Planning a Migration to SharePoint Online

Planning a Migration to SharePoint Online

There has been a trend towards moving organisational infrastructure to the cloud in the last few years and the move to remote working through Covid-19 has hastened the process. SharePoint Online is the first choice for many organisations needing a best-in-class solution allowing users to store, share and collaborate on content in one, secure space online and from any device. 

Sharepoint Online

Migrating data from on-premise file servers or cloud-based file storage systems such as Google Drive, Box or Dropbox to SharePoint Online are some of the most typical examples we oversee. However, it’s not a simple “flip the switch” exercise. What do you need to look at for a potential SharePoint Online migration? What are the issues and pitfalls? 

The aim of this blog post is to help IT decision makers plan a migration fully. We look at the options available, timescales and considerations at each stage of the migration process.

We are a trusted Office 365 Gold Partner specialising in helping small and medium enterprises. If you’d like to discuss the best options for your business to migrate your files into SharePoint Online, contact us for a free discussion with one of our certified M365 technical consultants.

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When should you move SharePoint Online?

  1. If you’re planning to move your IT infrastructure to the cloud and currently have a traditional on-premise file server, then SharePoint Online should be your first-choice application to migrate that file data into the cloud. 
  2. If you’re already on a non-Microsoft cloud and are planning to move to your IT infrastructure into the Microsoft Cloud, then SharePoint Online should once again be your first-choice application to migrate your file data into. 
  3. Even if you have no plans to move your entire IT infrastructure from on-premise to cloud, just migrating your file data from on-premise file servers to SharePoint Online adds significant value for very little cost.

Why migrate to SharePoint Online?

SharePoint Online offers a reliable, resilient and universally accepted solution for storing your businesses data in one location in the cloud with multiple business benefits as outlined in our blog post, Is SharePoint Online the right solution for your business? What’s more, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business capacity comes as part of even the most basic M365 license plans, and recurring monthly costs for hosting a ‘file server in the (M365) cloud’ are almost negligible.

What to consider before migration?

Planning is the key to successful data migration, therefore here are the key elements for consideration when planning your migration.

Dependencies – integrated applications:

If there are any other applications in your organisation that integrate with your existing file server such as accounting software, CRM applications, ERP applications and code repositories, you will need to check if these applications can integrate with SharePoint Online. If they are incompatible with SharePoint Online, then files related to those applications will need to remain on your current file server.

Dependencies – external users:

If external users such as clients, partners and vendors have access to your current file server, you need to consider if they’ll be willing to switch to SharePoint to continue accessing your business data. It’s usually easier to provide external users with secure access to SharePoint Online compared to an on-prem file server, however, it is nonetheless a change for users and needs to be considered.


File migration may last anywhere between a few days to a few weeks depending on the size of data to be migrated and complexity of the SharePoint setup. Preparing users for the switch to SharePoint is an underrated, yet crucial task in the process and the time required for their training also needs to be factored into project timelines. Consequently, this needs to be planned in advance and realistic expectations need to be set with the various stakeholders involved.

What to consider during migration?

Migration approach: Phased versus cut-over

One of the initial decisions for an IT team tasked with migration is whether to carry out a phased migration and move the businesses data in batches over a period of time or whether to carry out the migration in one hit. 

There are pros and cons to both options, but at Compete366, we tend to favour the one hit approach. A primary reason for this is that the phased approach only works when data boundaries are clearly demarcated across teams. You need to be able to identify and move all data related to a specific team and department, so that they can switch to SharePoint Online in the migration phase. Meanwhile all other teams and departments must be able to continue working on the current file server until it is their turn for migration. 

However, this is rarely the case. A large amount of data is shared across teams and asking a team to use both their current file server and SharePoint Online, till everyone’s data has been migrated, will only result in confusion and data duplication. Thus, it is usually preferable to switch everyone across to SharePoint at once.

Free tools versus licensed tools

Microsoft provides three free tools for migration to M365 depending on the source system: 

  • SharePoint Migration Tool (SPMT)

SPMT supports migration to SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and Teams from:

On-premise SharePoint Server 2010, 2013, and 2016

On-premise SharePoint Foundation 2010 and 2013

  • Migration Manager

Migration Manager supports migration to SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business from Network File Shares

  • Mover

Mover supports migration to SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business and Teams from other Cloud based systems like:

Microsoft 365 tenant to tenant migration, Egnyte, Amazon S3, Azure Blob Storage, Google Cloud Storage etc.

The primary advantage of these tools is that they are free and usually suitable for small-size, batch or in-house migrations. However, for medium to large size migrations, we have always opted for licensed tools such as Sharegate and AvePoint Fly, mainly because they outperform free tools by a fair margin, in terms of the features they offer.

Vendors have a significant amount of experience in optimising these tools, justifying their cost. Some tools are licensed monthly, so if you are planning a cut-over rather than a phased migration, the cost is favourable. Additionally, these tools include several value-added features not available with free tools such as reports. They also allow us to perform certain bulk operations that would usually take a lot of effort, making them well worth the small premium.

DIY versus hire a SharePoint Online expert

Another major decision is whether to handle migration in-house or whether to bring in an external expert. While SharePoint is an easy-to-use platform, setting up the SharePoint environment correctly requires expertise. Your IT support may be able to get the job done if data volumes and the user base are quite small – if they’ve received SharePoint training. However, if you’re migrating larger data volumes, an expert who has successfully executed multiple migrations, will ensure a smooth, incident-free migration. If you have compliance requirements or reputational considerations such as data access across multiple clients, then it is even more important to use someone with the right expertise and experience. Read this Microsoft article for an overview of the Microsoft Manager, this one for how to migrate your content. and finally this post for a summary of how to manage file sharing.

Clean-up and archiving

If sourced to an external consultant, the duration of the migration project as well as the cost of the project are determined by the size of the data being migrated. In any organisation, a large chunk of accumulated file data over the years no longer needs to be retained. Migration to SharePoint is a great opportunity to do some housekeeping and categorise your data into active, archive and marked for deletion. While active data needs to be migrated into SharePoint, archive data can be migrated into either SharePoint or Azure files or Blob Storage. Storing archive data in Azure can be fairly economical, freeing up space on the more premium SharePoint storage allowance.


Whilst not difficult for an end-user, working with SharePoint is different. Users don’t like change, especially when they’re not part of an IT-centric business. Therefore, it’s important to communicate early and frequently throughout the migration process. Both decision makers and end-users need to buy into the advantages of moving to SharePoint and the end-users need to be trained in SharePoint at least a few days prior to cutover. 

In most migrations, while data is being migrated, the impact on business as usual for the end-user is negligible. However, it makes the job of an IT team a lot easier, post-cutover, if users are comfortable with basic operations on SharePoint prior to cutover. The first two to three days post-cutover are absolutely crucial in terms of end-user communication because this is when teething issues are most likely to occur, if at all.

What to consider post-migration?

Backing up SharePoint data 

Assuming the migration has gone to plan and users have settled down, the final task is to put in place a back-up mechanism for your SharePoint data. SharePoint Online has an in-built fail-safe in terms of a two-stage recycle bin to guard against accidental or malicious deletions of data. 

Microsoft also provides disaster-recovery. In the event of a serious incident like a ransomware attack, this allows you to put in a request with Microsoft Support to restore your entire SharePoint environment to the last stable state. However, neither mechanism provides a traditional back-up and restore facility that would allow IT admins to restore data from a specific back-up at the granularity of a file or a folder. This is where third parties have filled the void. Tools like SkyKick Backup provide unlimited, multi-point backups for a small fee and are worth configuring for peace of mind.

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Its vast range of features and capabilities may seem daunting at first. That’s why Compete366 can help make your SharePoint online migration easier for your IT department and your workforce. If you’d like to discuss how to make the migration to SharePoint Online as seamless as possible for your business, please contact us for a free discussion with one of our certified M365 technical consultants.

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