As of December 2019, Sitecore 8.2 moves from mainstream support into extended Sitecore support. This means any customers on Version 8 or lower should be planning a Sitecore upgrade now.
All software evolves over time. The rate of change within information technology is roughly three times that of other forms of technology. This means that in a three-year period, we will usually see a level of change in IT that would take roughly ten years in other industries, e.g. the automotive or financial sectors.
This creates a challenge for Software vendors. Software that stands still becomes outdated so rapidly that it is easy to become replaced by a competitor. However, if you change at the pace required to keep up with advancements in the wider industry, older versions of your product become a millstone that form a barrier to innovation.
Sitecore is no stranger to this challenge. Since version 6, Sitecore versions have had a three-year lifecycle and 2019 sees the end of this cycle for Sitecore 8. This now places urgency for enterprises to upgrade. But with this need to act are some significant benefits to that come with the latest version, Sitecore 9.1.
What happens for organisations on Sitecore 8 when mainstream support ends?
Sitecore Is a powerful platform with many moving parts. It’s natural that some defects may not reveal themselves until the platform is used in anger, and as a support customer you can expect Sitecore to fix any issues with their product during its normal lifetime.
In mainstream support, you can expect Sitecore to take responsibility for the relationship between their software and the supporting technology it requires to run on. If your business starts to experience issues that result from a patch applied to the operating system, then expect Sitecore to provide a resolution for the problem. If there is a security flaw with Sitecore itself, you can expect Sitecore to provide a patch to fix it.
In extended support these aspects change. Sitecore will provide a fix for bugs with the software, but you must pay for the time for them to develop the fix. Importantly, there is no help available for issues resulting from compatibility with supported operating systems. This means there is nothing that can be done if a Windows patch stops something business critical from working.
For most Sitecore customers this is not a situation that is acceptable to the business. Therefore, if your Sitecore instance is important or critical to your business, you should always ensure you are on a version in mainstream support. In this case Sitecore 9.1 is the latest update.
9 benefits of a Sitecore 9 upgrade
Cortex – Sitecore Cortex was the big feature to be released with Sitecore 9 and brought artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to the platform. All designed to make it easier for customers to get the most from the platform.
GDPR – in between the release of Sitecore 8 and 9, GDPR laws came into play. This was problematic for Sitecore 8 as PII can be found in multiple places and there was very little help for developers to remove it. Version 9 made this very easy with code written specifically to this end.
PaaS – subscription and auto scaling – There have been some significant changes under the hood in the Sitecore 9 upgrade. These changes break the application up into smaller components that can flex individually. This means that customers get a far more flexible platform that can dynamically respond to increased traffic. It results in better performance and lower running costs. It also serves to future proof the platform and make it ideal for public cloud hosting on Azure
Cognitive Services – Sitecore 9 is built for Azure. Once on Azure, you’re able to take advantage of some of the amazing services Microsoft offer. Cognitive Services is Azure’s AI functionality – it has tools for computer vision, speech and language recognition and many more. What’s more they are very easy to use and consume within a Sitecore application.
Upgrade Wizard – It’s best for everyone if Sitecore is kept up to date. In the past, the effort to upgrade was a barrier to always being on the latest version. Sitecore introduced the update wizard with the Sitecore 9 upgrade that means that a lot of updates can now be done without developer intervention. Theoretically, the Sitecore 9 upgrade could be the last big effort for users.
Sitecore Forms – Most websites have some kind of form. An early feature of Sitecore that proved really popular was the Web Forms For Marketers (WFFM) module that allowed forms to be created by content editors. It was a really powerful tool that went through several incarnations. However, the demands of modern forms started to limit the effectiveness of WFFM. For Sitecore 9, Forms were re-imagined and became a default part of the application. The Sitecore Forms feature allows easy creation of multi-step forms and dynamic questions, with a modern, easy to use, drag and drop interface.
xConnect – Sitecore is a big data platform. Sitecore xDB is the place where this data is collected in an unstructured way – simply meaning that it can collect anything and everything. This data is incredibly valuable to your organisation, furthermore, your organisation may have other data held outside Sitecore that may benefit Sitecore itself. It has always been difficult to share this Analytics data efficiently between Sitecore and other applications. This changed with the release of Sitecore xConnect.
As xConnect can be connected to by other applications, it’s incredibly simple to get data in and out of Sitecore xDB and to use it in a way that benefits your organisation. It follows industry data standards making integrations very simple.
Universal Tracker – Sitecore Analytics has always been predominantly geared around online interactions. What about offline interactions? If a customer has been to your website, but then goes in store before finally returning to the website, wouldn’t it be great if you could reflect the outcome of their in-store interaction online.
IoT technology makes this a possibility. Sitecore universal tracker sits in front of xConnect and can be used to send data about offline interactions. This data is then incorporated into xDB so that the picture you have of your customers is enhanced by data from online and offline interactions.
Federated Authentication – Sitecore has provided identity management and authentication since very early versions. However, this data was purely for the use of Sitecore websites. The industry is moving towards a model where an individual’s identity and security information is held in a centralised system that other systems can connect to. When the user logs in, a request is sent to the external system to check if the user is legit. If the password matches, the customers data is returned.
The advantage of this approach is that it is far easier to implement multi-factor authentication and Single Sign On. In older versions of Sitecore it was difficult to make Sitecore play nice with this model. In Sitecore 9, it is supported out of the box.
How to approach the Sitecore 9 upgrade for your business
We’ve got decades of experience in helping enterprises upgrade their solution. Our technical experts know how to build your Sitecore instance to industry best practice, so that it is easy to upgrade. But what if we didn’t build your instance initially? How can we help you get to the latest version?
We have a tried and tested technique that aims to make it as efficient and as smooth for you as possible. We start with a Sitecore audit first, where we’ll look at your instance to see if we are going to experience problems in upgrading. If there are issues, we’ll provide your organisations with guidance on how to fix them, and if necessary, can do the fixing for you.
Once we’re on a solid footing, we start by installing a new instance of the target version. We then port your content across and deploy your custom code into the solution. We normally than have a few things to fix before we regression test the site.
After we’ve finished testing we hand over to your team for UAT. This is usually done on the instance of Sitecore that will eventually be your live site, so you know you are testing the actual live site instead of a copy of it. When it comes to go-live, we do this with zero down time by simply pointing your DNS entry (address) at the new instance If something goes wrong, we can roll back instantly. Eventually, once the new site has bedded in, we turn the old one off.