my world of work and user experiences

July 1, 2013

Update on our cloudy upgrade

Filed under: Office365,SharePoint — Tags: , — frederique @ 23:32

We are starting to surf wave15. Since my previous post, we are taking big steps towards the upgrade of the SharePoint Online, although it still is not all smooth sailing. A summary of what we have seen so far.

The process

Microsoft announcements

Microsoft sent us e-mails that got more and more specific:

  • Preliminary: A few months before the upgrade, when the timeline was not final yet, Microsoft announced the upgrade, sketching the procedure and providing links to further information. We did not think that their statement that we did not have to prepare anything would apply to our rather complex implementation, and we were right about that.

    Preliminary announcement

  • In 4 weeks: a month before the upgrade, we received an announcement that also explained how we could ask them to postpone our upgrade via the administration pages, and a button to try the upgrade with a small group of users.
  • The upgrade date: Two weeks before the Microsoft upgrade we received the exact date when the upgrade would start.
  • Confirmation: After the Microsoft upgrade was finished (the next day), we received a confirmation.

You can postpone once

If the proposed date does not suit you, you can postpone it for at least a month via a button on the portal administration pages. You can only postpone one time, then you have to go with the flow. We did not postpone, because we wanted to get the upgrade as soon as possible.

Preparations to the upgrade below decks

Although we were upgraded by the end of June, the underlying software was already upgraded to wave15 by the end of March, as I described in a previous post. This broke some functionality at that time, but fortunately Microsoft repaired it soon afterwards. The advantage was that these features were wave15-ready after that, so that they did not cause any new issues in the next steps of the upgrade.

Ready for upgrade: Microsoft flips the switch

Microsoft flipped the switch on our environment end of June. The environment was ready for upgrade from then on, but the upgrade was not implemented on the front-end. The site collection owner can do that themselves, per site collection. I am very happy with that, because now we can flip the front-end switch when we are really ready.

The site collection owners see a pink bar at the top of each page: “Experience all that SharePoint 2013 has to offer. Start now or Remind me later”. Innocent users, including site owners, do not see this message. Only site collection owner have permission to perform the upgrade and only they see the message. So there is no risk of an over-eager site owner accidentally upgrading anything.

Check the health of your sites

On the site collection administration page, there is an option ‘Site collection health checks’. This generates a report of the elements that could cause problems.

Evaluation copy

I am very happy with the option to Try a demo upgrade. That provides you with an evaluation copy of a site collection, where you can check what happens to sites in general and complex and important real-life sites in particular. It is a upgraded copy of the site collection, so it is not exactly the same as upgrading the site collection itself. But it does give you a good idea of the upgrade result.

Upgrade or try a demo

Note: These evaluation copies have the same permissions as the original sites in the collection. I do not want innocent users to start working accidentally on the evaluation copies, so I have taken them out of the copies of real life sites. Otherwise they could enter the site via the search result by mistake.

These evaluation site collections are not visible in the site collection overview of the portal administration. You can find them, once they have been created, via the same ‘try a demo’. But the address of the copy is easily guessed from the original url: becomes

The copies remain available for a months and then they are automatically deleted. They are not synchronized in any way to the original site after they have been created. So make very sure that you use them only for experimenting and testing and not for any ongoing work.

Note: I received some of the evaluation copies within the hour, others within the two day limit. But a bunch of them got stuck and I had to ask Microsoft to provision them via a service request. So I was very happy I had requested them at an early stage.


Evalation copy

Upgrade the site collections

The owners need to upgrade their site collections within three months after Microsoft has made the upgrade available, otherwise the front-end will be upgraded automatically. The owner just need to push one button ‘Upgrade this Site Collection’.

But if your collection needs any specific settings or support files to work properly, you will have to do those right after you push that button. That is why we wait until we are sure we have caught all key issues and we will communicate to the users that they will not be able to use the intranet for a couple of hours.

Microsoft recommends to upgrade the ’MySite’ first. And actually, they already set this in motion when they flipped their switch: we have the new MyProfile since the end of June, although the rest is  still the “old” version. Users who already had a MySite (we didn’t have many yet), each had to upgrade their own MySite – otherwise others could not see their profile and not open it via the people search.

Communication and training

The users will get new options, but they also need to know how the classics work in the new interface. We will explain, especially to the site owners, how it will work after the upgrade.

The result

We are testing the upgrade in a separate environment and in evaluation copies. Here we found that many things kept working properly. But not everything.

Custom master pages disappear

When we upgrade a site collection, our own masterpage dropped out and we fell back to a standaard Microsoft master page; Microsoft had already warned for it, as many things now work in a different way. So we created a new version of the master page, with associated styles and script

The old site templates cannot be used

Site templates created for SharePoint Online 2010 are invisible and unusable in SharePoint Online 2013. This applies to programmed templates as well as templates that were created using the option ‘save site as template’. So we are recreating those.

Some pages don’t work

Pages that are not stored properly in a library and pages that have some problem in the page layout don’t work anymore. So we have to save these pages separately. Fortunately we have seen this error only for a few kinds of pages.

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Most settings keep working

The site navigation, for example, and list settings like choice fields and versioning survive the upgrade. This also applies to the views in web parts on pages, even if they have been enriched in SharePoint Designer with conditional, for instance. We haven’t had problems with content types either after we had survived the issues in the preliminary preparations that caused us to republish a lot of custom content types.

It is the custom web part, as a species, that is endangered: some keep working, others don’t. We have also had a few issues with the presentation of standard content query web parts: groupings were no longer displayed in several columns, following the web part settings, but in one column.

Workflows keep working

We have several advanced workflows created in SharePoint Designer 2010. They already were unstable, but the “half-way upgraded” situation that we are in now, between Microsoft making the upgrade available and us implementing it on the front-end, seems to destabilize them even further. But apart from that, it looks like the workflows keep working.
In order to take advantage of the new possibilities, of the new workflow engine, I will have to rebuild the workflows. Unfortunately I cannot do that yet, because the 2013 workflow option has been disabled in SharePoint Designer, pending the upgrade.


So at his time, we are testing and fixing things, and starting to explain to the site owners how their sites will work. Working on it…

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