Best Practices for Adobe Experience Manager Upgrades

3|SHARE Team, November 8, 2017

Adobe Experience Manager’s (AEM) release of AEM 6.3 offers a plethora of appealing features and benefits, many companies are weighing the advantages of upgrading. An upgrade isn’t something to take lightly, however – it may involve a fairly significant undertaking, depending on your existing applications and configuration. But when implemented properly, upgrading to the latest version of AEM offers a multitude of benefits.

If you’ve been hearing great things about AEM 6.3, you might be thinking that it’s time to upgrade. Or, maybe you haven’t given an upgrade much consideration but are wondering if (and why) you should. We’ve broken down a few compelling reasons you might want to consider taking the plunge and outlined a number of best practices for ensuring a smooth upgrade.

Why Consider an Upgrade?

AEM 6.3 includes a wealth of new features. Enhanced, simpler page authoring for multi-channel experiences, an improved Template Editor (introduced in AEM 6.2), and improved reference implementation and reusable components are just a few of the time-saving and usability benefits of AEM 6.3. Enhanced asset search, tagging, and a check-in/check-out system for assets means the process of locating and updating assets is totally streamlined – and authoring collaboration is also improved. A new format for TarMK in AEM 6.3 allows for Online Revision Cleanup, which simplifies operations and maintenance without server downtime (which was previously required in prior versions of the Oak repository).

Working with Creative Cloud is also easier in AEM 6.3, thanks to improved, enhanced Creative Cloud integration. In addition to better overall platform performance, scalability, and maintenance, AEM 6.3 offers a fluid experience, making it possible to compose and deliver content beyond your owned channels to affiliated channels and touchpoints – meaning it’s easier than ever to provide a true multi-channel experience for your audience.

In addition to the obvious benefit of taking advantage of the latest features and improvements, many enterprises opt to upgrade in order to ensure compliance to Adobe product maintenance and support policy. Additionally, Adobe typically phases out support for previous versions over time, so upgrading to the latest version means you’ll be able to maintain full Adobe support for your AEM applications (core support has ended for 5.6.x and 6.0 versions with the release of 6.3.) Finally, the stability and performance benefits simply can’t be overstated; newer versions tend to have better stability and more robust performance overall.

Upgrades are often a considerable effort for a company. The time and effort involved depends on several factors including the number of applications and overall complexity of the existing configuration. That’s why it’s imperative to work with a qualified partner, with extensive experience in AEM upgrades, to ensure that your upgrade is completed as efficiently as possible.

What’s Involved in an AEM Upgrade?

While there’s a general approach for AEM upgrades, the specific steps and overall process vary based on the client’s AEM platform. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to be within one or two previous versions to the version to which you are upgrading.

 A successful upgrade begins with extensive analysis and planning. Taking the time to plan the best course of action, handle pre-upgrade tasks, and define the steps to implementation is an investment that will pay off handsomely in terms of both time and costs, avoiding unnecessary delays and issues down the line that can be prevented proactively.

For your convenience we've put together an AEM upgrade checklist that you can download here:  7 Steps for Upgrading Adobe Experience Manager. 

Analysis and Planning

There are two primary approaches to AEM upgrades:

  • In-place upgrades: make use of Adobe’s in-place upgrade procedure and tool for the target version
  • New installs: involve setting up a new instance of the target AEM version, updating the code for deployment to the target version, and migrating content and configuration (which may include workflows, custom OSGi configuration, etc.)

So, the first step in any upgrade project is an analysis and recommendation on the best approach for the client’s needs. There are a few primary considerations that determine the best approach:

  • Does the client need to retain versions and audit history for compliance? In this case, an in-place upgrade is typically advisable.
  • Are the pre-upgrade conditions and requirements met? This is necessary for successful in-place upgrades and should be verified prior to initiation of the upgrade process.
  • Does the client want to have a “clean” setup? Starting fresh is desirable for some clients, and in this case, a new install is typically the best approach.
  • Does the client have too many API dependencies that would require substantial work-arounds in order for the in-place procedure to work properly? This is one instance in which a client initially considering an in-place upgrade would be advised to opt for a new install.

The next steps in the upgrade process depend on the approach chosen. The primary steps for each approach are outlined below, and these steps can also vary depending on the client’s existing configuration and applications.

In-Place Upgrade Steps

Clients on AEM 5.x need to upgrade to AEM 6.0 in order to use the in-place upgrade approach. After upgrading to AEM 6.0, the in-place upgrade procedure is applied. However, for clients still on AEM 5.x, we typically recommend the new installation approach.

For clients using the in-place upgrade approach, a pre-upgrade maintenance check is the first step. First, the corresponding pre-upgrade maintenance optimization AEM package is installed (6.0, 6.1, or 6.2). AEM 6.3 offers an improved upgrade process, optimizing and automating pre-upgrade maintenance tasks that previously had to be carried out manually, which enables a unified way to trigger maintenance tasks and inspect the results on demand. All of the pre-upgrade maintenance tasks in these optimization packages are compatible with AEM 6.0 and up. Additionally, post-upgrade reports enable more in-depth analysis, making it easier to identify issues.

After the pre-upgrade maintenance optimization AEM package is installed, a check for configured maintenance tasks is performed and the tasks are run. This is followed by pre-upgrade compatibility checks to evaluate AEM instances for compatibility – such as detecting APIs that are not compatible with the target version and may break post-upgrade.

With an in-place upgrade, there’s no need for content migration as it’s already in the copy. Once these pre-upgrade tasks are completed, the in-place upgrade is carried out.

New AEM Installation, Deploy, Configure, and Migrate Steps

For new installations, there may be more manual steps involved to migrate content and configuration. The basic steps for a new installation include:

  • Installing and setting up a new AEM instance (or multiple instances)
  • Updating the code repository POMs dependencies and resolving any issues to deploy these dependences to the new AEM instances
  • Configuring AEM
  • Migrating content
  • Refactoring any API issues
  • Performing regression testing and refactoring any upgrade issues

On average, the typical upgrade takes 7 to 10 weeks, although upgrades run the gamut from fairly short to similar in scope and cost to complete project. Larger and more complex sites, for instance, may have more test cases and therefore take longer to complete, while AEM installations with simple content sites (and thus fewer test cases) may take less time. Some upgrades (both in-place upgrades and new installations) may require altering the client code base. These considerations and other factors will influence the project scope and timeline.

Why Choose 3|SHARE?

An upgrade can be an extensive process and a complex undertaking; that’s why companies need to enlist the help of an experienced team. 3|SHARE’s upgrade teams typically include a Project Manager/Business Analyst (PMBA), a Technical Architect, an AEM Developer, and a System Engineer, providing comprehensive expertise and resources to handle every aspect of your upgrade from start to finish.

Our team has performed in the ballpark of 20 to 40 AEM upgrades for clients, including:

  • Las Vegas Sands
  • CME Group
  • Southern California Edison
  • La Quinta Inns & Suites
  • Chevron
  • University of Oklahoma
  • DirecTV

3|SHARE is focused exclusively on AEM – meaning our team isn’t distracted by keeping up with developments in other platforms and technologies; AEM is all we do. We also provide Remote Operations Management (ROM), managed services for AEM clients, managed services for AEM applications ensuring 24/7/365 uptime, maintenance, and support. That means our team has an in-depth understanding of what makes AEM tick and what it takes to keep it up and running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and a full 365 days of the year. Download our Managed Services Guide to see how you can maximize your AEM investment while minimizing your maintenance of it. 

Thinking about an upgrade? You need an experienced team you can trust to handle your mission-critical AEM applications. We frequently host webinars that focus on AEM best practices in design, deployment, QA and management,  subscribe to our channel to view our latest videos.  Get in touch with us today to talk further about upgrading your AEM environment.

Topics: 3|SHARE Insider, Adobe Experience Manager, Web Content Management System, Upgrade

3|SHARE Team