by Jonathan Hassell

Top 4 revelations about SharePoint

News Analysis
Jun 18, 2015
Collaboration SoftwareEnterprise ApplicationsSmall and Medium Business

The unveiling of SharePoint Server 2016 the Microsoft Ignite Conference put an end to speculation about the future of the on-premises version of the popular collaboration product, and pointed the way toward the future as well.

Some of the biggest news to come out of Microsoft Ignite last month was the introduction and the first public demonstration of SharePoint Server 2016 – a demo that quelled a lot of speculation and uneasiness in the SharePoint administrator community.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the conference, with an emphasis on the on-premises product. They should also give you some sense of what’s coming in the next version.

1. SharePoint Server on-premises will still exist

Without any concrete evidence that, in fact, a new version of SharePoint Server existed, customers and industry analysts and pundits alike began to speculate that SharePoint 2013 would be the last version of the collaboration product that was offered in a “boxed” product (in reality, in a perpetual one-time license) that wouldn’t require any sort of cloud subscription or delivery system.

Many companies, especially enterprises in heavily regulated industries, felt that trusting all of their sensitive documents and content to the cloud was just too much – especially after they invested in security and role protection schemes to segregate employee access to confidential information stored within SharePoint. For these organizations, it was either on-premises or nothing.

[Related: Reactions and impressions from Microsoft Ignite]

While Microsoft said that a new version was under way and offered a lukewarm commitment to future versions – saying something, in effect, “we have never commented on versions beyond our upcoming next release” – many analysts believed this was just a smokescreen for pushing organizations to SharePoint Online and Office 365. They have been proven wrong, at least for now.

The new release of SharePoint Server 2016, scheduled for the first quarter of next year, is a clear and natural progression of the on-premises product, and has a lot of good improvements from both the administrator/IT professional and end user perspective. As you might expect, there’s a lot of focus on enabling smoother scenarios for organizations that have deployed SharePoint both within their corporate network and in the cloud. But there are also very real and meaningful improvements on the on-premises side only, certainly enough to placate the pundits and to at least kick the question of future updates for on-premises only environments down the road a few more years.

2. The administrative experience of SharePoint Server 2016 will be much better

When administrators say they prefer the old container-style patches and updates for SharePoint (that historically were fairly difficult to manage and install across an enterprise) over the new-fangled solution introduced in SharePoint 2013, you know Microsoft had done something wrong. One of the things we learned at Microsoft Ignite was that the product team was going to attempt to make the administration and management user scenarios work much better. For one, patching – both for security updates and for new features – will be much easier and will not require any of your SharePoint services to go down. You can update while remaining online. Each patch will consist of a maximum of two MSIs (patch files) per SharePoint service and one MSI per language pack that you have running. This is a much lighter footprint than previous versions.

To get the latest and greatest, however, you will need to move up your operating system platform. Specifically, you’ll need to be running Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2 on your SharePoint farm; no previous operating systems are supported. You also need the 64-bit release of SQL Server 2012 for database storage. However, these operating systems and databases have a much improved user experience than their previous versions as well, so the result is that the administrator will have a much easier time of managing a SharePoint farm, most tasks for which can be done through PowerShell remoting.

[Related: How workers really use Microsoft collaboration tools]

3. SharePoint Server 2016 will have multiple roles to spread the workload

In SharePoint Server 2016, there will be essentially four basic roles that any given SharePoint farm member can have:

  • User services. Consider this like the Web front end of the SharePoint service. This role handles inbound requests coming from end users, including OneDrive for Business sync clients, OneNote notebooks, rendering pages and libraries, any spreadsheets stored within Excel Services, and any SharePoint apps running within the service’s sandbox. The idea here is to provide low latency responses to user requests so that the end user experience is quick and crisp.
  • Robot services. This role handles all of the inner workings of SharePoint and all of the jobs that are required to keep the farm humming. These include user and site provisioning, timer jobs, search and indexing, and more. These services are optimized to get a lot done in a small amount of time – in other words, they’re designed for high throughput and not minimal latency, since no end user will be dealing directly with these services.
  • Specialized load. This type of role handles services that need to be isolated from the in-the-box loads, like third-party document management systems, custom applications and more. This is a protected environment where non-Microsoft code can live and interact with SharePoint without terrorizing the other components of your deployment if something were to go wrong.
  • Caching services. This role basically functions as a load balancer for end user requests and also holds the distributed cache for better response times for frequently accessed but infrequently changed content.

4. Hybrid cloud and on-premises scenarios are emphasized

It’s no secret that Microsoft believes all organizations have some business being in the cloud; it’s just a question of what and how much. SharePoint has always been a bit of a weird character here, in that companies deploy SharePoint to house a lot of their internal documents, notes, meetings, collaboration and more, and there’s a serious need to protect that information and ensure the custody of that data is always known.

On the other hand, SharePoint in an enterprise requires a lot of expertise and scale and most administrators, if you take the data custody question off the table, would love to delegate all of that headache over to Microsoft in exchange for a credit card number to ding monthly. So SharePoint is probably the most likely service of all of them to be run in a hybrid basis, where small, low impact team sites are hosted up in the cloud, but high impact, sensitive collaborations and document libraries remain in the safety and custody of the corporate datacenter or server closet.

With SharePoint Server 2016, we’ll see a number of features designed to make this hybrid deployment even easier, including the capability for the Azure Rights Management service to work across the security boundary, users being able to follow documents and activities in SharePoint Online and on-premises consistently, the capability to better refine cross boundary search results, the capability to integrate cloud-based Office Graph and Office Delve results, and more. The sweet spot here between cloud and on-premises is getting better.