Wednesday, 4 May 2016

What has changed in content migration since the 90s?

Opening Moves

Picture a gaggle of eager high school students diligently copying and pasting content from one website to another. That was my first exposure to enterprise content migration. The year was 1999, and the content management system was NCompass Resolution. The mundane manual work was required because there simply wasn't any migration software available; the market for content management was minuscule by today's standards, and migrating websites to VignetteInterwoven (who featured Lance Armstrong on their marketing posters), or NCompass Resolution wouldn't have supported a serious development effort.

NCompass Resolution

So, when faced with the problem of how to get an existing website's content into a new Resolution powered site, the most cost-effective answer at the time was to hire a bunch of worker bee students. Things have certainly changed a lot since then; in fact, they've changed many times over. Software as a Service (SaaS) content management solutions such as Google Apps weren't even a glimmer in a developer's eye, and there would be many steps along the way to reaching the cloud. Each step requiring its own solution to the data migration puzzle.

- The MCMS Site Manager Windows application

The Game Gets Popular

When I look back on those days, I feel fortunate to have landed an entry-level job at NCompass Labs just as "Web Content Management" was breaking out of a humble niche market and into the mainstream. The trend accelerated after Microsoft acquired NCompass Labs in 2001 and rebranded the product as Microsoft Content Management Server (MCMS). Before the acquisition, most of the established content management solutions came from niche players. Big name companies were starting out, but they weren't really in the game yet. That quickly changed with a number of large software companies developing content management solutions--including Microsoft adding SharePoint to the mix. In a few short years, talking to people about content management went from deer in headlights, blank stare reactions to, "Oh, ya. I've heard of SharePoint."

MCMS Woodgrove sample site
- The Woodgrove Bank sample site for MCMS

Migration Becomes a Business

While working on MCMS 2002, the team was facing the same migration challenge we had previously solved using the brute force student plan. Hiring students for each project obviously wasn't a scalable solution, so that's when Metalogix entered the picture. The Metalogix team had already been working on sophisticated technology to extract content from websites, and when they impressed the team with a demo, the first migration solution for Microsoft was born: Metalogix Migration Assistant. Since the source system varied, the most logical solution was to extract the content from the browser and then use the MCMS server-side API (which was awesome BTW) to write the content to the target. Most migration software today, does not work like this. It's pretty much one API to another these days.

Metalogix box shot

The Rise of SharePoint

MCMS was a highly profitable business by most standards (it made ~$50 million in its first year), but Microsoft had much bigger plans. Namely, a project code-named Tahoe. We heard about Tahoe at NCompass, but there was no public demo, so we hadn't seen it yet. Tahoe wasn't just the worst kept secret code name at Microsoft (you'll find numerous references to the 'code name' all over the SharePoint community), it was the beginning of Microsoft SharePoint--the fastest product in Microsoft history to reach $1 billion in revenue (it's currently over $2 billion).

Unlike the early days, by the time SharePoint entered the picture in 2003, content management solutions were well on their way to mainstream adoption. There was a rush of offerings from companies such as EMC, Oracle, IBM and many others. At the time, Microsoft Windows was the dominant desktop operating system, so most of the content management solutions were tightly tied to the Windows environment. Yes, many added a web-based authoring interface, but they relied heavily on a Windows-centric view of the software landscape and these solutions--as well as the migration software for them--were simply not well-suited to the coming revolution now known as cloud computing.

Not surprisingly, when Microsoft folded the MCMS team into SharePoint, Metalogix was already working on a migration solution for the new product. (Metalogix's SharePoint migration products recently finished in 1st and 2nd place in a favourite SharePoint migration tool poll.) Over the various incarnations of SharePoint, migration Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) had to adapt to the changing technology. For example, SharePoint eventually added a SOAP-based client API, but it did not provide the same functionality as the server API. This complicated matters since migration vendors all wanted to support both on-premises and hosted installs. Although network connections were getting faster and more reliable, speed was definitely still a major issue for migrating data to and from the cloud.

MCMS website
- The old MCMS website

The Cloud Changes the Rules

A decade later, many on-premises services rose to the cloud, and many companies were scrambling to deal with the new reality. Microsoft chose to adapt SharePoint to the cloud, first releasing the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) which was a slightly modified version of the on-premises technology, and then later grouping a number of SaaS offerings together as Office 365. Developers working on migration solutions for the cloud had a difficult time adjusting to the new paradigm. By this point, content management solutions featured more friendly REST APIs, but most product APIs simply didn't provide enough coverage for high-fidelity migrations.

A New Player: Google Apps

Originally, Gmail, Google Drive, and the other Google Apps targeted the consumer market. However, with the release of Google Apps for Work, Google evolved their offering into a full stack solution for the enterprise. Unlike older content management systems, Google Apps wasn't rooted in the on-premises days, and this allowed the team to create something more modern and better suited to today's mobile-friendly tech environment; for example, with the ability to co-author in real-time in a web interface or mobile app. As Google expanded their apps, AppBridge was founded on the goal of helping companies go Google. Using new technology to achieve greater scale than previous migration software, we now offer full stack, zero downtime migrations to Google Apps via the AppBridge Transformation Suite.

migration to Google Apps and Google Drive

It is clear that cloud computing has been accepted by large organizations of all types and verticals. Data networks have improved significantly and many people have fast network access at home and work. many barriers have been removed, and the benefits of the cloud--especially the economic and security improvements--have outweighed the outdated value proposition of buying and maintaining on-premises equipment. Without a doubt, there will be surprises down the line, but it's clear that the overarching migration to the cloud is only just starting to gain momentum.

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