SharePoint 2016: What it Means for Hybrid systems

Mobile Man / Wednesday, June 17, 2015

So… the news is out. SharePoint 2016 will come packed full of interesting features, as the majority of us discovered at the recent Ignite Conference. Aside from the roadmap Microsoft provided us with, an interesting topic which arose from Ignite is the way in which the corporation is paying more attention to “hybrid solutions.” Rather than keeping a clean divide between customers using SharePoint on their own estate and those that use the cloud offering, a blurry middle ground is starting to emerge.

Here are some of the key takeaways from Ignite:

Cloud Improvements are coming to the Server: A lot of attention is being given to making the cloud features of SharePoint 2016 more compatible with on premise deployments. These changes are starting with 2013 search and Delve additions to SharePoint 2013 but they will be fully built into the 2016 offering.

Patching and deployment alterations: Patching and deployment roles are now going to be simplified. Previously SharePoint’s attempt to cater for a number of audiences has made it difficult to mend and maintain. The IT Professionals track explains these changes in greater depth, but basically, there will be a greater emphasis on compliance and installation simplicity.

The timeframe for SharePoint 2016’s release was only hinted at during the conference, but we can probably expect a Q4 2015 public beta, followed by a Q2 2016 general release.

Blurring the lines

So, what does all of this mean for hybrid deployments? To date, a hybrid SharePoint solution has typically been born from a realization that not ALL SharePoint workloads and users can be 100% cloud based. Reasons for this might be compliance or auditing or just fear of data loss in light of some fairly high profile incidents with cloud services (think Sony and Apple). So, rather than trying to force the issue, Microsoft is blurring the line between on and off premise.

And we think it’s a pretty clever move. At Ignite, it was revealed that the pending SharePoint 2016 beta will be based on a snapshot of the SharePoint online component of Office 365. At its core, this is still going to be the operational nucleus of SharePoint 2013, which means we can say with confidence that the management of files, users and portals is here to stay.

What will be added instead are features like Delve, the Office Graph, Yammer and better search facilities. What about patching and maintenance? That’ll be getting some attention too.

Looking at Delve: Delve is one of the newest Office 365 experiences that, based on the Office Graph, is a framework that provides information based on user identity and behavior within Office 365 products. It almost surfaces like an e-Discovery tool, showing you what colleagues are collaborating on and where.

Bill Baer, the well-known Senior SharePoint Product Manager has already mentioned that this is going to be made available on SharePoint 2013 in the near future. This isn’t achieved via a massive re-architecture, but simply by changing the endpoints that the Office Graph can use - such as on premise SharePoint deployments.

Looking at Yammer: Yammer is the (Enterprise) social network that Microsoft picked up in 2012, with a view of being worked into the SharePoint / Office 365 experience. It also came with its own version of a graph, called the Enterprise Graph and is the tool that determined how your groups were ordered and what suggested peers, documents and colleagues were worth following. The Office Graph includes all this Yammer data and more from the wider Office 365 Network and should work effectively with SharePoint deployments regardless of where they are situated.

Streamlining the Search: Hybrid deployments have to date almost always created discrete silos of information (both in the cloud and on premises) when it came to searching for documents. This is going to be tackled head on via a new cloud search service which will ship as an update later this year (2015) to SharePoint Server 2013, and it will be built into SharePoint Server 2016 as well. The aim is to allow firms to combine their search index across cloud and premises environments.

Patching and maintenance: At times, translating the Rosetta Stone into another language must have had more appeal to it than installing (or even worse, patching) an on prem SharePoint. Office 365 doesn’t have any pressure points in this world and it seems this is going to be brought to bear on the localized product too. Ignite taught us that the army of MSI / MSP packages needed to patch SharePoint is going to drop drastically and will be aiming at a smaller footprint with zero downtime.

The argument for hybrid

As it stands, even with the amazing tooling of Office 365, many businesses are not ready for the cloud, so the “third way” of hybrid deployments represents a way forward for them. SharePoint 2013 was a limited experience but 2016 finally offers a convincing argument for considering a hybrid. The newest generation of the product will challenge how Microsoft architects their latest offering and as such should be much more malleable for those that aren’t totally convinced by a cloud-only future for their technology stacks.

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