SharePoint 2010 vs. SharePoint 2013: Small Step or Big Jump?

SharePoint 2010 vs. SharePoint 2013: Small Step or Big Jump?

Greetings from Las Vegas, where I'm presenting at SharePoint Connections and anticipating the Microsoft SharePoint Conference, for which I’ll be back here in Vegas in 10 days. In recent weeks, roadmaps for moving to SharePoint 2013, Office 365, and Office 2013 have been a major theme of my discussions with customers.

In particular, enterprises are wondering if and when they should move forward with SharePoint 2013—a question that becomes even more interesting because many of them haven't finished, or even begun, their migrations from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010.

So this week I’d like to lend my voice to the sometimes heated debate in the community about whether an organization should move from wherever they are (SharePoint 2007, another platform, or nothing) to SharePoint 2010, or whether they should go straight to SharePoint 2013, and when.

This is going to be a two-part article, so be sure to tune in next week for more!

Let me start the discussion with a statement of my general perspective: SharePoint must deliver value. It’s all about what the business needs, and what users need to get their jobs done. Much of my opinion that follows starts from that foundation.

Additionally, I’m going to lay out a discussion that focuses on a few key points and, like any discussion about SharePoint, there are many points I can’t address in this short space. There are always exceptions to the rule, and many many variables to consider, not the least of which are business requirements, available resources, and costs. It’s up to you to take the guidance I provide and make it work—to whatever level makes sense—within the realities of your organization. Or, of course, to hire a consultant like me to lead a more nuanced and enterprise-specific discussion of your roadmap.

With those caveats aside, let’s look at a couple of things I think are most salient to the discussion.

1. SharePoint 2013 is, in many ways, a minor upgrade from an IT perspective. There were no high-impact architecture changes to 2013, compared to upgrades from v2 to v3 (SharePoint Portal Server--SPS to 2007) or v3 to v4 (2007 to 2010). There are plenty of smaller changes, and changes that affect specific workloads, but nothing that requires the type of beginning-to-end re-evaluation of your existing or planned 2010 environment, as long as that environment was well thought out in the first place.

2. SharePoint 2013 is a huge upgrade in usability across typical collaboration workloads. Team sites, My Sites, communities, and ECM all received numerous and important upgrades to the usability story, not the least of which include cross-browser and cross-device availability, better offline options (SkyDrive Pro), significantly better sharing features, and team work features (tasks, project management light, discussions, etc.)

3. SharePoint 2013 is a mammoth upgrade in features in several key workloads. These workloads are WCM, social, search, and mobile access.

4. SharePoint 2013 provides a solution to navigation. This was among the top five issues or challenges I encountered at every client.

When you put these together, you arrive at one of my primary points of guidance: If you start implementing new solutions or workloads on SharePoint 2010, you are guaranteeing that your users will suffer the feature and usability gaps that plagued 2010. You’ll be locking yourself into battles that Microsoft has already fought (and, for the most part, won) in SharePoint 2013. That’s particularly true for the collaboration workloads (#2 above).

And, for any of the workloads mentioned in #3, I honestly wouldn’t want to even consider starting down those roads in SharePoint 2010, now. Please don’t start a new search, social, WCM, or mobile-intensive project on SharePoint 2010.

At a bare minimum, I would highly recommend considering a rapid move to SharePoint 2013 for a “clean service farm,” running Search, Managed Metadata, User Profiles, and BCS. Those services can be published to and consumed by SharePoint 2010 farms, so your users can continue to work in their existing (2010) environment but you can leverage the features of 2013 for shared services. You can see the article on TechNet for more information.

OK, on to some additional points:

5. SharePoint 2013 retains “everything” that 2010 had. Yes, it retains everything, as far as support for Office 2010 clients, forms, workflows, and customizations (full trust and sandbox solutions).

6. There is no more “in place upgrade” to SharePoint 2013. Instead, you attach a 2010 content database to the 2013 farm. You have the option of retaining the content database as a 2010 content database and to perform what is called a “deferred site collection upgrade.” In essence, this means that the 2010 site collection continues to be a 2010 site collection, just running on a 2013 farm. This is very different than the “visual upgrade” from 2007 to 2010. When you upgraded from 2007 to 2010, the site was upgraded, which meant you had to ensure compatibility. But a master page and other trickery made the site retain the appearance of a 2007 site. In 2013, that option no longer exists. Instead, the 2013 farm retains the 2010 “14 Hive”—with all of its features, site definitions, etc.

So, in theory, all of your 2010 sites will work perfectly well, customizations included, in 2013. When you perform a deferred site collection upgrade, you are conceptually “flipping the switch” so that the site collection now runs against the “15 hive”. That is when compatibility might matter.

So, keeping this very high level, the theory is that you could upgrade your farm this weekend to 2013, and your users would be none the wiser. That’s certainly the type of platform upgrade path that Microsoft wants and needs in the cloud (Office 365).

We will see, shortly, just how well it works in the real world. But my guess is we will be much closer to a happy story than to an unhappy story. And, obviously, you will want to test the upgrade process before you actually perform it. But the bottom line is that we’re close to a point where upgrading the platform will become a non-issue, a very minor issue, or at least not a multi-month, insane project.

Because you are likely going to find that you can upgrade smoothly, you can move collaboration workloads from 2010 to 2013 quickly, or implement plans for 2010 in 2013 instead, as 2013 still supports 2010-style customizations, workflows, etc.

You can learn more about upgrading to SharePoint 2013 in the TechNet library. As with all other upgrades, there’s no direct upgrade path from 2007 or earlier versions of SharePoint to 2013. You either have to go through 2010 on the way, or use a third party tool. And—knowing that you probably did things in 2007 that you would not choose to do the same way in 2013—I’d strongly recommend a good third party migration tool.

This should give you plenty to chew on for the next few days. Next week, we’ll look at some of the reasons people give me for not moving to SharePoint 2013, including the infamous “we always wait for Service Pack 1” argument. So this discussion is definitely not finished. See you next week!

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