Our take on Microsoft's free SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT)

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Microsoft has been tinkering with its free SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT) since it first launched in January 2018 and announced some major additions for SPMT Version 2 (available now) at this year’s Ignite conference in Orlando.

As migration experts, the ShareGate Desktop team decided to test out the latest version of the SPMT so we could give you our overall impressions.

In our never-ending quest to make your migration as simple as possible, we listed everything it can (and can’t) do, and assessed how well it performs—so you can make an informed decision on whether the free SPMT is enough to successfully complete your migration project.

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Our first experience using the SPMT V2

The SPMT is available to all Office 365 subscribers for free. It features a minimalist UI that lets you get up and running quickly. Here’s what setting up a migration with the tool looks like:

SharePoint Migration Tool initial screen

Step 1: Sign in to your tenant.

Microsoft SPMT Sign-in

Step 2: Select your source environment (SharePoint 2013, file share, or JSON/CSV file) and sign in.

Microsoft SPMT select source

Step 3: Enter the URL of your destination site, then sign in. Select the list or library you’d like to migrate your data to.

Microsoft SPMT set destination

Step 4: You can line up multiple migrations by clicking on Add a task and repeating the three steps above.

Microsoft SPMT set other migrations

Make sure to double-check your source and destination before you connect, because there’s no way to navigate back. If you make a mistake, your only option is to close the app and start over.

Step 5: Adjust your advanced settings

On a positive note, the tool provides quite a few options to customize your content migration:

Microsoft SPMT advanced settings

Noteworthy advanced settings include:

  • Enable incremental migration. This option is set to On by default. If you’re running a proof of concept on the SPMT and want to estimate the migration time, note that the incremental mode will flag items skipped on incremental copy as having been migrated. This can give the impression that a terabyte of data was migrated in one minute when really, only a 2MB file was moved.
  • Migrate files created after date
  • Migrate files modified after date

Step 7: Complete your migration

When you’re done tweaking your settings, click Migrate and let the tool run.

Once the migration process is complete, you’ll get reports in the same format as the ones generated during the scanning operation. One thing we noted is that investigating errors is somewhat difficult using only the SPMT’s built-in reporting. We migrated one folder containing seven files and ended up with lots of reports:

Microsoft SPMT reporting

The next step is to save your migration settings for future incremental runs. Once that’s taken care of, the only thing you can do is close the tool. The fact that there’s no option to navigate back to previous screens left us rather unsatisfied.

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What the SPMT can (and can't) do

Microsoft’s free SharePoint Migration Tool is good for simple file migrations from file shares. It also performs well when migrating from a vanilla document library that doesn’t contain any document sets, lookups or custom metadata.

For more complex migrations, however, the SPMT falls short. It doesn’t offer guidance throughout the migration, for example, which is something most businesses look for in an effort to enhance security and ensure data integrity.

From a big-picture perspective, the SPMT lacks some key features. Its reporting capabilities are limited and often hard to understand, and there's no way to bulk manage metadata or migrate customized metadata. What’s more, the tool doesn't allow running multiple migration instances concurrently on the same machine.

Last but not least, the user experience and migration reports could really be given more love. Ideally, the navigation—which can be frustrating at times—will be improved in upcoming versions, but we aren’t getting our hopes up too high: Microsoft’s goal with this tool is to provide organizations with a free option to move to the cloud—end of story.

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

SharePoint Migration Tool cheatsheet

Supported sources

  • File shares
  • SharePoint 2013
  • JSON (new in V2) and CSV files for bulk migrations (see how to format your files here)
  • On the roadmap for 2019: SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2016

Supported destinations

  • SharePoint Online
  • OneDrive

Required permission levels

  • Source: Read
  • Destination: Site collection administrator

Supported items

  • New in V2: Some list templates (see which ones here)
  • Files
  • Permissions (see limitations and further specifics here)
  • Authors
  • Timestamps (date created, date last modified)
  • Metadata: Basic metadata only (more support on roadmap)
  • Content types: currently only native document content types (more support on roadmap)
  • On the roadmap for 2019: Full support for SharePoint 2013 site migration, including metadata, subsites, navigation structure, pages and web parts

Unsupported items

  • Views
  • Alerts
  • Workflows
  • Users and groups
  • Welcome pages
  • Customized metadata fields

SPMT features

  • New in V2: All migration features available via PowerShell cmdlets
  • New in V2: Ability to save migration sessions and resume them at a later date (initial settings cannot be edited)
  • Incremental migration mode
  • Ability to line up multiple migrations. While they’re running, however, no further migrations can be started unless you close the app and reopen it.
  • Ability to migrate to and from specific subfolders
  • Auto-creates vanilla lists and libraries when they don’t exist in your destination site
  • Support for bulk migrations using JSON (new in V2) or CSV files
  • Pre-migration scanning
  • Support for user mappings
  • Filtering options

SPMT limitations

  • No scheduling feature
  • No content export or export to enhance metadata while migrating
  • No bulk editing capabilities
  • Doesn't migrate customized lists or libraries
  • Doesn't support running multiple instances per machine

Performance, logging and support

  • Migration speeds can be affected by several factors, from network and internet speeds to the volume of metadata associated with the migrated content.
  • Review the factors that influence speeds while using the SharePoint Migration API, which the SPMT depends on, and keep in mind that Azure import speeds tend to be highly variable.
  • Logging: CSV and text files on disk, no search or filtering on previous sessions. For flat files on disk, you can use Windows Explorer.
  • Support: No built-in support available for the free SPMT. Support for data migrations to SharePoint Online is available through Microsoft's FastTrack service (paid program).
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