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21 Sep 2017

As part of our company migration from on premise servers to the cloud, we recently took on the task of migrating our data in SharePoint 2016 to SharePoint Online.

Some benefits of SharePoint Online include:

  • Document collaboration and co-authoring allows multiple users to open and edit the same document
  • Users can access the company’s SharePoint from any web enabled device and no longer need to be connected to the network. A very useful tool for when they are working at a client’s site or from home

Step One: Planning

Before undertaking this task, it is important to assess your objective and outline your requirements. This will give you a clear idea of the success criteria and ensure that the solution implemented is fit for purpose.

For us, the objective was to reduce the onsite infrastructure footprint and increase our team’s capabilities through the use functionality only available in SharePoint Online. This migration is a part of our larger project to move on premise services to Office 365. Our requirements were:

  • current functionality and security/permissions provided by the on premise installation be maintained
  • data stored remains within Australia
  • all information and metadata (including document history) contained in the existing SharePoint instance be available in SharePoint Online.

Will SharePoint Online meet your requirements?

Microsoft has documentation and forums that should answer most questions. Their documentation contains information on SharePoint Online, its functionality and features and any infrastructure/technical considerations.

We also encourage our users and clients to take an opportunity to navigate through SharePoint Online to get a feel for it. Ensure you are happy with the solution before undertaking this project.


There are a variety of approaches to migrating to SharePoint Online. These include the four approaches below which we assessed in the context of our requirements and technical ability:

  •  Manually copying files – Moving files yourself one at time.

+ allows you to ensure all files port successfully

- very slow and time consuming

  • Microsoft FastTrack - Microsoft performs the migration for you

+ you don’t have to do it yourself

-  only available to Organisations with a certain user numbers

  • Setting up Hybrid - Setup to use both Online and on-premise server

+ easy transition

- only newly added data gets placed in Online instance

  • Use of a third-party software

+ allows for control of migration

- can incur additional cost for licensing software

We decided to use third-party software Metalogix for a smooth yet efficient transition. Metalogix can migrate all of our document meta data (covering version history and author details) as well as perform a differential migration, meaning that we could do a major migration of data and then a smaller one with any new changes at the time of cutover.

User Impact

The migration’s immediate and future impact on the users needs to be considered and appropriately managed to ensure a smooth transition.

An assessment of the changes in features and functionality should also be performed. Will users need training in the new system? What information will be removed or added? How will these impact their use of the system on a day to day basis? Once you have this information, take the time to share it with your users to aide a smooth transition.

With the change in location from on premise to the cloud, our SharePoint’s URL changed. A quick email to users was sufficient to communicate this. We also added temporary redirects to assist users during the transition.

Step Two: The Migration


An assessment of the old site should also be conducted to determine if there is anything that may cause an issue during the migration. Some software has the capability of running a detailed analysis of the old site to flag these areas.

A few anomalies became apparent when we ran Metalogix through our existing SharePoint2016:

  • Old format sub-sites. Set up using formats that did not comply with current standards, theses needed to be recreated in SharePoint Online
  • Hidden sub-sites. A brief review of the change and access history for these sites showed that migration was not necessary due to the extended period of remaining unused. As a result these were decided not to be migrated.
  • Empty sub-sites. These were only used as placeholders to direct the user to another site. Again these were decided not to be migrated.
  • Our company calendar contained entries dating back to 2009. To ensure that none of the data was lost and the document size did not interfere with the automatic migration, this was manually migrated


Once this assessment was performed, a plan was implemented to execute the migration in a structured fashion. This included the following major tasks.

1.   Notification

Send notification to all users explaining the change, the impact it will have on their activities, the cut-over date, expected outage and any other information (such as change in URL) they may need.

2.   URL Redirects

To point people to the new site, set up a simple redirect and test by temporarily modifying the HOST file on a local computer. As you do not want these to activate until the migration is complete, leave changing the DNS until the cut over has been performed.

3.   Framework

To give Metalogix a framework to upload the data to, recreate the empty sites and sub-sites in SharePoint Online. This will also give you the opportunity to set up SharePoint Navigation ahead of time.

4.   Manual Migration

Now is your opportunity to manually migrate anything previously identified as requiring manual migration. This is where we migrated our company calendar.

5.   Sectional Migration

Plan and execute the migration in sections. Migrating data piece by piece will make the overall process quicker as any errors will not require a re-run of the entire migration. We broke it up into subsites, leaving the largest till last.

Tip: Periodically check that all links work, Documents are in the correct locations and hold the correct metadata, and that all permissions have migrated successfully and are linking to the correct accounts. Metalogix has functionality to assist with this.

Our final subsite was the largest and most heavily used. Due to the size and use, we knew that it would take the longest to migrate and have the highest likelihood of an error occurring. The initial migration ended prematurely leaving approximately 300 documents un-migrated. The failure was due to prematurely cutting over the DNS.

Step Three: Cutover

Once all the data has been migrated, send a notification to users directing them to the new SharePoint Online Site and activate the URL redirects by modifying DNS settings. So that you can continue with the migration, ensure that the computer you are working on is protected from the change by modifying the HOST file.

With the cutover in place and SharePoint 2016 no longer in use, set the SQL database for the on premise SharePoint instance to be read only, preventing any user from updating and adding files.

With all sites, subsites and files migrated, perform a quick differential migration, to discover any changes made to files in the on premise SharePoint instance after the subsites were migrated. Metalogix can run this differential, flag any changes and perform the migration automatically. This is just to ensure that no data has been missed as an additional quality assurance check.

Step Four: Final Review 

Finally, if you have used a third party program like Metalogix, run an Analysis Report on SharePoint Online to ensure that nothing has been missed, migrated to the wrong place or incorrectly created. If they are small errors, it may be worth just moving the file or changing the setting manually. Otherwise, it may be worth re-running the site migration.

Lessons Learned

Our first approach to the migration was to migrate everything in one go. Due to the age of our on premise SharePoint instance, the complexity of the structure and its size, we encountered issues with this approach. A staged migration gave us the opportunity to remove legacy settings and features and recreate these sites with SharePoint Online functionality. It also ensured a smoother transition. 

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