Sitecore 8 upgrade

4th August 2015

Sitecore 8 upgrade: 5 tips and 5 questions you need to consider

Earlier this year Sitecore version 8 was released to much fanfare and rightly so. I was at the European Sitecore Symposium in Barcelona where it created a real buzz amongst developers, partners and observers alike.

It contains some great changes, which include:

  • A new user interface featuring modern design and functionality. (The previous UI had been present since 2004).
  • Version layouts – The layout of each page can be easily varied by language.
  • “Explore mode” – You can view your site as others see it, letting you quickly try out personalisation combinations.
  • Federated Experience Manager – You can apply Sitecore’s personalisation functionality to your other non-Sitecore sites.
  • Path Analyzer – Identify key “value” paths through your site, and identify under-performing paths.
  • Automatic content testing and optimization reporting, machine learning based recommendations.
  • Experience profile – View all the data you’ve acquired on a visitor/customer in one place.
  • An enhanced page editor (now called Experience Editor)

I don’t intend to outline all the changes in Sitecore 8 but instead concentrate on how to successfully upgrade from an earlier version of Sitecore. Before getting started it’s important that you consider:

  1. The application upgrade itself – having a good rationale and well-informed approach to your upgrade is crucial. Upgrading for upgrading sake is never a good idea. Preparing a business case and defining clear outcome expectations is half the battle in my experience.
  2. Potential changes to hosting infrastructure – Sitecore 8 introduces major changes into the application architecture. These affect both your Sitecore licence and the hardware that you’ll need. More on this later.

My top 5 Sitecore 8 upgrade tips

  1. Seek advice from your Sitecore partner on the latest release and revision of Sitecore – Revisions are constantly available containing fixes and/or enhanced features. A good partner will be able to advise you on this.
  2. Be clear on what target release you are going from and to – You may be thinking that’s obvious. The latest! Not necessarily. The latest version may have only just been released. If yours is a mission critical business you may not want to take this risk. Equally something will be driving your upgrade. Be clear on what this is so you don’t lose site of the rationale and business case.
  3. Be clear on the upgrade approach – perhaps more for Sitecore partners than the customer but there is an official approach. This includes upgrading each revision in turn. A time consuming (and therefore costly) exercise. Alternatives are to do a clean install and port content and solution. This should not be considered unless your partner is very experienced with demonstrable case studies of doing this. But it can provide a quicker alternative, especially if you have a big jump between releases. Either way do you have clarity from your partner?
  4. Plan your QA accordingly – If you are jumping from Sitecore 6 to Sitecore 8 this is going to be a big undertaking. There were significant changes between versions 6 and 7, specifically around search. Your upgrade approach should have some careful consideration around getting a baseline in functionality, as well as QA at key points in the upgrade path to ensure no regression in performance or functionality in your site.
  5. Consider 3rd party integrations – At Kagool we integrate with a number of other systems, such as uCommerce and Zimbra with dedicated connectors and deep integrations. Its key your partner has a handle on this as incompatibility issues will come back to bite you.

My 5 key Sitecore 8 upgrade questions

Moving to the infrastructure side of things, here are 5 questions for you to consider when taking the plunge to Sitecore 8.

  1. Do you know about the xDB? – Sitecore 8 includes the introduction of several new components performing different roles in the architecture, including the xDB (experience database), processing server and the reporting engine. You may have had your Sitecore instance for a while and be well used to the components in versions 6 through to 7.2. Time on understanding these elements is well spent. Our Sitecore 8 introduction helps.
  2. Have you got your processing server licence? – With the new processing server there is an additional licence that is required. You need to agree this with either Sitecore directly or via your partner.
  3. Is your IT infrastructure ready? – Related to point 1 having these new components will very likely have a knock-on impact to your IT server footprint. Sitecore recommends having additional servers to accommodate the various new roles. There are potential opportunities to combine new roles with existing servers but this should be fully considered and analysed. The key drivers will be around your performance, availability and scalability requirements. For more here are the Sitecore infrastructure options. Or you can just give us a call on 02920 666655
  4. Is your hardware sufficient? – i.e. do you have enough horsepower? You may have concluded from the previous point that you want to consolidate roles onto severs. Great, but it may be a false economy if the servers are underpowered. Not so much of a problem if you are in cloud environment. For example it takes minutes to push up your instance size on Azure and AWS. Perhaps more tricky and harder if you are on physical infrastructure.
  5. What’s your deployment plan? Upgrades are sizeable undertakings technically, but a smooth development process means nothing if the go-live causes site downtime/instability, loss of content or generally poor user experience. A good partner will have considered the upgrade path by progressively releasing it to UAT before sign of to live. The live process itself needs to be handled carefully and should involve a high level of automation to avoid user error. Equally it should consider other techniques around Sitecore instance management to avoid downtime and maximise stability.

Kagool are one of the UK’s leading Sitecore partners. To learn more about a Sitecore 8 upgrade contact us or give us a call on 02920 666655.