Migrating file shares to Microsoft 365 – Considerations

I have recently been dealing a lot with customers on their journey migrating on-premises files to SharePoint/Microsoft Teams/OneDrive!

In this blog post I won’t tell you what tools to use or what is the best scenario for you, but rather put some thoughts in your head before making any potential mistakes!

During the pandemic, there’s been a huge increase in organizations moving to the cloud, especially for digital meetings and remote collaboration. Many times in a hurry to keep business moving while working remotely. This also means that security/governance and other important factors of Microsoft 365, wasn’t prioritized from start.

One of these factors – except from above mentioned, are files! Many organizations prohibited use of files in SharePoint/Teams and OneDrive or they let people deal with these possibilities themselves by letting users copy/upload/create files in the cloud.

Above scenarios are common but not exclusive. Nonetheless, you should be aware of the following:

  • Not having files in Microsoft 365 is an option but it limits functionality and benefits like:
    • Co-authoring, versioning, sharing and other great benefits for files
    • Having everything in one place (Teams)
    • The connection of files and chat/collaboration (Teams)
    • Using groups/teams as permission containers for files
    • Using files in private chats in Teams
    • Using PowerPoint live in Teams meetings
    • Store meeting recordings without downloading them locally
    • Use the whiteboard service (after Oct 2021)

Above mentioned are a few and there’s more but you get the gist.

  • If files are allowed in Microsoft 365 there’s other considerations (and risks):
    • Files are located in different environments which makes it confusing and hard to search
    • The risk of having duplicates is big. Users tend to copy information
    • With duplicates there’s a risk of people working with different versions, not knowing which is the correct one
    • Sensitive data could be at risk if security/document policies haven’t been put into place and sharing settings/Microsoft Information Protection hasn’t been configured
    • Files are disorganized and permissions are wrong
    • Lack of user training

So there’s a lot to consider when it comes to files, so what should we do?

As mentioned, there are many scenarios and I won’t tell you what way to go and how to do it step by step in this post. But if you’ve started using files in Microsoft 365 or are about to, there are certain steps you definitely should go through and check off.

  1. Policies, policies, policies

This is a drag, I know, but having policies in place to determine what files/content are allowed in the cloud are important. What types of data do you own and what levels of sensitivity do you have? What levels of security are necessary for the different data types and how are we going to protect it? These are all questions we need to answers to.

Don’t give up or skip this though. Smaller organizations can do this with not too much effort. For larger organizations, just creating a document policy is a daunting task that can take lots of effort and time, but start in segments and work your way forward. You could for example start migrating/using files that don’t contain sensitive information and/or don’t count as a risk if compromized.

2. Plan and configure Security and Compliance

This step is easier if you have step 1 in place. Make sure to configure Microsoft 365 accordingly to your organization’s needs. This include but are not exclusive to:

  • MFA / passwordless
  • Conditional Access
  • Sensitivity labels
  • Retention labels
  • Sharing settings (SharePoint)
  • Utilized services settings and policies like Microsoft Teams, OneDrive etc..

Having control over this, we can make sure that users can login and access the files they need in a securely manner. What level of security you need very much depends on the risk levels you have in case of an incident. This goes for both compliance regulations/laws you might be subject to, or in case of a security breach/loss of data etc..

3. Plan your pre-migration

In all migrations no matter method, there are always a source and a destination.

  • The source: ( this is from where you are migrating )

Just migrating everything as is from A to B is usually not a good idea. Make sure to figure out what files to clean out or archive. Files that won’t be used anymore but shouldn’t be deleted can be archived while others might be purged. There might also be files not allowed to be moved over to the cloud according to regulations/policies. This could be an IT or end user operation or both.

There are also some limitations to consider in Microsoft 365 regarding unallowed file and folder names as well as invalid characters. Another one is the limit of file paths. The entire file path including the file, has a limit of 400 characters. This could cause trouble for your users if you are migrating folders with lots of subfolders and long filenames. Even more so if your users syncronize their files to explorer.

You can read more about those limitations here: Restrictions and limitations in OneDrive and SharePoint – Office Support (microsoft.com)https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/restrictions-and-limitations-in-onedrive-and-sharepoint-64883a5d-228e-48f5-b3d2-eb39e07630fa

Also know how your permissions are set (or not set) on-premises. That takes us to the destination part!

  • The destination: ( where you are migrating to )

Make sure to prepare the destination(s) beforehand. Depending if you are migrating files to Microsoft Teams, OneDrive and so forth, this might very, but overall Microsoft 365 works with files and permissions differently from for example a file share.

– Create teams/groups/libraries beforehand with correct memberships/permissions

– Are you planning to use metadata? This is a whole different story but the questions needs to be raised. If so make sure to plan and configure this accordingly.

– How are memberships and permissions goverened? For example using dynamic groups, third party tools, manually etc..

4. Plan your migration

There’s many different approaches to moving your files to the cloud and many works fine. Although there’s some pointers that you should consider before moving them over:

  • Migrations tools: There are many tools out there that are capable of moving files to Microsoft 365 in a comfortable, easy way, doing verification checks on source, include metadata, add metadata, keep source permissions, check url lengths and so on. I’ve had a great experience so far using Microsoft own free tool “SharePoint Migration Tool” (SPMT), but choose a tool that suit you needs.

Link to SPMT: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepointmigration/introducing-the-sharepoint-migration-tool

  • Some might have less files to migrate and decide to synchronize libraries and drag and drop (copy/paste) files from file explorer. I’ve seen this and don’t recommend doing so unless there are a smaller batches of files. The OneDrive client does a good job normally but when adding lot’s of files at one given point, its slow and unpredictable. If something errors for any reason you could get stuck having moved some files and some files being stuck behind. It also removes metadata from the source like “edited by” and there’s no reports created of the transfer. These are important in order to verify moved files and any errors. If you don’t want to pay for a tool, rather use SPMT instead.

To sum thing up!

It seems to be alot to consider moving your organization’s files to Microsoft 365, and it is. At least if you want to do it in a controlled, secure way that makes sense both for end users and for the people managing the environment. But the benefits you can get from doing it right AND the benefits from storing files in Microsoft 365 overall, will make it all worth it!

If you have any questions, corrections or just want to add anything to above, please let me know!

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