Migrate SharePoint to Microsoft 365: Planning your SharePoint Online migration

SharePoint to Office 365 Migration – Supported Scenarios

This four-part series aims to help you migrate to Microsoft 365 or SharePoint Online by providing all of the necessary steps and available scenarios.

Everyone knows or has heard of Microsoft’s cloud solution, Microsoft 365. It’s a way for businesses to access their Microsoft products or other productivity services directly online. As explored in our new benchmark report, State of Microsoft 365: Migration, Modernization, and Security in 2021, companies are making fewer on-premises SharePoint migrations while increasingly moving to cloud-based Microsoft 365.

Here at ShareGate, we witnessed a corresponding trend among ShareGate Migration Tool users, who completed 37.2% more operations to migrate from SharePoint on-premises to cloud-based SharePoint Online/Microsoft 365 environments.

The features available in your Microsoft 365 depend on the plan your business is subscribed to. In doing research to develop our Microsoft 365 migration tool, I couldn’t really find any step-by-step guides on how to upgrade from SharePoint on-premises environment to Microsoft 365—so I decided to write one!

Planning your SharePoint Online migration

I’ve been searching the Internet to find articles on how to migrate from SharePoint to the cloud and haven’t found much relevant information.

For this reason, I decided to write an article that will focus on the technical aspects of a SharePoint Online migration. However, it’s important to note that even if we’re moving to Microsoft 365, it technically is still a on-premise SharePoint migration, so everything you’ve read about them still applies.

What do I mean by that? Well, first of all, you still need to plan and create a roadmap for your SharePoint migration. But also, having an effective governance plan strategic information architecture will ensure the success of your transition.

I strongly recommend you start by reading the above articles if all this is new to you. A lot of people tend to see governance as some kind of out-of-control monster, but with a little patience and planning, you can keep it simple and have it serve your needs the way you want it to. This will, in turn, help you manage your SharePoint much more efficiently.

Don’t miss anything in your migration: Download our recently updated SharePoint Migration Checklist (2022)

Of course, there is a variable you should be taking into consideration: You’re moving to the cloud. So if you had SharePoint installed on your servers, upgrading to Microsoft 365 means that you may not have the same features available to you.

Consider missing features in SharePoint Online

Even if you’re technically migrating from one version of SharePoint to another, they aren’t exactly the same. First, you have to take into consideration that there are different plans you can subscribe to, each with a different set of available features.

I strongly recommend you do your research and check to make sure the features you were using are still available in your new Microsoft 365 plan.

Of course, this all depends on the migration strategy you’ve established. I always begin by inventorying my environments, then employing my “RMR Strategy”, which stands for “Remove, Migrate, and Rebuild” and helps me identify what to do with each site I have in my collective inventory.

Microsoft has a very detailed article that shows every single available feature in a complete SharePoint service description comparison chart if you want to dig deeper. 

Migrate SharePoint to Microsoft 365 or SharePoint Online: Supported scenarios

After planning your migration and evaluating the available subscription plans, you’ve identified the content you want to move to Microsoft 365. But how do you proceed?

Here at ShareGate, we’ve identified 4 different ways to upgrade to Microsoft 365 or SharePoint Online.

  • Manually copying files
  • Using Microsoft’s SharePoint Migration Tool
  • Using custom coded solutions or a third party tool
  • Hybrid

Manually copying files to Microsoft 365

I included this method because I have to. But it’s important to note that, in my opinion, it’s the least practical way to migrate.

One way this can be accomplished, is by selecting the files using the Explorer View in SharePoint, and moving them manually to the destination. However, by doing it this way, you will lose all metadata as well as the “Created by” and the “Created date”. They will be replaced by the person responsible for the copying, at the time he is doing it.

This isn’t recommended, because you don’t want all your documents to suddenly be owned by one person and all modified at the same date and time.

Using Microsoft’s SharePoint Migration Tool

In 2018, Microsoft released its free SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT), available as a free download to all Microsoft 365 subscribers. Designed to migrate content from SharePoint Server and file servers to SharePoint and OneDrive in Microsoft 365, the SPMT is aimed at IT admins looking for an easier way to bring existing information to the cloud.

The SPMT is good for simple file migrations from document libraries that don’t have any document sets, lookups, or custom metadata. But for more complex migrations, the functionality falls short. Want more details?

Check out our take on Microsoft’s SharePoint Migration tool for a more in-depth analysis of what the SPMT can (and can’t) do.

This is a quick solution developed by Microsoft to make your migration easier; however, it’s fairly complicated to set up, and is only for moving content. You’ll need to prepare the entire environment beforehand for it to receive the migration packages.

Using custom solutions or third-party Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online migration tools

You could develop your own coded solution to move content over to Microsoft 365. But chances are the time, effort, and support that will go into that will be huge.

For more complex migrations and to obtain customized assistance, Microsoft recommends using a third-party tool such as ShareGate.

Hybrid upgrade to Microsoft 365

In this scenario, which isn’t technically a migration scenario per se, we have both environments running: on-premises and the cloud. In this hybrid model, the environments are linked.

Basically, instead of moving your older content to the cloud, the idea is to keep running your on-premises SharePoint and slowly start using Microsoft 365 by creating new sites there, instead of in the old SharePoint.

After this connection has been made, users will be able to navigate seamlessly between the two, not realizing when they are in one or the other.

This way you can have a more seamless transition as you upgrade or move content to the cloud. Granted, it doesn’t provide a way to actually move sites from one place to the other. But in some cases you simply do not need to. Remember the RMR Strategy.

Migrate to Microsoft 365 on your own

Migrating to the cloud is a big endeavor and can bring lots of positive changes to the way an organization collaborates. Choosing the right way to get there is probably the most crucial step, so it’s important to do extensive research on which method best suits your needs.

The manual migration scenario simply doesn’t work for me, as the integrity of the documents isn’t kept. The SPMT is a quick and easy way to move your content from a source to a destination if you don’t have custom metadata.

The hybrid scenario is great, and I strongly recommend you use it during your transition. However, it provides no real solution to move your content over. Your best bet would definitely be to use a custom solution or a third-party migration tool like ShareGate that can get everything done with minimal effort.

Bonus: Get a 15-day full-featured free trial of the ShareGate Migration tool. You can do a free Source inventory analysis to get your migration project started

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