Upgrading to SharePoint 2013: Don't Wait for SP1 But Do Wait for Your Vendors

Last week, I addressed the burning question of whether or when to upgrade to SharePoint 2013. If you missed that discussion, catch up at "SharePoint 2010 vs. SharePoint 2013". This week I’ll propose a few other perspectives on the SharePoint 2013 question.

Then, it’s back to the grindstone for me, as I finish my presentations for next week’s Microsoft SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas. It’s going to be an incredible event and a crazy week, with close to 10,000 attendees, an endless stream of meetings, sessions, and events. I’m doing four sessions, each of which I’ve either created or significantly revised for this event. In one of my sessions (“SharePoint 2013 Demystified”), I’ll be sharing the stage with my friend, SharePoint uber-guru Jeremy Thake, who has been deep in the bits of SharePoint 2013 for longer than most anyone outside of Microsoft (and who gave me some great pointers for this article, too!). I’ll also be doing a book signing at the O’Reilly booth on Wednesday afternoon. So I hope to see you at the SPC! Be sure to say “hello!”

So, back to the main topic: Upgrading to SharePoint 2013….

Probably the most common statements I hear about upgrades—not just to SharePoint—is “We don’t trust anything until Service Pack 1.”

And all I can say is, that’s very backward thinking. SharePoint 2010 was quite solid out of the gate. And SharePoint 2013 promises to be leagues more solid. Why? Because, now, Microsoft has millions of customers on production SharePoint 2013 through Office 365. They’re already upgrading Office 365 tenancies to the new version of the platform.

By the time you can really think of putting an on-prem farm in place—even in the coming few weeks—Microsoft will be supporting tens of millions of production users on 2013. They have already discovered and fixed the kinds of issues that typically didn’t surface until tens of millions of “normal” customers’ users had touched on-premise releases of software in the past.

The development, patching, and fixing cycle is completely different now, due to Office 365. I’ve spoken with a number of my esteemed colleagues and most of them agree that the product is at least at an SP1 level of quality.

It’s simply antiquated thinking to assume that waiting a few months for SP1 will achieve what you think it will achieve. Instead, you’ll just have missed out on the opportunity to deliver business solutions with 2013’s significantly-more-usable and feature rich capabilities. Microsoft will have added new features to Office 365 that you won’t even be able to get on-premises. And your customers will likely have either been delayed, disappointed, or disillusioned enough with your three-year-old SharePoint solution that they will have gone to another service instead.

In other words, while Microsoft is going to be moving forward quickly with features and functionality, you’ll be offering an outdated service to your business customers, and they will—sooner rather than later—stop waiting for IT to “catch up” and they will find their own solutions.

I’m not saying that you should move blindly or rashly, but I am saying that many of the reasons I hear people give me for waiting are simply not sound from a business perspective, let alone a technical one.

Last week, I mentioned that because SharePoint 2013 includes the “14 hive”, many of your customizations will continue to work. There are some exceptions, however: Anything that calls the Microsoft SharePoint DLL will be calling the v15 version of the DLL—the v14 version is not running side-by-side with the v15 version.

Also, too many SharePoint ISVs have not yet announced support for 2013—a problem I blame on Microsoft, which kept the lid on 2013 too tight for too long. Many ISVs couldn’t get their hands on code until the last 4-7 months, which just wasn’t enough time for them to adjust to the new, app-model-based world of SharePoint 2013. So before you upgrade a workload, you do have to test the upgrade, and ensure you have support for any third party customizations that support the workload.

One more important caveat: SharePoint is software. It will never be perfect, nor will it ever meet 100 percent of your expectations. There will be rough edges. And I’d point out that I expect there to be rough edges in some areas, particularly in anything that is “net new” in SharePoint 2013.

So, for example, 2013’s model for customization is the new “app model.” While SharePoint still supports 2010-style solutions, Microsoft wants us to move customizations off-box so that the farm can scale and update effectively. The app model is new. There will be some rough edges with it. So any “net new” features should be evaluated and tested even more thoughtfully.

But for my many customers who are still dealing with basic collaboration, business process automation (forms and workflows), data surfacing (BCS), WCM, ECM, social and search workloads, there is a LOT to be said for setting antiquated technical prejudices aside and approaching each new solution with a clean view and process that analyzes business needs, architects and designs the right solution, deploys and operates the solution, and manages a technology portfolio that might include a mixture of cloud and on-premises technologies, running SharePoint 2010 and 2013, Server and Foundation, in a variety of service and farm configurations.

That’s the concept. In a smaller business, you might be down to one or two farms. Don’t wait for 2013 just “because.” There might be good business or maybe even technical reasons for waiting, but “because” is not one of them.

Make the decision of when and how to move forward with a clear understanding that SharePoint 2013 is not your grandfather’s SharePoint. Nor is Microsoft your grandmother’s Microsoft. The “new Office” reflects a new reality, and you should move thoughtfully and clearly toward the new reality, or you will fail to deliver business value in a manageable way to your customers, and they will find alternatives that are not as integrated, manageable, secure, or cost effective as what SharePoint might be able to offer.

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