Sitecore Upgrade Paths

A comprehensive guide to Sitecore upgrade paths, including tips to ensure a smooth upgrade process.


For many years now Sitecore was a platform that required planning, thought, and budget around upgrading. Upgrading is no small task. Depending on how many version jumps you are making, this could be a very large and complex project, or sometimes not possible, or sometimes, it makes more sense to start from scratch.

Sitecore upgrades are done for three reasons primarily.

  1. Take advantage of new features or performance improvements
  2. Ensure you are within the Sitecore support windows for standard or extended support
  3. Keeping up to date with your CMS is part of your overall business planning

The majority of Sitecore users are upgrading for a combination of these reasons.

Now that Sitecore has introduced a SaaS CMS offering that won’t require upgrades, it’s time to re-think the traditional upgrade path.

This is designed for customers who are going to be moving to XM Cloud. If you have decided to stay on XM or XP for many years to come, then this wouldn’t be as applicable but may act as a catalyst for deciding to move to XM Cloud.

In the Past

As stated above, traditionally, you needed to plan out carefully and then budget and schedule a Sitecore upgrade. For example, moving from versions of Sitecore 8 to 9.1 had breaking changes for forms, forcing you to re-build your forms. A traditional upgrade would mean deploying new infrastructure and, over the course of several months, developing and deploying the new solution. This means managing two infrastructure sets until the newly upgraded site is live.

For discussion's sake, let's say you spend $150,000 over four months on a Sitecore Upgrade. What are you internally getting for this, and what are your website users getting?

  • The design of the site isn’t changing so your web users won’t notice a new experience
  • Website users may notice an incremental increase in site performance
  • You web authors won’t notice a difference in the authoring experience but may notice increases in authoring performance
  • You are within the Sitecore support standard or extended windows for the next (x) years
  • Perhaps take advantage of new features released (This is rare)

Overall the “value” of an upgrade is to appease IT governance by staying within the support windows. Not very compelling.

Upgrade costs going forward are an almost entirely a sunk cost. Below I will outline different ways to think about using these budgets for more valuable, forward-facing activities.

Short-Term (Optional)

Before I get into options, the pre-amble is that these short-term options are only valid if you can’t take on the long-term strategy below. Also, these short-term strategies are meant as a stop-gap until the long-term strategy can be implemented, not designed to be the way you do this going forward. The goal is to get to XM Cloud as quickly as possible.


A short-term strategy might be to do a full upgrade one last time. This would ensure you are within the support windows for a period of time. Perhaps understanding, planning or knowing this will be the last traditional upgrade you perform on Sitecore.

Upgrade to not the latest version but the latest version under support

Maybe you don’t perform a full upgrade but an incremental upgrade to get you within an extended support window for a period of time. This may make sense if breaking changes exist between versions you don’t want to undertake.

Upgrade while going to XM

The majority of traditional Sitecore clients are on Sitecore XP. Upgrading while moving to Sitecore XM can save you some money on infrastructure. Sitecore XM requires far fewer infrastructure resources to run as it doesn’t include any of the marketing automation features Sitecore XP does.

Think about re-architecting headless

Regardless of your short-term upgrade path, re-architecting now may also make sense to ensure you are XM Cloud ready. This may make sense if you can’t afford the XM Cloud licensing right now or XM Cloud doesn’t include key features you may require at this time. Although more expensive and complex than an upgrade, it would make the jump to XM Cloud a lot easier.


I’m referring to this as the long-term strategy as this is the end goal. However, the faster you can move to this solution, the better. It will allow you to have the best-performing website without ever having to think of upgrades.

XM Cloud

XM Cloud is Sitecore’s new SaaS Headless only CMS. I’m not going to dive deep into what XM Cloud is here, but we have many other blogs on our website describing it. An example is here: What is XM Cloud

XM Cloud being a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) means you will always be on the latest version and not have to deal with infrastructure.

XM Cloud being headless only means that your traditional Sitecore site will need to be re-architected, so while this isn’t a small engagement, we have or are in the midst of performing many of these projects, so reach out to understand the scale of this work.

May as well re-design

If your organization is considering a site re-design in the future, this is a great time to move to XM Cloud. A re-design encompasses re-building the website anyway, so you may as well re-build it headless on XM Cloud. This can be a great way to justify the cost of the engagement and take your site architecture to the next level.


To summarize, there are several factors to consider when thinking about when is the right time to move to XM Cloud or how to upgrade:

  • Are you planning on redesigning your site in the near future?
  • Do you understand the concepts of headless/composable architecture?
  • How many features of XP are you using?
  • What features do you require going forward?
  • Be careful in investing in these old features now
  • What internal skills may need to change or shift?


The goal is to minimize or eliminate the need for Sitecore upgrades going forward so make the right decision to this. Sitecore upgrades are a sunk cost; spend this money more strategically. The overall recommendation is to avoid upgrades. Reach out to us about how we can help you be more strategic about the best way to move forward that achieves value.

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Meet Derek Bairstow

Vice President | Sitecore Ambassador MVP


Derek is the Vice President and a Cloudflare Sales Professional (CSP). He's been in Technology Consulting for 7 years and IT Management for 13 years. Derek has experience in Energy, Non-Profit and the Higher Education space however, Fishtank has allowed him to touch many other industries. He's an avid biker, loves to go for drives to the mountains, and has a big soft spot for his dog Molly. Derek is also Fishtank's resident Dad Joke connoisseur.

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