Choosing the right tool for migrating your documents to SharePoint Online

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Last month, @Bill Baer announced the release of the SharePoint Migration Tool v2, which includes many fixes and new features from its earlier version.  With this new tool added into the mix, my users are asking which is the best approach for them.  There are many factors that will help you make that decision, as I've discussed in my previous article on What you need to think about when migrating files to SharePoint Online.  I this article, I'm considering these factors to help you choose the best approach.


Migration Approaches

As with many things in SharePoint, you have different options available to you to migrate your documents to the cloud.  These approaches have been grouped into the following five options:


  1. Windows Explorer - through the use of OneDrive for Business, users can set up a continuous synching mechanism between a SharePoint document library and a Windows Explorer folder on their device.  The same SharePoint document library can be set up to sync with different devices at the same time, keeping them all up to date.
  2. SharePoint Document Library - the simplest of all the methods is to have users upload documents directly to a SharePoint Document library by selecting files from their device for upload drag-and-drop them directly onto the document library browser window.
  3. SharePoint Migration Tool - the new Microsoft SharePoint Migration Tool is meant to simplify the migration process by allowing users to copy files from their current SharePoint on-premises or network folder location to SharePoint Online in batches.
  4. PowerShell - through scripting, IT admins can create scripts that can copy files from various locations to SharePoint Online and manipulate them in the process.  For example, files from one location may get distributed to different document libraries in SharePoint Online or have their metadata (e.g. name, Created By, Modified Date, etc.) altered.
  5. 3rd Party Tools - there are some great 3rd party tools available on the market today to help with complex migrations of documents from various sources to SharePoint Online.  Like the PowerShell option, they allow manipulation of metadata and selection of destination document libraries based on specific rules. 




File Sources

Migration can take place from any number of systems to SharePoint Online.  As long as you have the proper access, you can copy files with little effort into SharePoint Online.  Of the five approaches presented, any of them allow you to copy files from a network drive or SharePoint on-premises environment to SharePoint Online.  However, if your source includes moving documents from one SharePoint Online environment to another or from a different system, then your choices are limited.  You may need to consider moving your content to network drives in a structured way and then have them move into SharePoint Online.


Source and Destination Structure

Some of the simplest migrations are ones, where files are simply moved from one location to another while keeping the same structure.  An example of this is when users are asked to move documents from their legacy network drive to OneDrive for Business.  For those simple cases, any of the migration approaches can be used. 

In many cases, however, migrations are part of a larger initiative that involve restructuring and reorganizing of information.  Documents from one source location need to be distributed to different locations.  The distribution of such documents can be based on some predetermined rules, such as a folder name that the documents are located in, or be more specific to the files themselves.  In either case, performing such a migration manually using the Windows Explorer or SharePoint Document Library upload approaches becomes very tedious and error prone.  To simplify the process, consider using the SharePoint Migration Tool, PowerShell, or a 3rd party tool.  All of these options allow you to create an inventory of your documents (usually in the form of a CSV file) and may the source and destinations directly in them.


Altering Metadata

The metadata is information contained within each file that describes its content.  There are a number of metadata fields that are associated with any document, such as the title, creation date, and file owner.  At times, the files names used for files on a network drive may not be acceptable in SharePoint Online because it may include some characters that are not permitted.  If you're using the Microsoft SharePoint Migration Tool, PowerShell, or 3rd party tools, you can define rules for replacing invalid characters with other ones.  

In SharePoint, you have the ability to add additional metadata fields and encapsulate them in the form of content types for better organization.  When migrating files from legacy network drives to SharePoint Online, users are often faced with the daunting task of deciphering deep folder structures and determine how best to represent them in the new SharePoint Online environment.  One way to get rid of the folders is by replacing them with metadata fields, which make it easier to later search for these files.  Today, such mapping is complex and can only be done using a custom PowerShell script or by using 3rd party tools.


Multiple Versions

We've all been there, where file names had versions, dates, and other metadata included in them.  SharePoint supports the use of multiple versions for the same file.  If you have been diligent in the naming convention, then it is easy to map these different documents into a single document with numerous versions.  Using the PowerShell or 3rd party tool approaches, you can merge these different versions of the same document into a single document in SharePoint Online and even select the version numbers for them.  The latest version number will be the one that users will see by default.



Migrating files to SharePoint Online requires careful planning to ensure that, when you're done, documents will be structured in a way that will work well for your users.

1 Reply

How about migration to SP2019. Does SharePoint Migration Tool aid in migration or is it just for cloud only?