SharePoint 2013 is expected to be available to the public in the first quarter of 2013, and you may be wondering when is the best time to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013.

SharePoint 2013 certainly has some great new functionality and features that you may find enticing, and it may tempt you to expedite the deployment of SharePoint 2013. A few of those temptations include the FAST search technology integrated into the out-of-the-box (OOB) SharePoint search functionality.

SharePoint 2013 also includes several enhancements to the social computing environment, such as status updates, newsfeeds, mentions, as well as improvements in mobile device integration and e-Discovery.

Upgrade Methods for 2013

Another big change is in the upgrade methods for SharePoint 2013. The in-place upgrade option no longer exists for SharePoint 2013 so the only upgrade method, which was always the preferred upgrade method in SharePoint 2010, is the database attach upgrade.

However, there are several improvements in the SharePoint 2013 database attach upgrade process. These improvements include: upgrading service applications, a Site Health Checker feature for site collections, and the option to upgrade site collections after upgrading the database that contains the site collections.

These enhancements streamline the upgrade process and provide a more flexible upgrade process. However, the decision to upgrade to SharePoint 2013 and the process used to upgrade will depend heavily upon your current version of SharePoint and whether or not you are already planning an upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010.

Getting Up to Speed

If you are running SharePoint 2007, you will have to perform a two-step process to upgrade to SharePoint 2013. The first step is to upgrade to SharePoint 2010, and the second step is to upgrade from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013. At this point you may be wondering, “What is it going to cost to perform the interim upgrade to SharePoint 2010?” The answer is, “It depends.”

If you already have the required hardware for SharePoint 2010, then you will most likely meet the hardware requirements for SharePoint 2013, although I would suggest you beef up the RAM for SharePoint 2013. The core software requirements are slightly different: Server 2008 R2 SP1 or Server 2012, and SQL Server 2008 R2 SP1 or SQL Server 2012. If you already have these, you are set for both the SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 installations.

You may be thinking, “But wait! That means I need to obtain the SharePoint Server 2010 software to create the interim farm? I certainly don’t want to buy SharePoint 2010 just to upgrade to SharePoint 2013.” The good news is that you can locate a standard or enterprise trial copy of SharePoint 2010 from the Microsoft Download Center, and use this to build the interim SharePoint 2010 farm.

After you have upgraded your databases to SharePoint 2010, you can then copy them to your SharePoint 2013 farm and upgrade them to SharePoint 2013. By default, when you upgrade your databases to SharePoint 2013, the site collections contained in the databases remain in a true SharePoint 2010 format, not just visually, but functionally as well.

Identify Issues 

This is where the Site Health Checker comes into play; you can run the Site Health Checker on the SharePoint 2010 site collections contained in the SharePoint 2013 databases to determine if there are any issues with the site collection prior to upgrading it to SharePoint 2013.

However, I think something even more helpful is that you have the option of creating a SharePoint 2013 evaluation copy of your SharePoint 2010 site collection. You can now see how the site collection will look and perform in SharePoint 2013 without disrupting your SharePoint 2010 environment. After resolving any issues discovered in your SharePoint 2010 site collection, you are then ready to upgrade it to SharePoint 2013.

These two options make the upgrade process from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2013 quite easy, and the options help you perform the upgrade at a pace that is comfortable for your users, yet it still allows the farm administrators to complete the farm upgrade to SharePoint 2013 when they are ready.

For organizations that are close to upgrading from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 in the next few months, consider pausing the rollout of SharePoint 2010 and waiting for the SharePoint 2013 release. This will allow you to take advantage of all the new functionality when using the upgrade process mentioned above.

While You Wait

With that said, you may be asking what you can do during the few months that you are waiting to upgrade to SharePoint 2013 from SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010. How about building a governance plan or improving an outdated governance plan? You could also take some time to clean up your SharePoint data so only current and relevant data is migrated to SharePoint 2013. This time could also be used to review and update the organization of your SharePoint information to ensure a user-friendly environment in SharePoint 2013.

As you can see, there’s plenty to do between now and the expected release of SharePoint 2013, regardless of whether you are upgrading from SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010, so be sure to use this time wisely so you can perform an efficient and painless upgrade when SharePoint 2013 is released.

Editor's Note: Brian offered a great overview of SharePoint 2013 in this series, 35,000 Foot View of SharePoint 2013