Intranet Migration: 5 Questions Before Moving Day

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (04-Feb-2008)

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Every first of July, Canadians from coast to coast celebrate the establishment of Canada as a self-governing country, but for residents in the province of Quebec there's also another longstanding tradition: Moving Day.

Moving Day has become an annual tradition. Narrow streets are bottlenecked by convoys of moving trucks and trailers, and sidewalks are littered with discarded belongings that movers tossed out simply because they don't want to move any more than what's absolutely necessary.

Intranet owners, like these migratory tenants and homeowners, must occasionally go through the very similar and unavoidable process of system migration. Intranet migrations are undertaken for a variety of reasons, the two most common being site consolidations and modifying or upgrading system architecture . But before packing up all your digital belongings and carting everything from one location to another, there are five key questions intranet managers need to answer:

1) What is being migrated?

Intranets are made up of multiple components: Static content, dynamic databases, design elements, applications (possibly developed using disparate computer languages and technologies), server software, server hardware. A migration can include one, several, or all these components. Perhaps various department databases are being consolidated onto one server; perhaps the entire intranet structure is being ported to accommodate a new security model; or perhaps the current batch of servers just can't handle the increase in user traffic. By figuring out what components need to be migrated, you'll be able to determine the plan and path of the migration as well as the amount of time, effort, and personnel required for the task.

2) What is your migration plan?

Intranets are unique in that they're not owned by any one particular group. Unlike other corporate-wide applications that fall under the domain of IT or a specific department, intranets are usually governed by a multi-departmental and multi-tiered committee. As such, intranet migrations require careful coordination and planning among all stakeholders—IT, business analysts, and content managers.

The importance of this coordination and planning is heightened if full intranet consolidation and standardization hasn't taken place yet, and you're dealing with a motley collection of hardware, software, and technologies. Or maybe consolidation and standardization is your migration. Whatever the case may be, an intranet migration plan needs to spell out:

3) What is your migration path?

It's never fun having to migrate a live system because doing so means downtime. This is not really a problem if all your users are in the same building, but if your intranet extends to an extranet and your users are geographically dispersed and work in different time zones, scheduling an off-peak time in which to perform the migration can become tricky. Local off-peak hours might be a satellite office's prime time.

Ideally your intranet would consist of three separate yet closely mirrored environments: Development, pre-production, and production. The purpose of this is not only to isolate the production environment from R&D, but also to allow for smoother migrations with minimal downtime and impact on the user community. By maintaining separate environments, a lot of the migration can take place behind the scenes—even during the working day.

But not everyone is fortunate enough to have all these resources at their disposal. Unless new servers are purchased specifically for the intranet, existing servers will have to be offloaded and migrated themselves before your intranet migration can take place. It's crucial that you carefully map out the migration path of all components—from their current home to their new home—and the order in which they need to be moved.

4) What are your contingency plans and procedures?

Hope for the best; plan for the worst. This isn't pessimism; it's being prepared. Regardless of how well you plan something, there's always a possibility that something unexpected will happen. Without contingency plans and procedures in place, intranet team members can be caught off guard and become panicky if something goes horribly wrong during the migration. When this happens, survival mode kicks in and the ability to make logical decisions is diminished. Some team members might end up doing things haphazardly and make matters much worse, causing a minor problem to snowball out of control.

Contingency plans and procedures should include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

5) Does everyone understand their role?

With so much going on at one time during an intranet migration, the intranet overseer—or someone appointed as an overseer specifically for the migration—must ensure that team members don't bump into each other and compromise the activities of other team members. A steady stream of communication between the teams is vital. Unfortunately, it's far too easy for teams to put blinders on and see only what's in front of them. But a lot of times, their actions will affect the migration activities of other teams' components.

Your migration plan must explicitly state who is doing what and when. This coordination of personnel and effort is especially important for complex intranets. It might even be a good idea to do a dry run before the actual migration day. As is often the case with intranet migrations, the migration of one component might be dependent on the successful migration of another component. If all of this isn't carefully coordinated, there could be huge traffic jams where teams are waiting on the outcome of another's work.

Closing Thoughts

Some people decide to move by choice; others are forced to move by necessity. One thing is for sure though: No one actually enjoys the process of moving. It requires a lot of preparation, time, and elbow grease. But intranet migrations are a fact of system life. They're also a great way to clean the system of a lot of content you forgot you had. The process of moving might not be fun, but as is often said about these things, "Short term pains for long term gains."

Copyright © 2008 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.