SharePoint 2013 Upgrade: Six Job-Saving Features

Published by on January 22nd, 2013

SharePoint 2013 Upgrades in a Nutshell

Welcome to Part One of our new SharePoint 2013 upgrade series “SharePoint 2013 Upgrades in a Nutshell” in which we’ll cover the major changes and improvements in the latest major Microsoft SharePoint release.  The upgrade story has changed quite a bit over the last few versions and I hope to educate you on these improvements as well as arm you with knowledge that can potentially save your job (if not at least rack up some major IT brownie points).

There are major improvements across the board in SharePoint 2013 in every feature and function silo, but the focused enhancements involving upgrading to SharePoint 2013 are as follows (individual posts to follow):

  1. The In-Place Upgrade approach is gone
  2. Site Collection Health Checks
  3. Evaluation Site Collections
  4. Deferred Site Collection Upgrade
  5. Improved Logging
  6. Site Upgrade Throttling

Microsoft Has Learned Oodles from Hosting Large Scale SharePoint Farms

Microsoft has a multi-tenant SharePoint offering called SharePoint Online as well as a 40+ TB intranet environment. SharePoint Online is bundled in Office 365 with other Microsoft server products and has been around since BPOS was created in late 2008. By hosting these two services Microsoft has felt the pains of scalability and upgrade first-hand. They like to call it “eating their own dog food”.

This experience, focus, and the shift  to being “All-In” the cloud has slowly driven Microsoft to incorporate more “cloud-friendly” features into each major SharePoint version. For example, site collection disk quotas and host-named site collections could be found in SharePoint 2007. In SharePoint 2010, a framework for facilitating a multi-tenant SharePoint farm was introduced. More specifically, these features included the tenant admin site template, feature packs, site subscriptions, and throttled sandboxed solutions. Now with SharePoint 2013, additional scalability improvements as well as a cleaner, more stable upgrade experience has been added to facilitate and more stable multi-tenant SharePoint environment. These benefit everyone deploying SharePoint 2013 (i.e. in the Fpweb.net SharePoint cloud) not just SharePoint online.

Let’s take a high level look at these six new features that may just save your job.
(Never fear, in-depth articles on each feature will follow as the series is published.)

1. In-Place Upgrade has been given the Boot

There were three (or maybe 4) upgrade approaches from SharePoint 2007 to 2010: In-place, Database-Attach, 3rd party tools, and manually copying files (this is hardly an effective or efficient approach however). In  SharePoint 2013, in-place upgrades have been removed and are not an option. Depending on your situation and administrative access to the SharePoint environmentthe database-attach upgrade is going to be your new friend. The db-attach method allows for parallel database upgrades to run simultaneously without forcing immediate site collection upgrades at the same time. By not upgrading all the site collections at the same time as the database schemas, the initial upgrade time has been drastically reduced.

2. Evaluation Site Collections

In SharePoint 2010, site collections “bits” were upgraded with their respective content database all at once. You could upgrade the UI at the same time as the databases or wait and let the site owner do it through the site settings. This was a built-in UI upgrade called “visual upgrade” which allowed farm and site collection administrators to upgrade the user experience to the new look and feel of SharePoint 2010 (new masterpages, css, etc) at their leisure. The site collections were actually already upgraded to SharePoint 2010 behind the scenes though. Custom web parts, templates, master pages may have already been broken because the infrastructure changed.

With SharePoint 2013, you as the site collection admin are not forced to upgrade your site collection immediately. Most of your 2010 customizations will still work fine when the farm is upgraded to 2013 because the “14-hive” is installed alongside the new “15-hive” for backwards compatibility.

When you feel the time is right to make the leap at upgrading your site collection and its UI to the 2013 version, you now have a new option to try things out first by utilizing an Evaluation Site Collection. An Evaluation site collection is a full copy of your site collection, but with the 2013 experience and bells and whistles enabled. It is a TEMPORARY site which by default is automatically deleted after 30 days. After the site copy is created, you then upgrade it to try things out.

Farm administrators will need to keep in mind the potential storage hit you should plan for with two copies of site collections.  The whole infrastructure around evaluation site collections and site collection upgrades can be throttled and disabled completely, which we’ll cover shortly.

3. Site Collection Health Checks

There are a new set of seven health check rules that are run automatically before a site collection upgrade is initiated through the UI. These rules will help site collection administrators identify potential issues with content types, customized files, missing galleries, missing site templates, unsupported language pack references, and unsupported MUI references. By reviewing this report and fixing potential problems before you upgrade, you can save yourself some nasty phone calls when things don’t work right after the upgrade.

4. Deferred Site Collection Upgrades

When you decide to test out an evaluation site collection or skip the evaluation and move to a full out upgrade of your site collection, you may be surprised to find that the process doesn’t start immediately when you click GO. Every request to upgrade and create an evaluation site collection gets queued. You can thank the Office 365 infrastructure and support staff for forward thinking this. In the unlikely but possible scenario that all their customers requested an upgrade at once, everything would come crashing down. The queue is handled by timer jobs that eventually fulfill your request to create and/or upgrade the site collection. These are completely configurable by farm administrators which we’ll cover in depth in a later article.

5. Improved Logging

Everyone likes insight into what happens during a site collection upgrade and specifically the root cause of any errors that might arise. Now you can access the new site collection maintenance log directly from the site in the browser. You can see step by step what happened during the upgrades.

Farm administrators also have some new logging improvements they can utilize. Two separate log files are created in the “../15/logs” folder for each site collection upgrade.  One has a “.Errors” extension which makes it easy to filter and only see the problems.

6. Site Upgrade Throttling

The whole site collection evaluation site collection / upgrade queuing and executing process is configurable and “ throttle-able”.  You can completely disable evaluation site collections and self-service upgrades. You can also throttle the queue to only allow a certain number of site collections upgrades to execute simultaneously. There are also throttles based on server resource utilization, but we’ll dive into these more in-depth in a following article.

Recap

I hope you learned something from this brief overview of the SharePoint 2013 upgrade story. As I’ve noted several times, we’ll follow up with more in-depth articles on each of the major SharePoint 2013 upgrade pieces mentioned here.  By educating yourself, stakeholders, and end-users while planning the upgrade, the whole process runs more smoothly and might even save your job should any issues arise.  Set expectations!

And, don’t miss your opportunity to get a FREE SHAREPOINT MIGRATION from Fpweb.net! For a limited time!

About Andy Milsark

Andy Milsark has written 44 posts in this blog.

Andy, a proud new daddy, enjoys learning as much as humanly possible about SharePoint, PowerShell, and Private Cloud Automation. When he needs a break from battling SharePoint, he can be found throwing around weights at the local Crossfit gym. Follow Andy on Google+

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