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Preparing for a SharePoint 2013 Upgrade: Defining a Strategy – Part 3

Written by Craig Butler on March 28, 2013

By Janice Uwujaren

Upgrading to SharePoint 2013 without a strategy is like going to battle without a battle plan. You are guaranteeing failure before the battle even begins. You must decide how you will execute an upgrade before you start. Having a well-defined strategy will go a long way in helping you to achieve the outcome you desire, namely a successful upgrade that has minimal impact on your users and environment.

Microsoft has made ambitious upgrades to the SharePoint architecture and these substantial changes mean greater risks and a measure of uncertainty. Though uncertainty can present challenges, it can also create opportunities for maximizing the efficiency and operations of your SharePoint 2013 deployment. This article will discuss how a clear upgrade strategy can help your organization remain responsive, proactive, and most importantly, ahead of the upgrade process.

The main goal of an upgrade strategy is to minimize the risks, such as downtime, that users may experience as you transition from one version to the next. How can you achieve this when upgrading from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013? Microsoft has deprecated, removed, and simplified upgrade features in SharePoint 2013 to ensure the most successful upgrade process. Understanding the new upgrade process, methods, and enhancements can help you decide on a solid strategy.

Your only option for version-to-version (V2V) upgrade is the database-attach method where you are simply upgrading farm content and not configuration settings. The new upgrade process separates the upgrade of database content schema from the upgrades of site collections, which means faster upgrade times for content databases. This method in SharePoint 2013 comes with a few new enhancements for performing site collection upgrades such as:

· The Deferred Site Collection Upgradeoffers a true “SharePoint 2010” interface because SharePoint 2013 supports hosting sites in both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013. Microsoft performed a lot of backward compatibility to ensure that all features in SharePoint 2010 would work in SharePoint 2013

· Site Collection Health Checksare performed to look for common issues such as missing SharePoint 2013 templates or un-ghosted files, that may affect the upgrade process from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013

· Upgrade Evaluation Site Collectionsallow you to test drive site collections in SharePoint 2013 prior to making a final commitment to change

· Three Site Collection Upgrade Throttling Controlsallow you to control site collection upgrades per application pool instance, content database instance or the size of the site

Additionally, Microsoft offers two standard approaches for upgrading databases: read-only databases and parallel database upgrades.

· The read-only databasesapproach allows users to have access to content in read-only mode during the upgrade process. With this method, if something goes wrong during the upgrade process, you can stop the upgrade and switch user-access back to read-write mode.

· The parallel database upgradesstrategy allows admins to perform multiple upgrades at once, thereby reducing the overall time to perform the upgrade. One drawback to this approach is that you need to monitor the performance of the upgrade closely.

These standard approaches are not “one size fits all” because every environment is as unique as a fingerprint. Special requirements or characteristics of your environment, like the use of forms-based authentication or large databases, may require you to consider a hybrid approach, or even embracing an entirely new approach. For example, in the case of large databases, Microsoft recommends that you perform multiple trial upgrades. This is a best practice and a solid way to estimate how long an upgrade will take in your environment so you can plan for downtime accordingly.

Battles are seldom ever won in the battlefield but in the strategic planning before the fight. Hence, a successful deployment of SharePoint 2013 requires the consideration and recognition of many variables to maximize its full features while minimizing downtime. The next article in this series will be a more in-depth discussion on preparing for a trial upgrade.