Sitecore 8: Should You Upgrade?

May 18, 2015

Blog | Development | Sitecore 8: Should You Upgrade?
Sitecore 8: Should You Upgrade?

 

Deciding whether or not to upgrade a Sitecore install is a tall order, but with the proper planning and partner, you can ensure a successful transition.  To safeguard stability during and after the upgrade, your team should understand the the process, the costs associated with upgrading and how to extract a return on investment (ROI). This guide is intended to help you decide if upgrading to the new version of Sitecore (Sitecore XP/8) is worth the investment.

Why Upgrade?

Bug Fixes

Every iteration of Sitecore will contain bug fixes and general improvements. Sitecore is extremely mature at this stage and bugs are often quite minor. If your current platform is plagued with a persistent, time-killing bug that a new version addresses, you should consider upgrading.

Browsers  It seems that browsers are updated every day. With so many options, and so many versions available, upgrading can improve the content editor and page editor experiences for all users.
Cloud Offerings

 

Sitecore 8 is tailor-made for hosting and deployment on the Azure cloud service, and it integrates seamlessly with cloud-ready databases like xDB and MongoDB, giving you flexibility.  Since hosting in the cloud is more scalable, offers potential cost savings, and moves your technical worries (servers, networks, load balancing, etc,) onto someone else’s plate, this is a wonderful feature and a worthwhile reason to make the leap.
Redesign/
Rearchitect 

If a design overhaul or major release is scheduled, it may also be a good time to upgrade Sitecore.  Since technologies change rapidly, and many of the new language features make development easier, moving to the new version can save you development time, and ultimately shorten the project lifecycle.

 

Keep in mind that as technology changes, the Sitecore Best-Practices change as well. Sitecore periodically updates their recommendations, so be sure to follow their guidelines when upgrading to a new version.


New Features

Buckets Item buckets were added in Sitecore 7 and provide a better way to manage larger data sets in the content tree. Previously, performance took a hit when items contained roughly over one hundred direct children. With item buckets, thousands of items can be beneath a single item. These items are queryable in various ways from the backend and front end of the application.
Search In Sitecore 7, search was overhauled extensively. All search providers—such as Solr, Lucene, and Coveo—may be accessed using the same Search API. This abstraction layer provides support for filtering and faceting that were previously very difficult to achieve. Entire providers can be swapped out in a matter of hours as opposed to days – saving  precious time and development overhead.
SPEAK UI Sitecore modal windows have been revamped to take advantage of their new SPEAK UI (Sitecore Process Enablement & Accelerator Kit) framework. These modals provide a consistent user experience throughout the application. This allows developers to easily create custom modals that have the look and feel of the out-of-the-box Sitecore experience.
MVC Your CTO might be thrilled to hear that Sitecore has added support for MVC 4/5. This support was added in the 7.x releases and provides a better programming experience for developers.
xDB/MongoDB Support for MongoDB was added in version 7.5 for the analytics database. MongoDB is a “NoSQL” database, sometimes called a “document” database.  What that means is that it’s really good at storing hard-to-predict sets of data.  For Sitecore, this means that you can store large data sets of any sort, and Sitecore Analytics can query it into a shape that’s meaningful for you.  Additionally, moving analytics into MongoDB takes a big load off the database that powers the website.  Over the long term, this division of specialization can keep the site snappy, and provide flexible tools for marketing.
Experience Marketing If you’re looking to empower your marketing team, and deliver consistent, connected experiences across every user touch point, you should definitely upgrade. Sitecore 8 seamlessly manages every interaction, whether online, offline or on the go and provides powerful tools to manage it all: a/b and multivariate testing, visual path analysis, core and custom reports, dynamic segmentation, and rich analytics. Sitecore also harnesses and analyzes data from non-Sitecore sites, CRM, ERP, and POS systems.
Modules
Sitecore 8 provides BrightCove, marketing automation, Azure and much more right out of the box.  But there is also a large ecosystem of user-created modules. The Sitecore developer community is very active, and you can purchase modules (some are available for free!) for almost any need. One caveat? Each module will have its own team, its own requirements, and its own service agreement.  You’ll have a better experience if you keep your Sitecore instance up-to-date.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Luckily, Sitecore published a white paper that addresses this very issue. The measurements focus mainly on data pulled from the system and Google Analytics.

Ultimately, your return will largely be dependent on the level of effort users invest in learning new features. If your content authors and developers log their time, you’ll be able to test, analyze and measure productivity before and after the upgrade.


What if I Don’t Upgrade?

Sometimes, upgrading isn’t necessary and choosing to stay-the-course is the most intelligent move. There are, however, some points to consider before making a decision.

Infrastructure – Sitecore is an ASP.NET application and thus relies on the entire Windows family of services to run. If the fundamental components of a Sitecore version are outdated, the entire system can become unreliable. For example, if a security exploit is found in SQL server that is patched in later releases, it may cost a company more for not upgrading than it would have to simply upgrade originally.

Bugs – Each new version of Sitecore fixes bugs from previous versions. While many go unnoticed, they could be affecting the user experience or site performance.

Sitecore Support – Like any product, Sitecore will eventually drop support of older versions. A support lifetime matrix is available to view when support for each version ends.

Marketing – Ultimately, a corporate website is a marketing tool. By not upgrading, your site objectives – lead generation, nurturing, thought leadership and recruiting – could take a hit.


How do I Upgrade?

You’ll need an experienced development partner to upgrade to any new version of Sitecore.  Your partner should work with you to develop a plan for implementation and testing – starting with fundamentals and diving deep into details.  They should know their way around the entire product infrastructure, do regular backups, and be able to identify areas of risk.  Your development partner should be just that – your partner.

While upgrade guidelines are included with all releases, Sitecore XP/8 provides a more comprehensive guide than was previously available in 7.x releases and older. Typically, upgrades are applied iteratively until the final version is reached. This helps prevent configuration errors that may be missed when jumping several versions at once.

Time

Depending on the size of the installation, the number of development partners you have and the number of versions you need to upgrade to, plan on 2-4 weeks. During the process, development on the old platform should be frozen until the upgrade is complete.

Verdict?

Version
Sitecore 7.x Testing, reporting, analytics, segmentation and personalization will provide deeper insights into the customer experience and empower your marketers to fine tune their efforts. If you’re looking to amplify your marketing – upgrade.
Sitecore 6.x Item buckets and improved content management features will save significant content entry time. If you’re looking for increased productivity – upgrade.
Sitecore 5.x The ROI is almost immediately realized in the development savings and daily upkeep for content editors. Without a doubt – upgrade.

 

John Rappel

Technical Lead
Tags
  • Sitecore
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