How to migrate file shares to SharePoint – and why you should


You have probably read about the many benefits of using Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration or content and document management. Some of the benefits you can reap from moving your file shares to SharePoint can be found in this blog post. Empowering mobility, improving search capabilities, and simultaneous collaboration are just a few of the advantages that no shared drive can provide your organisation with.

Some organisations however believe that migrating their files to SharePoint can be a painful exercise and this perception is becoming a show stopper for them to move forward. While file migration does take time, it’s not as intimidating or difficult as you might expect.

What do you need to consider before migrating file shares to SharePoint?

The best way to avoid migration headaches is to do your homework before you begin. Below are the four key considerations that may influence your migration process.

Total size of your file share data

Total size is directly proportional to the time it takes to transfer your content. If the total size of your file share is more than your SharePoint environment’s storage capacity, you need to buy extra space (in the case of SharePoint Online) or increase your disk capacity (if you use SharePoint on-premise). This is a simple process that most organisations prefer to do ahead of time.

Number of files

SharePoint has a soft limit on the number of files you can store in one place and synchronise at once. It's a soft limit because the system will continue to function but there may be some performance impacts if the limit is not respected. While this sounds like a negative thing, it does encourage a continuous effort to think about where files are stored rather than using dumping grounds.SharePoint has limits on the number of files you can view and synchronise at once as follows:

  • 5,000 items per view, folder or query.
  • 5,000 item limit for synchronising team sites.
  • 20,000 item limit for synchronising personal sites.

This means that if your document library has more than 5,000 items, some items will not be synchronised locally so I would suggest cleaning up your environment and only keeping data you really need.

Largest file size

Both SharePoint Online and on-premise SharePoint have a maximum file size limit of 15 GB, which is equivalent to two hours of standard definition video. If you have several large media files, it’s best to store them outside of SharePoint. Microsoft Stream is best suited for this, a service designed specifically for storing videos which is very similar to YouTube. If you’re working on-premise, the limitation can be altered, however it is not recommended.

Folder structures

On a file share, the only method of organising files is folders. Armed with a single mechanism, it is quite common to come across file shares with more than ten levels of folders. This, combined with a long file name can cause problems when migrating to SharePoint. SharePoint has a number of other hierarchical or categorising mechanisms that can simplify usability and maintainability of your files. Most notably is the use of metadata. Tagging your files in a consistent way makes them easier to organise and find in the future.

How to migrate your data

Once you’ve considered all of the above, you are almost ready to migrate your content. If you haven’t already, now is the time to engage a Microsoft certified SharePoint migration expert to handle the more technical elements of the migration.Your migration expert will help you:

  • Chart your existing content.
  • Design a new hierarchy that works for everyone in the business.
  • Reorganise your existing content to fit into this new structure.
  • Migrate your files to SharePoint.
  • Test the migrated content to ensure it performs as required.

Can I migrate content myself?

For simple migrations (i.e., fewer than 100 documents in total) you can import files by following the instructions below:

  1. Browse to a document library on your computer.
  2. Drag the files onto the browser.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

Migration always takes longer than people expect, but a clear plan on how the files will be organised can help shorten it. Following a process of mapping out your files through Information Architecture can help speed up the migration project.

It's always worth engaging trained consultants, even for smaller projects, in order to minimise downtime and disruption. If you need further guidance on how to best approach your migration, contact us on 1800 126 499 or leave a comment below. Alternatively, you may sign up for a free migration consultation here.

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