5 Questions about Migrating Documents into a Cloud Content Management Application

By Richard Porter-Roth posted 08-21-2013 16:45


When considering a cloud file storage application for your business, there are a number of questions to be considered as part of the initial planning for the site. These questions are:

  1. How much data (files/documents) will be migrated to the cloud application?
  2. How many users will be using the site?
  3. Who will set up the file structure organization?
  4. Who will move the files?
  5. How will the files be moved?

Most cloud sites (paid not free) are based on the number of users and they offer XX gigabytes per person but you are also allowed to purchase more storage if needed. However, the greater question is how will the files be migrated to the cloud application once it is ready to be used?

Cloud sites are typically setup to allow users to move their files to the application by dragging and dropping the files or a complete directory – which could be tedious and time consuming for the user if there is a large number of files. This method also basically copies the existing file structure (assuming a file share or other file directory structure) whether it is a single directory with unorganized files within it or a structured directory with multiple subdirectories.

So, let’s look at the above questions with some possible answers:

1. How much data (files/documents) will be migrated to the cloud application?

When planning for a site with a cloud vendor, it is the initial amount of space that is needed to be specified - such as 25 gigabytes. Since cloud sites are made to grow with you, don’t over specify the initial amount because you will be paying for storage not used. The department files being migrated may have 200 gigabytes in their file share but you may migrate only (estimated) 50 gigabytes in the first six months and you may never migrate the full 200 gigabytes. And, if you actually migrate 75 gigabytes, the cloud vendor can easily accommodate that growth when it happens.

As discussed below, even if a file directory is 200 gigabytes, there is a good chance that not all of those files will be migrated so your estimate for the initial amount of data should be on the conservative side. You may ask or work with IT to get an estimate of the number of files that are less than a year old and use this estimate as the initial size for your site. Files that are older than a year can be migrated on an as needed basis by the user.

If you are considering a cloud application for multiple departments or a whole company, the work to estimate the initial site size should be completed for each department individually. As we discuss in more detail below, migration to the new site may take days or weeks to complete depending on the amount of data and method used to migrate the data.

2, How many users will be using the site?

This will be the number of people who will be regular (or named) users of the site. If you are the marketing department with 10 people, this would be the number of users when you sign up for the site. This is also the number of people who can be assigned administrative permissions, be part of a group, and other permissions such as edit, view, upload, preview, etc. Depending on you vendor, there will be other permissions that can be given to the named user accounts.

There are also casual or invited, or external users (also called collaborators), which are people who you invite to the site to view or download a document or file. These users may not be a licensed user of the application and, depending on the cloud vendor, you may be able to assign them permissions such as edit or view only.

Each vendor will treat the external users differently so if one of your reasons for acquiring a cloud application is to communicate with people outside of your company, it is best to ensure clarity on this is issue prior to signing up for the service.

In terms of migrating files, if you have 10 users on the site, will the content already be migrated and available to them at startup or will you be asking them to upload their own files? It is possible that for the first week of so the users will be trying to upload their files and this may cause your internal network to slow down – causing delays and frustration. One possible solution is to have the users queue up their files right before they leave for the day so that the files are transferred during the off-hours and available to them the next morning.

3. Who will set up the file structure organization?

This will be a key decision and will affect how and what you migrate to your cloud application. Cloud applications generally work as a directory/subdirectory arrangement. This can duplicate your existing directory structure allowing users to upload files directly to already known directories. But, since you may be “sharing” the files to external users (which you couldn’t do with a file share), you may consider organizing the directory differently to minimize exposure of files to the external users.

Another example for setting up the files is that users can drag and drop complete directories to the cloud application. The file structure being moved will be duplicated in the cloud.

A third way of setting up the files is to depend on the search function to find the files and therefore a directory structure may not be needed. This method allows you to create a simple top-level directory and files are added to the subdirectory. This method depends on the full-text search capability of the application and on metadata or tags added to the file. Users should be aware that files are not in standard directories and that they will be searching for files.

Once the file structure has been established, the file migration can begin but see the next question, Who will move the files?

4. Who will move the files?

This question may have several answers but basically it will either be users moving their own files or an IT person moving the files. If it is the users, they will be responsible for moving the files that they works with and to the directory that was created for them. (Users may also create their own directory(ies) This may be a reasonable approach if there is a limited number of files to be moved over a long period of time. The user would upload files as they are needed or used at the time of the need. This accommodates the user and would not cause network delays if the files are average office-type documents.

A second option is to allow IT to upload designated files to the cloud application directly from the server. As a note, this would only work if the files to be migrated are on a server and not located on individual C-drives. If the number of files is large and has also is a large number of gigabytes, IT may be able to work with the application vendor to place the files on a portable hard drive that is sent to the vendor or upload the files to an FTP site. The vendor would then upload the files directly from the hard drive or FTP site. This method does involve some timing issues as the files that are transferred to the hard drive or FTP site should be locked on the server to prevent version issues. Also, IT may have to become a named user on your account to allow the upload of files.

The second option should be considered if there is a need to migrate large numbers of files and/or the files themselves are large. Many cloud applications have file size restrictions which may vary depending on the type of account and other factors such as the upload method. A file size limit may be 300 GB for individual files for example. (300 GB @ 5 Mbits/second will take 8 minutes to upload). Upload size may also depend on the transfer method, which could be from a mobile device, a laptop, or a server.

5. How will the files be moved?

Moving the files may be combination of users and IT. For example, IT may move the initial files to populate the site and get it ready for day to day use. After the initial move, the users may move other files as needed. For example, a file may be received as an email attachment and be uploaded to the cloud application.

Some sites also allow you to email an attachment to a directory. The site directory is given an email address and when received, the service strips the attachment from the email and places it in the directory. This allows users who are on the go to add files to the directory and also provides a convenient method for external users to contribute files.

Each cloud application vendor will have a variety of methods for uploading files and these should be reviewed with the vendor prior to choosing a site.

Note: Upload speed for files, whether one at a time or a complete directory, will depend on your internal and external Internet connection speed and the vendors ability to handle the incoming data. If your users are uploading from their desktop or laptop (a “c” drive), there will be other factors to consider as well. As an example of upload speed, it would take 5 hours to upload 10 gigabytes of files over a 5 Mbit/s connection (given optimum conditions). You may want to consult with your IT person to determine your Internet upload speed. The potential problem is that a user’s workstation would basically not be available during the upload time (5 hours) which may cause some users to become restless.

There should be some method for auditing the migration so that it can be verified that if 100 files were moved, 100 files were accepted by the cloud vendor. For various reasons, the cloud system may not accept certain file types or sizes and these files will not be moved but there may not be an error message from the vendor stating that the following files were not moved.

As a final note, it may be better to migrate your content in stages so that users get used to the new system and uploading files. It is very possible that only a minimum number of files will suffice to get the site running and operational for the users and the remaining files can follow as it is needed. Studies have shown that a fair number of files, in a mature directory, no longer have business value – files can be outdated, duplicates, copies, or files that are abandoned and not have an owner. It may be worth your time to closely review your files prior to starting the migration and ensure that you are not migrating files without value to your new repository. This will save you time in the migration process and potentially money for the amount of storage used – not to mention having files that are more easily found.

Want to understand the cloud more completely? Bud is the author of AIIM’s new training courses, “Managing Content in the Cloud." You can read about it, and register (of course), at

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