Understanding file server migrations to Microsoft 365

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Understanding file server migrations to Microsoft 365

In my opinion, there is only one viable migration path to move data from old file servers to Microsoft 365: it has to be a user-engaged migration. IT people always ask me about tools–stuff like the SharePoint migration tool or Microsoft’s recent acquisition of mover.io, and there are even fancier tools like those made by ShareGate and AvePoint. But you must understand: copying files is a really small piece of the overall puzzle.

Tools is the easy part. Your biggest hurdles are going to be related to people. Yet it is imperative to get users engaged from the start in order to accomplish a few things:

  1. Clean out old, dead data
  2. Identify the best structure and corresponding governance for collaboration moving forward
  3. Help everyone learn the new apps: OneDrive, Teams and SharePoint
  4. Migrate the (active) files they care about most into the new structure

IT has a slightly different role here than in other migrations, and it is nothing like when you moved Exchange On-Prem to Exchange Online.

User-driven migrations

User-engaged migrations are the right approach because nobody knows the data better than the people who work with it every day. End users also have a responsibility to learn the new information system that they will be working in from here forward.

If you do not involve the data owners up front then you will not have a successful migration, or, more importantly, a successful adoption. Adoption occurs when everyone “gets it” and loves the experience of working with their new technology. They adopt it as their own. This takes time–there is a learning curve that everyone has to move through for themselves.

When IT does everything for you, the chances of successful adoption are very low. And as an end user, you can easily blame IT for everything that is “wrong” with the new system.

The adoption process should be spearheaded by the business leaders–the management team and other top stakeholders. “Digital transformation” works best when leaders are doing their job and leading the efforts among the general employee population.

Now that is not to say IT has no role to play—they do! For starters, they have to lead the leaders! They must help the stakeholders understand the capabilities and limitations of the new tools, the governance options, and the parameters around relocating data into one of four major buckets:

  • Dead files should be deleted*
  • Personal data lives in OneDrive
  • Departmental and project-based files will live in Teams
  • Company-wide files generally live in SharePoint

If it is static (unchanging) and hasn’t been used in years (especially if nobody can even recall what it’s for), it’s dead = delete. You can direct users to start on this task immediately, before moving one bit or byte into the cloud. That makes migration of useful files easier, later.

Personal data locations such as a “home drive” or “user drive” will go right into OneDrive for Business. This is actually the most important piece of the puzzle, and we’ll talk about why in an upcoming post.

If it is active and undergoing regular updates, or it is a core piece of current workflow within or between departments, then Teams is probably the best home for it. But since this is a chat-based work-space that will likely have a slightly different structure than your file server, migration is often done manually, by the people who own (and understand) the data.

Company-wide files are usually more static but still referenced from time to time; these are probably better suited for SharePoint (and are dealt with later in the migration process, most often using a migration tool).

But do the users really have to get involved?

Yes. The cloud is all new, and completely unlike your old file server. It isn’t possible to swap this system out overnight and have essentially no change in the end user experience.

Question: What happens when we introduce a ton of changes without any warning or context?

Answer: Pain! So much pain!!

Now many IT people will say, “But my users are too dumb/lazy/insert other excuse here…” or “I can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink…

—Sorry, all I heard you say was that you are an ineffective leader.

The fact is, every person who works with data is a participant in building the best system that works for them. Users are already data owners—they are responsible for their data and therefore they need to pick up the reins. It’s up to you, the technology leader, to guide them.

Selling the dream: STOP/START mentality

Your first responsibility here is to help the leaders in the organization and by extension the general user population understand how the new collaboration tools are better than that dusty old file server. STOP doing it the legacy way and START using the new hotness. Why is it important to make this shift?

It starts with cultivating an understanding of “What’s in it for me?

Remember: this is a marathon, and not a sprint. Therefore, think of the migration as a team sport: you’re simply passing the baton. IT is going to help get everyone started down the right track, but it is ultimately up to the end users to finish the race. Having them participate in the migration process from the start is one of the best ways to do that.

This was just an overview to get you oriented in the new space. This same framework, along with more particular step-by-step guidance, will be included in my Microsoft 365 Business Migration Guide–which will be a significant update and expansion on my previously published guide centered on Microsoft 365 Business for the SMB. Stay tuned for that.

*Did I stutter? No. I said delete (unless subject to specific compliance requirements that state otherwise). People may want to archive other old data files to external media or NAS if they enjoy hoarding, or keeping themselves open to unnecessary risk. Either way, dead data doesn’t belong in the cloud.

Comments (18)

  • Frédéric Dos Santos Tavares Reply

    Brillant article!

    January 21, 2020 at 9:25 am
  • Chris Claessens Reply

    Nice approach Alex :-)!

    January 21, 2020 at 10:34 am
  • Oleg K Reply

    Thinking about users i wonder what is actually harder to deal with – dumb/lazy users or the opposite, very active users who are in love with their 15+ levels of folders with super long and complicated names not wanting to give up at least one level to make it flatter :) It is hard to sell that to them because “no, this project has to be in this program folder and program folder should be in that region folder and in this year folder and so on”. You can tag or label, but they are too used to visual segregation by folders.

    January 21, 2020 at 1:33 pm
    • Alex Reply

      Berate their intelligence and tell them that they are faster at being slow. Congrats. When they are ready to take digital transformation seriously you will be waiting for them with Teams, where the Team represents whatever deep nested folder eventually contains data in the old file structure. Instead of clicking 15 times, they can click once or twice–on the Team/channel they need to go to. Or use search to pull it up, again in a fraction of time. They will resist, yes. But resistance is futile.

      January 21, 2020 at 3:49 pm
  • Sebastian Reply

    Good read and nice slides! How do you deal with AAD registered (not joined) devices on W10? Such device might be compliant. CA will let it through. But then controls we can enforce on a registered device are way more limited than on a ADD joined device (like limiting OneDrive SyncEngine). How to disable or scope AAD registered W10 device in the tenant? Any idea?

    January 22, 2020 at 4:31 pm
    • Alex Reply

      Check out my article that describes the device states. Whether a device is joined or registered you have the same exact level of control with regard to Conditional Access, because Intune can manage either joined or registered devices just the same–it isn’t the registration or join that gives you leverage/control–it’s the fact that it is enrolled with Intune for management. And that can happen whether the device is joined or just registered. The CA control is called “compliant device” meaning the device is compliant with Intune policy (does not reference registered vs. joined status).

      January 22, 2020 at 4:39 pm
      • Sebastian Reply

        Thanks Alex! This is a missing setting in Intune – just to make distinction at the device state level. If users can join and register their devices (which is on by default and can’t be set independently), then W10 registration creates a serious gap in DLP. Considering the joining/registering process thru Settings>Accounts – one click on a wrong place makes the difference… If blocking OneDrive Sync Client is set based on CA (I don’t’ know other ways to restrict it) and this condition doesn’t differentiate between those two device states (both are compliant), then company data leaves forever on a personal AAD registered W10 devices. I anticipate your advice: enable WIP. Ok. Are you able to allow the new Edge Chromium to WIP (=to enforce WIP block in Edge)? I’m not.

        January 23, 2020 at 7:10 am
        • Alex Reply

          So here is the thing–if you have a registered device that you are managing, then how is that different from an AAD joined device? I would argue it is not. You would impose the same exact security measures against either to have them meet compliance, yes? So then what is the problem? You have basically adopted the personal device. You can encrypt that device, wipe the whole device if you need to–that would have to be communicated as a real possibility of course. However, another option is that you can block the enrollment of personal devices–that means only corporate devices that you populate into Intune under the corporate device identifiers could be enrolled.

          January 23, 2020 at 11:02 am
  • Alex Reply

    Amazing article.. It just say so well what i have been trying to communicate for years. Many of these well put statements can be used in a upcoming migration project of ours. Thank you so much for taking the time to do these.

    January 23, 2020 at 2:24 am
  • Khaled Nafea Reply

    thanks for your article .. one question regarding storage for teams (groups) how its calculated .

    February 10, 2020 at 7:56 am
    • Alex Reply

      You can review how much storage is consumed via the SharePoint admin center under active sites. Also, you can set quotas per site as well, as needed.

      February 10, 2020 at 9:31 am
      • Khaled Nafea Reply

        Thanks for your reply , for me its clear size for overdrive and SharePoint online but teams (groups) not clear to make needed plan for migration from File server to teams.
        set quotas is good but what is storage size (limitation) i have for teams for better plan the migration.

        February 11, 2020 at 1:51 am
        • Alex Reply

          Subscription includes 1 TB per OneDrive expandable to 5 TB, and 1 TB of shared space for the whole company in SharePoint/Teams, plus additional 10 GB per licensed user. If you are taking the exercise seriously of only bringing the stuff that is actually being used/referenced this should be more than enough for majority of orgs.

          February 12, 2020 at 8:46 am
  • Alex Mærsk Reply

    There are some limitations to SharePoint (Teams/Onedrive) which can be overcome with technologies like Azure Files. If you agree, how/when would you use that? (Maybe calls for another article)

    February 12, 2020 at 7:02 am
    • Alex Reply

      I generally recommend that people migrate their data using knowledge of the limitations during the migration. That way they don’t have to tie themselves to any kind of legacy SMB file system, on-prem or in-cloud. But the only thing that REALLY ties people down, other than unwillingness to embrace the future and discard of legacy structures that suck, is LOB apps that rely on SMB file shares. That’s it. So if you can do away with those apps, and move to SaaS, then you don’t need to consider Azure files, Windows Virtual Desktop, or any other tether to the past. Don’t just relocate what you did in the past to the cloud–transform instead.

      February 12, 2020 at 8:40 am
      • Alex Mærsk Reply

        Thanks Alex. Good answer, to which i agree very much. We’ll have to see how we can embrace this the best in our future migrations.

        February 13, 2020 at 1:32 am
  • Dylan Reply

    Is there a way to automate the set up of the users home directories using OneDrive?

    February 21, 2020 at 12:41 pm

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