SharePoint 2013: In with the New

Start planning now and you’ll be ready to take the greatest advantage of what’s new in SharePoint 2013 when it arrives.

Stephen Wilson

SharePoint 2010 has been around for a while. With the recently announced SharePoint 2013 Preview, it’s time to look into the future and start planning your upgrade strategy. A look back at your past SharePoint strategy might not be a bad idea, either.

The “in place” upgrade isn’t an option for SharePoint 2013, but with change comes the opportunity for a redo. Start looking for new and better ways to leverage SharePoint, and properly and completely prepare yourself and your company for the transition to the new SharePoint.

Best-Laid Plans

What are you using SharePoint for in your organization? You might have laid out all sorts of plans in the beginning, but now that it has been in production for a while, which plans went forward? Which plans fizzled out? Which uses for SharePoint have provided the most productivity gains, and which haven’t?

SharePoint can give a pretty good return on investment without even scratching the surface of its range of capabilities. Just using SharePoint to make your documents searchable and setting up a basic document workflow can make enough of a change in your organization to make it worth the time and effort, but there’s no reason to stop there.

Maybe you planned on using SharePoint for your primary Internet portal? Marketing may have become frustrated when they had difficulty with search engine optimization and decided to look at other platforms instead of using the SharePoint farm already in place. SharePoint 2013 will provide improved Web content management and optimized URLs.

Did your organization plan to use SharePoint to collect data from your mobile workforce? Perhaps those plans fell through. Maybe users needed lists that were location-aware, or a convenient way to get notifications of changes to the site on their phone? The advanced mobility and Web browsing capabilities currently featured in SharePoint 2013 Preview ought to help.

Has your records and compliance team been too busy with e-mail retention policies to really dive into the ways that SharePoint 2010 could help them manage documents? You might want to send them a memo, because their e-mail box is probably over its quota. Let them know that the SharePoint 2013 Preview and Exchange Server 2013 Preview records management functionality will let them apply retention policies to an associated Exchange team mailbox and SharePoint site all with one template.

Remember all those plans you had for using SharePoint social media features to help keep people informed and engaged with their projects? Then someone in marketing decided that My Sites sounded too much like a certain social site that no one uses anymore.

Instead, the policy was for everyone to get a “work account” on a site that has hash tags like #WhatJustinAteThisMorning as the most popular content. SharePoint 2013 Preview still has all those social features you should’ve been using all along—in a redesigned and streamlined form, plus Community features, micro-blogging and so on.

Even features you’re already using have been improved enough that you’ll want to take a second look. Business intelligence features have been enhanced across the board. Excel Services makes it easier to explore your data by leveraging PivotTables and drill-down options. You can now migrate PerformancePoint dashboards to other site collections or even other servers. And users can comment on Visio drawings within SharePoint.

New and Improved

There are many existing features and functions that are just plain better in SharePoint 2013 Preview. Microsoft has redesigned and refined a lot of features under the surface. SharePoint approaches branding in a whole new way. This lets your people with Web design experience use the tools and techniques they already know instead of having to learn SharePoint Designer. They can apply standard HTML, CSS and JavaScript skills with much less effort and fewer changes.

Remember those friendly URLs that are good for search engines? There’s a way to tie those to your metadata instead of your site structure. URLs become about the content instead of the directory in which that content is stored. There’s a new way of storing data called “shredded storage.” This means less data going to and from SharePoint when you make changes—and it allows for huge speed improvements.

What can you do now to make sure the move to SharePoint 2013 is smooth and successful? Give your current farm a checkup. If you’ve installed any third-party solutions or features you aren’t using, remove them to avoid confusing error messages in the upgrade.

Have you looked at your content database sizes lately? Microsoft recommends a maximum of 200GB for general-use databases using SharePoint collaborative features. If you have SharePoint 2010 SP1 installed, you can stretch that up to 4TB if you tune SQL to very specific performance levels.

If you’re approaching either of these limits, it’s time to consider splitting up some content. This might mean moving site collections to new databases or migrating a sub-site into its own site collection and then moving it to a new database. It will pay off in the end with a more stable and responsive farm. You should review extraordinarily large content databases that are being used only for document storage.

SQL storage is sometimes expensive when compared to a basic file share. You can move archived documents that don’t need the collaborative features of SharePoint to a conventional file share and still index them using SharePoint search.

SharePoint 2010 SP1 is more than a year old and there have been several stable cumulative updates since then as well. There’s no good reason for not being reasonably up-to-date. Any specific reasons that might have stopped you from installing patches might also complicate an upgrade, so it’s time to look for solutions.

Giving SharePoint the minimum maintenance possible might have seemed like good time management before, but it’s time to get back into the game. Look for unused sub-sites and site collections. There’s no point in moving abandoned content to a new installation. Back everything up just in case, but do some spring-cleaning, as well. That will make all the difference between a usable, efficient portal and a document graveyard.

Download the SharePoint 2013 Preview, begin experimenting, and when the final version arrives you’ll have a strategy based on a real understanding of what’s possible. When you installed SharePoint 2010, you implemented a few quick wins that made a big difference in your way of doing business, but then it became easy to settle for just those big features. The time and effort of expanding those features in your production farm might not have seemed worth it. Maybe some of the features weren’t as strong as you hoped.

SharePoint 2013 Preview is your second chance to get people excited about all the ways they can make their jobs easier and more efficient. Opportunity is knocking a second time, so you can’t pass it up.

Stephen Wilson

Stephen Wilson has more than 15 years of experience in IT at many levels, working in a number of industries such as retail, financial and higher education. He has worked with and trained people on Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server all over the country. He has also presented and developed documentation and training programs. As a consultant with Rackspace US Inc., he specializes in installation and infrastructure.