise have the potential to derail the migration process.

How SharePoint Online affects bandwidth

Yet another issue that must be considered is the impact that migrating to SharePoint Online will have on an organization's bandwidth as data is moved to the cloud. The ongoing use of SharePoint Online also consumes bandwidth, although to a lesser extent than during the migration process. Microsoft provides a free tool called Microsoft Network Monitor that admins can use to monitor SharePoint Online's impact on the network.

Although the transition to SharePoint Online often goes smoothly, significant challenges can derail the planning or migration phases. The best way to avoid these types of issues is to establish a comprehensive migration plan, and then test every possible aspect before beginning the actual migration.

Next Steps

Five things to consider before moving to SharePoint Online

Is a move to SharePoint Online right for your company?

SharePoint Online and the Office 365 roadmap 

This was last published in January 2017

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