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Sitecore 9 represents another major step forward for the product. There are many things to be excited about, including the new xConnect service and the continued move toward modular services. Sitecore 9 will also support new options for storing xDB data like CosmosDB and SQL Server, as well as a newer version of Solr that brings more features to ContentSearch. There’s also the all-new Forms module and the improvements in Experience Editor performance—and these are just the tip of the iceberg!
Sitecore maintains that this will be the easiest upgrade ever, and those of us with experience upgrading Sitecore since before the 6.x days, will vouch for the truth of that statement. Sitecore has been working hard to make what was once a very painful process much simpler, beginning with the 8.0 release and the introduction of the Express Migration Tool.
That being said, your Sitecore solution may not be ready to take advantage of this simplified upgrade process. There are also additional environment- and code-specific issues to consider before embarking on your upgrade. First, take stock of your solution and environment to ensure they are ready for the jump. If you find yourself with a solution that hasn’t kept pace with the rapid changes in best practices and Sitecore recommendations, you may need to spend some time catching up.
Here are eight key issues to consider thoroughly, so you can make your Sitecore 9 upgrade as easy and efficient as possible — and get those exciting new features into the hands of your team ASAP.
1. Changes to Supported Database Platforms
Are you actively collecting and using xDB data for analytics and personalization? Does your Sitecore solution currently use Microsoft SQL Server 2014 or older? If so, you should be aware of database platform support changes in Sitecore 9.
Even though support for MongoDB storage of xDB data was re-introduced in Sitecore 9.0.2, now is a good time to evaluate whether you’d like to move your data to a Microsoft solution like SQL Server or Cosmos DB. If you do want to move away from MongoDB, Sitecore has made a conversion utility available to make the transition as painless as possible. However, you’ll still want to evaluate the budget implications of the change prior to pulling the trigger.
Sitecore 9 also drops support for SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2012, and will only support SQL Server 2014 in CMS-only mode. If you’re using older versions, you’ll need to plan to migrate, ideally to SQL Server 2016 SP1 or Azure SQL. This migration may entail spinning up new servers, creating Azure SQL instances, purchasing new MSSQL licenses, and migrating databases.
2. Web Forms for Marketers to Sitecore Forms Transition
Are you using Web Forms for Marketers? For as long as most of us can remember, that venerable old module has allowed content editors to easily create web forms within the familiar Sitecore interface. In recent years, though, Web Forms has begun to show its age. Sitecore 9 introduces a brand-new Forms tool, built from the ground up to make it easier than ever to create and manage forms. Web Forms for Marketers still works with Sitecore 9.0, but will no longer be an option after version 9.1 is released.
The new Forms functionality is not a drop-in replacement for Web Forms for Marketers — so before you upgrade to 9.1, you’ll need to migrate away from Web Forms first. If you’re using it in your solution, request a demo of the new Sitecore Forms—it’s a solid option moving forward.
3. Configuration File Reorganization
Sitecore 9 introduces a new layer-based paradigm for organizing patch configuration files. This change is much needed and will greatly simplify managing configuration settings per-environment and per-server. However, if your solution hasn’t been following Sitecore best practices and you have changed settings in your out-of-the-box configuration files, you’ll need to spend some time cleaning that up before you’ll be ready to upgrade.
4. No More Lucene Support
Okay, that’s not totally true — you can use Lucene with an single-instance installation. However, Solr is now a requirement for the xConnect services. If your Sitecore solution is still using Lucene for ContentSearch, you’ll need to switch to Solr or some other supported search provider prior to upgrading.
5. Infrastructure Changes and Planning
Sitecore has recently begun moving towards a service-oriented architecture. Up until now, a single Sitecore instance in your environment would be configured to handle certain tasks such as publishing and analytics processing. Beginning with 8.2, Sitecore made the optional next-generation publishing service available. With this service, publishing is handled by a web application that is deployed separately from Sitecore, rather than being a process that is part of the Sitecore instance itself. In 9.0, Sitecore continues this trend with the new xConnect collection and search services. These changes, as well as the new Solr requirement and new database options for xDB, mean that infrastructure changes will be necessary to adequately support a Sitecore 9 upgrade. Take some time and plan accordingly.
6. Codebase Cleanup
Sitecore has done a significant amount of cleanup work in this release and has removed a substantial amount of obsolete and outdated code. If you have an older Sitecore solution, make sure that all Sitecore API calls are up-to-date before upgrading, and that features previously relying on those obsolete calls function as expected after transitioning.
7. Express Upgrade Considerations
Does your solution have system templates that have been modified? Are any of its out-of-the-box Sitecore configuration files modified? If you’re moving from a Sitecore 8.1 or older solution and want to use the Express Migration tool, those modifications will be roadblocks to successfully concluding your upgrade, so you’ll need to address them first.
8. Azure Migration/Subscription Licensing Model
There’s never been a better time to consider moving to the cloud and the new subscription licensing model. With this new model, your cost is based on monthly traffic to your site rather than the number of production instances in your environment.
Sitecore’s support for Azure Platform-as-a-Service continues to improve. There are many benefits to managing your environment with Azure, including the ability to configure your infrastructure to bring additional Sitecore instances online to handle the demands of increased traffic. And when you switch to Sitecore’s new subscription-based model, your organization can take advantage of automated scaling when your traffic needs require it — rather than spending time and money acquiring licenses for new production instances from Sitecore.
How Engagency Can Help
If you are considering a Sitecore 9 upgrade, the Engagency team is happy to help. For nearly a decade, we’ve helped a wide range of clients with Sitecore upgrades, infrastructure planning, data migration, and best practice implementation. Our upgrade process typically starts with a comprehensive Sitecore Implementation Audit, where we take a deep dive into the state of your code, content, and overall environment — including pre-upgrade issues and optimization opportunities, which can be addressed seamlessly through one of our Managed or Dedicated Services plans.
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