Things to Keep in Mind When Upgrading to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011

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The upgrade from Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 is probably the easiest upgrade available for CRM to date. Even so, there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when planning an upgrade for an on-premise CRM installation. First, however, let’s discuss the good news…

Microsoft, with CRM 2011, offers a variety of upgrade paths to choose from, but all of them revolve around one key point – you can upgrade a CRM 4.0 organization by importing it into a CRM 2011 organization. This translates to easy upgrade testing and a painless transition. If you want to see what the upgrade will look like, just install CRM 2011 on a new server in your environment, take a copy of your production CRM organization database, and import it into the new server. The upgrade process will happen automatically, and after it is done you will not only have a good idea of how long it will take, but you can test all of your functionality and any 4.0 customizations without affecting your production CRM server at all. Additionally, and this is the largest departure from previous CRM upgrades, if the upgrade fails for any reason, you no longer need to re-install the previous version of CRM to try the upgrade again – just restore the database from a backup and try again!

There are, of course, some additional considerations and complications to consider with your upgrade. First of all, keep in mind the new system requirements for operating CRM 2011. All servers involved (the web front-end as well as the SQL server) must be x64, running Server 2008 SP2 or better (this includes R2) and SQL Server 2008 (including R2). This may be a challenge for any organizations still using SQL 2005 or who are running CRM 4.0 on a 2003 server. Neither of these systems will be supported. Second, the upgrade process clears out the workflow history from the database before it completes. There is a Microsoft KB article (KB968520) that contains a script to clear out this history, which would be valuable to run ahead of time to avoid delays in the actual upgrade process itself. Third, note that a number of customizations that may have been done in CRM 4.0 with javascript (such as hiding fields or tabs) are not technically supported, and will stop working after the upgrade. These will not cause the upgrade to fail, but will display javascript errors in the interface post-upgrade.

Another area to consider is if your current CRM deployment is operating as an Internet-facing deployment (IFD). The authentication mechanism for CRM has changed dramatically for CRM 2011, and in order to enable IFD for CRM 2011, you need to configure Claims-based authentication. This means an installation of ADFS 2.0, and some additional configuration to enable this to work with CRM. Once this change is made, all users will authenticate to CRM using claims-based authentication (both internal and external) and all users will need to use HTTPS to connect. There are a number of additional requirements around enabling claims-based authentication for CRM – Microsoft has provided a white paper on enabling the process that is downloadable with the Implementation Guide, and your Microsoft partner can also help you with this process.

Overall, the upgrade process is much improved, and it is now easier than ever to test the upgrade before actually taking down your production environment for an upgrade. With the ability to test ahead of time, organizations can minimize any real downtime and get issues worked out well in advance. One final handy piece of information – CRM 2011 still has most of the same service endpoints that CRM 4.0 did. This means that many applications (integration software such as Scribe, and even the CRM Outlook client Update Rollup 7 or better) will actually continue to function after the upgrade to 2011. Users won’t be able to go offline with the Outlook client after the upgrade, but they will still be able to synchronize data and track records with the existing client until they have the chance to upgrade that as well.

If you have any questions or would like additional information, feel free to contact the OTT, Inc. team at any time. Happy Upgrading!

By OTT, Inc., a Minnesota Microsoft Dynamics CRM Partner

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