Migrating to SharePoint and OneDrive – An IT Pro ‘Best Practice’ Getting Started Guide

Supporting a remote workforce, especially if you haven’t had the time to plan, assess, execute, and support it, can be daunting. Almost all organizations have had this thrust onto their IT departments’ plates for over a year now. Regardless of what your company’s long-term plans are for where your employees will work, it would behoove you to consider Microsoft 365 solutions, including SharePoint and OneDrive, to keep your staff productive as possible. There are many questions and points to consider along the way…Why migrate? What game plan do I need for a successful migration? How do I keep my end-user disruptions to a minimum? Do I need to ‘sell’ this project to stakeholders/management? What, if any, costs are involved? What is the ROI?

Thankfully, Microsoft has worked steadily in this space over the past few years. The best approach is to consider the high-level questions, one by one.

Why migrate?

Well, because. 🙂 Wait…

There are many reasons your company should migrate its files to SharePoint and OneDrive. Users would see increased productivity and daily efficiencies having their files available whenever, wherever. You could have already been in the process of this transition when the landscape started changing. Perhaps your end-users were complaining about the inefficiencies and headaches with having to VPN into the secured, corporate network to access their files. Or you are trying to reduce IT operational costs associated with other third-party file storage vendors. Migrating this content (Box, DropBox, etc) is a breeze today with new Microsoft 365 tools at your disposal. Plus, with Microsoft 365, you have a myriad of security and compliance tools to verify your data stays safe, doesn’t inappropriately leave your company boundaries, and is protected from prying, malicious eyes.

Content stored in SharePoint/OneDrive can be set up with secure sharing policies, Microsoft Information Protection features, information barriers, and full file-level auditing. Every change, revision, addition, deletion across all your SharePoint and OneDrive user accounts are fully audited and available for reporting in the Microsoft Security and Compliance Center. Enabling this feature on traditional file servers can be cost-prohibitive and inefficient. Do you have enough storage available on your Windows file servers to turn on auditing? What performance impacts will users see? You don’t have to worry about any of that…just leave it to Microsoft. Besides these enhancements, with your users’ files stored securely in the Microsoft cloud, your users don’t need VPN or other secure connection software. Any secured device with an Internet connection can be used to access your files. A home laptop, a smartphone, the family tablet…all, with appropriate security features, can be used to seamlessly access that Excel spreadsheet with ease.

What steps are critical for a problem-free migration?

The overall process of migrating your company’s files, potentially terabytes or petabytes (or more? Yikes!) of information, can be daunting. There are many things to consider…What content do you have and where is it stored? What exactly will you move and what will you archive? Do you have any regulatory compliance considerations? How will you get the data from A to B? Did I leave the iron on? 😉

You also must work on the timing of the migration, your end-user experience, and any costs involved in this process.

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Consider your current environment

The first step should be to understand the landscape of your data. You likely have a combination of traditional file servers/shares, third-party storage solutions (Box, Google Drive, etc.) archival storage units, etc. Use this outline to assess your status and your next steps:

  • Where your data is located, and whether you need it. You need to determine what content you have, what you need, and what you don’t need.
  • What content people are using. You’ll also want to understand how people are using your file shares or cloud storage apps in their daily workflows. This will allow you to plan around how people work, causing as little disruption as possible.
  • Who has access to what. You undoubtedly have security permissions set up to protect files from prying eyes. You also have external partners, vendors, etc. to consider. You’ll want to be aware of these measures in place when migrating.
  • How you want to structure things. Once you have an idea of the above, you may want to consider re-designing the logical setup of your file servers. Trust me, this may be the best time to do this!  It may assist your users and their understanding of data to have it more logically laid out. Having fifteen nested folders in a specific tree can be exceedingly difficult to understand and locate, especially for newer employees.
  • Whether you need help. Now, obviously, this can be overwhelming. Everyone in your company will be relying on you and/or your team to not lose anything, or disrupt their workflow for more than, say, 3 minutes, right? :). One possibility to consider is Microsoft FastTrack. Their services can help you get started by taking care of a lot of the legwork mentioned here, giving you back more of your resources to take care of the logical planning and scheduling of your project. They can hold your hand every step of the way including developing a plan and assisting with migrating your files from file shares, on-premise SharePoint farms, and other cloud sharing solutions to Microsoft 365.
Create a high-level timeline and outline the risks

Developing a high-level timeline for your migration will steer you towards a successful migration. You can set cutover dates for your content and users, address any risks involved, and establish guidelines for legal hold, eDiscovery measures, and other security and legal/compliance considerations. It would also be helpful to create a ‘Change Control’ document for upper management. Instilling confidence and robustness in yourself in the eyes of your supervisors/managers will help with the overall change process.

Choose the right tools!

This is paramount. Over the years, Microsoft has enhanced and added file migration tools to their list of offerings to make your job easier. Because diverse types of data will reside in different areas, they will require different tools to get the job done. You can probably get away with having some of your users manually upload their files to OneDrive, while other business groups will have TBs of data, including sensitive IP data, that will need coordination amongst varying groups to succeed.

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Manual Upload: As I mentioned above, some of your users will be able to simply drag and drop their files in File Explorer to their OneDrive website. Really, a piece of cake. Word documents, PowerPoint decks, PDF files, etc. are all easily moved via this method.

OneDrive Sync App: If these similar users have hundreds or thousands of files to migrate, they can avoid developing carpal tunnel syndrome in a matter of hours by utilizing the OneDrive Sync App in Windows and MacOS. Dragging large, nested folders to their OneDrive tree in File Explorer is straightforward and painless. They can let the sync engine upload their important files to the cloud. And you can assure them: by default, all the files they upload will only be accessible by them…unless they explicitly share them with other colleagues or external parties.

SharePoint Migration Tool: The SPMT is used to migrate your files from existing on-premises SharePoint farms to SharePoint Online. This includes document libraries, lists, file shares, etc. If you’re a PowerShell whiz, there are newer cmdlets based on the SPMT migration engine to move files directly from SharePoint 2010/2013 to Microsoft 365!

SharePoint Assessment Tool: This is a trusty tool to run before your migration starts to assess your existing on-premises SharePoint servers for any issues that may come up during the migration.

Migration Manager: OK, this is one of my favorite tools! Available via the SharePoint Admin Center, the Migration Manager lets you install small agents on your existing file servers, create Tasks to migrate your file share data directly to Microsoft 365, and then schedule these Tasks to run based on your established timeline.

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Mover: When considering cloud-to-cloud migrations, Mover is exactly what you need. This online tool allows you to log in to your respective cloud administration accounts and start transferring data from, say, Box to SharePoint using API calls. It’s straightforward but can appear overwhelming. Be sure to allocate enough time to learn the new interfaces after you’ve developed your plan.

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Azure Data Box: If you simply have too much data that would overwhelm your WAN connection to the Internet, you can order Azure Data Boxes from Microsoft. They will ship these devices to you so you can copy your data to them and ship them back. Microsoft will then transfer the contents to Azure and allow you to run PowerShell commands to move the content over to your SharePoint/OneDrive environments. Easy-peasy!

Plan your migration and plan your communication

Every organization has its Zen, its flow. Take this into account when planning when to move your data. Scheduling your hard cutovers for the weekend may be best for your users’ productivity. This will ease in the disruption department. However, it may be best if you plan to start at 9 am. Talk to management about scheduling team-building exercises for this day or the morning. Switch up the plan and expectations for the day, and you’ll have a smoother ride while your users are simply using different parts of their brains for the day. Win-win.

Make sure, whatever you decide, to develop and send out a communications plan to your team, management, and your users. If everyone has been sold ‘the story’ on what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and why we’re doing it, people will be more comfortable with the overall process and will be sympathetic if things go awry. Why they better be…or I oughta…

Get Ready…Get Set…GO!

All right, you’ve done your due diligence, your plans are set, your users are ready…what are you waiting for? Wait, wait. Hold up. I forgot to order pizzas for the migration! No, wait…Oh yes. Another ‘best practice’ that is sure to help you succeed is to create a pilot group. This allows you to trial the procedures and runbook to make sure you catch gotchas before they roll out to everyone! This is key. Knowing your pilot test group was successful will instill confidence in your employees. It’s always helpful when IT is trusted. And remember, you can definitely have a staggered pilot. As pilot process one completes, you start the general rollout of phase one. During the general rollout of phase one, you can start pilot group 2. And so on. Keeping things flowing will enhance your users’ perspective of the overall process. Confidence is key!

Good luck!

Here are some Microsoft websites that can assist you further in learning more about OneDrive and SharePoint:

Migrating to SharePoint Online