You Cannot Over-Plan for a Move to a Hybrid Model

During the inaugural #CollabTalk show on IT Unity this morning, one of the topics we discussed was hybrid SharePoint deployments, and how the messaging out of Microsoft has been an about-face, with more than one third of the sessions at the previous SharePoint Conference focusing on the on prem or hybrid story. One of the comments I made was its no longer a story about upgrade or migration to the next version, but about a transition toward the cloud – and for some, it could be a very long transition. Some organizations are still trying to realize business value out of the investments they’ve already made, and are not yet ready to make additional investments in the3 cloud – no matter how appealing the new capabilities. As the panel agreed today, taking the next steps forward toward the cloud should be based on sound business planning. In short, do what is right for your business, your end users, and your customers.

For those organizations who have decided to make the move to the cloud, Office 365 has become an increasingly attractive platform. But even with the leading SharePoint-to-SharePoint and file share-to-SharePoint solutions, Office365 migrations remain a complex migration activity. Most third-party tools focus on one aspect of the migration (SharePoint content) but fail to provide and end-to-end solution (email, file shares, site structure), leaving it up to the end users to slowly (and manually) migrate their workloads to the new system. Migrations are never as quick and simple as you hope them to be, but having the enterprise-scale tools in place to assess your migration, do the heavy lifting, and then organize and automate management and governance once you’ve moved, can greatly reduce the risks inherent within migration activities.

Of course, having the tools is just part of the solution — you still need to do some planning, and have people around you with experience managing the task at hand. When I started working with internal and external customers to plan out their migrations while still with Microsoft, I always started the process with a catalog of content and solutions. While the desired end state (hybrid) is slightly different than what I was working with while still inside the company, my advice to my customers while at Microsoft has not changed much:

  • Identify and prioritize the workloads to be moved. Clarify the business benefits of each workload, and employ a phased approach. Recognize that there may also be some workloads that should remain (at least for the near future) within your on premises environment, such as a ticketing system, or a highly customized product development platform. Be aware of the customizations within these workloads — understand which use cases can be supported today, and move remaining workloads across as your cloud platform matures.
  • Clarify the relationship of data and content between platforms. If you are planning to maintain a hybrid platform, think about the need for data or content to be correlated (synchronized) between environments, and how each will be managed. Have a clear understanding of how data, roles, and permissions are shared between on prem and cloud — throughout the transition if temporary (phased migration) or ongoing if planning to maintain a hybrid environment.
  • Identify the governance, compliance, reporting constraints. An underlying problem with SharePoint deployments, in general, is that organizations do not make a sufficient effort in defining success metrics, and methods for monitoring activity against those metrics, up front. It is important that you develop a governance strategy for both the old (on prem) and new (cloud) platforms, understanding (and documenting) how they will be managed individually, as well as together as a single platform. For many organization, one of the primary constraints of moving to the cloud is not necessarily the technologies (although there are some limitations, for sure) but in the inability to manage SharePoint Online the same way as on prem.
  • Define how end users will be transitioned. At the end of the day, no migration will be successful if your end users do not adopt the new platform. When your use cases have been defined, your data and content requirements are being met, and your governance strategy is in place, you also need to consider the end user experience. What is your plan for transitioning users to your new system? Prioritize your use cases, and work with your end users to transition to the new model — providing training and feedback loops, so that you can learn from the process and improve the model for future workloads.

The main message here is that moving to the cloud is never as simple as pulling out a credit card, signing up for an online service, and adding people’s emails. It requires thoughtful planning — and a lot of heavy lifting. My advice: go in with your eyes open, and don’t skimp on the planning activities. What may appear to be high planning costs up front will save you money and headaches further down the road.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.