Things to keep in mind when migrating from SharePoint on-premises to Office 365

Published: Apr 30, 2019

Microsoft’s cloud service Office 365 leverages businesses to enable collaboration and teamwork by providing access to various tasks directly online, like SharePoint, Exchange, Skype for Business, Teams, Power BI, Yammer and much more. The type of features available depend upon the Office 365 subscription a business is licensed to.

SharePoint Online (Office 365) is evolving at pace and businesses need to maximize benefits from features it provides for an effective SharePoint development. As a result, many organizations look for a solution to be up-to-date with how to make its use in an effective way and with as minimum resources as possible compared to SharePoint on-premises.

Getting ready for migration

Many, if not all, SharePoint migrations are deemed as failures by organizations even when the content moves from source to destination. Although the actual migration process is simple to execute, what is a challenge is making sure you’ve prepared pre-migration stuff. There are certain mistakes you need to avoid both while and after the migration process. A bit of planning before actual migration will help you serve your exact needs, which in turn will help administrators to manage SharePoint more effectively.

This blog will walk you through fitting ways to keep in mind while migrating from on-premises to Office 365.

Office 365

Establish a thorough inventory of your on-premise environment

You can make effective decisions and estimates time to be spent for the migration process by preparing a detailed list of everything in the current environment. Though the migration process is a tedious and lengthy process, recording below information makes it easier to plan and adhere to migration deadlines.

  • Site Collections and Sites
  • Lists and libraries (including those lists/libraries which crossed threshold limit)
  • Pages
  • Custom solutions
  • Branding
  • Additional UI customizations (JavaScript’s, custom menus and more)
  • Workflows
  • Content types and Site columns
  • Permissions, and Users & groups
  • User alerts
  • Records
  • Retention policies
  • All files having a dependency to another file using a URL
  • Blocked file types

Perform audit on your old environment

Migrating irrelevant/unwanted data from SharePoint on-premises to Office 365 will not help the cause of a successful migration. You should invest enough time to locate, delete or reorganize data that can eventually help perform a smooth migration.

  • Check and delete orphaned users
  • Delete empty SharePoint groups
  • Reorganize users with explicit permissions back into groups
  • Remove unwanted or unused custom content types, site columns, and workflows
  • Decide for sites that haven’t been accessed or modified and if you still need them in Office 365
  • Ensure you migrate most recent version of the document by asking users to check-in documents currently checked-out, including those that have never been checked-in
  • Locate large site collections
  • Break them up into multiple site collections
  • Locate large sites
  • Promote them into site collections
  • Delete duplicate entries/content
  • Clean up items containing too many custom permissions
  • Delete unwanted versions from your version history
  • Redefine list and libraries with too many columns
  • Reorganize large lists/libraries

Structure SharePoint Online to face migration

Presumably, after up gradation some features of SharePoint On-Premise might not be the same in SharePoint Online but there will be alternate for those features in SharePoint Online. Also, you need to take into consideration different Office 365 plans, each having a set of available features.

It is recommended to do a bit of research and pre-check to make sure the features available in SharePoint on-premises are all in-place in Office 365 and to avoid regret later.

  • Map SharePoint Online architecture with your SharePoint on-premises as far as possible
  • Run a test migration
  • Highlight any unsupported elements
  • Plan for metadata mapping on your content
  • Observe your customizations
  • Convert customizations to work on destination, if required

Supported scenarios to migrate content to SharePoint Online

There are various supported scenarios to upgrade to SharePoint Online.

Copy files manually

This method includes moving files manually to the destination using SharePoint Explorer view. It is the least practical method to carry out migration process, as the items/documents lose all the related metadata such as “Created By”, “Created date”, “Modified By” and so on. This method is least recommended as we cannot have all the items/documents created and modified all at the same time and by the same person carrying out migration process. Thus, the integrity of documents is not persisted, and it doesn’t work for most cases.

Use Office 365 Migration API

Using migration tools to upgrade to Office 365 may sometimes limit larger migrations while in some cases the migration may even stop. Microsoft introduced a newer way of migration Office 365 Migration API for developers to solve this issue. The approach improves migration speed considerably by leveraging Azure. You need to send your content inside a migration package in Azure, where a scheduler/timer job runs to import your data in SharePoint Online.

Though migration API works best with simple migrations having a few lists/document libraries while for larger volumes of migration, it takes too much of an effort and is quite complicated to set up.

Microsoft FastTrack

Microsoft FastTrack facilitates free migration of data from source environment to Office 365. It is available for all customers with Office 365 tenants having 500 or more licenses. FastTrack enables file sharinges across SharePoint Online. It guides administrators with tools and documentation to perform configuration steps for both Office 365 and source environment. Please note that ownership history and previous versions won’t be migrated to Office 365.

Custom Solutions

We can develop a custom utility to migrate content from SharePoint on-premises to Office 365, but the amount of effort, time and support that goes into it is huge and not a feasible approach.

Third-party SharePoint Online migration tools

The most used method to migrate to SharePoint Online is through a third-party migration tool. There are various third-party migration tools available in market. We can choose a tool based on our requirements and amount of content or data to migrate. A third-party tool simplifies migration by reducing time and gets everything done with minimal effort that goes into the migration process.

Communicating with end users

One of the challenges before moving to Office 365 is making the users aware of the change and the end results of the migration. You need to bring to users’ knowledge the reason for migrating to SharePoint Online and the duration during which the process should be taking place.

  • Make sure users are aware of below points before starting migration process
  • Downtime during migration process
  • Reason for migration and end results
  • Possible changes in the environments
  • Changes in URLs
  • Bookmarks
  • Hardcoded references to documents (e.g. Excel macros)
  • Approximate timeline for migration process

Starting actual migration process

The actual migration should not be too complex if you follow above remedies. It will eventually come down to dealing with detail that pops up that wasn’t considered at first place. Once again, you need to make sure each and everything is in its place.

  • Workflows
  • Complete or stop running workflows about to be migrated
  • Scenarios for Migration
  • Migrating from SharePoint on-premises to Office 365

    • Use a third-party tool to granularly migrate to Office 365, considered as most recommended

Post migration steps

Before you let users access to SharePoint, make sure everything is up and running into your SharePoint Online environment.

  • Test your SharePoint Online environment
  • Ensure that migration of content is successful
  • Run/test workflows after migration is done
  • Check user permissions
  • Create a backup of SharePoint Online environment
  • Remove access to SharePoint on-premises

Considerations for custom solutions while migrating to Office 365

It may happen that you end up migrating solutions you no longer need in new environment. Therefore, it is advised to create an inventory of all the custom solutions before migrating to Office 365. A migration is the best time to recognize what you don’t need any longer in new environment and leave behind. Make sure of the dependencies one solution has over the other (farm solutions – WSPs and sandbox solutions) and map those solutions to carry out migration in right order to the target environment.

Create a list of farm solutions in your SharePoint on-premises environment. Although farm solutions work in SharePoint, they can’t be deployed to SharePoint Online. As is the case with sandbox solutions, it is recommended to stay away from them in SharePoint Online. Sandbox solutions with code will discontinue to work and it is best advised to convert sandbox solution artifacts and provision them in add-in/app mode in Office 365.

Key points to take care when migrating to Office 365

  • It may prove to be difficult to convert custom web parts to add-in mode.
  • There is no solution to timer jobs in SharePoint Online. You will have to look at certain alternatives and solutions that can retrieve the same result. E.g. Azure Web Job.
  • You’ll need to rewrite event receivers to retrieve same results as on-premises mode and look for a way to host event receivers somewhere in cloud.
  • You may need to consider cloud offerings such as Azure Web App, PowerShell etc. to deploy declarative artifacts.
  • Instead of using custom fields in SharePoint Online or creating a new field for it, you can consider using Display Templates that can help you retrieve the results you want.
  • Based on selected migration approach, you may require considering into account item IDs in lists and libraries you are using in your logic as item IDs may change during migration.
  • Public facing sites cannot be migrated in the SharePoint Online.
  • The publishing pages can be migrated but they may not work desirably due to changes in the provided master pages, JavaScript and CSS files. Inventory the pages that leverage page layouts and perform test migration.
  • The windows AD users are no longer able to connect the SharePoint Online and to do so it is required to migrate AD users into Azure AD.

Best practices for planning a migration to Office 365

  • Avoid performing migration all at once and work your way by starting with smaller units and then larger and so on.
  • Keep the files and folders in Read-Only mode in Office 365 file share initially during migration.
  • Make a detailed analysis of your existing information architecture before migration and avoid making migrated content look like a web-based file share.
  • Keep in mind that, to users, sites are just hyperlinks they can browse through and it is important to make users believe that the content hasn’t migrated at all.
  • Use a hybrid approach to decrease the change users need to undergo.
  • Report all the content that is being migrated.
  • Group data that share similar metadata and optimize use of content types.
  • Have knowledge regarding effectiveness of SharePoint Online before migrating, thus ensuring a seamless transition.


Organizations worldwide need to make optimum use of the cloud offerings and migrate their business to the cloud, while reducing complexity and controlling cloud expenses. Cloud brings in a lot of positive changes in the way your teams collaborate. Selecting the best approach is probably the most important step in planning migration. So, it’s crucial to do some research and plan governance which best suits your needs.


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