Social business,SharePointMany of the conversations I've had over the last year were filled with questions and concerns about the future of SharePoint and what the addition of Office 365 would bring to the mix. Microsoft answered some of these questions late last week and provided some insight into its plans going forward. With this information, organizations can breathe a little easier and plan a little better for the future.

We now have many options for SharePoint, each with the potential of having a different impact on our organizations. As with all things in SharePoint, there are many ways to do the same thing, so it comes down to what choice is the right fit for your organization. And whatever fits today, might not fit tomorrow, so be sure to plan for flexibility, allowing for both short- and long-term ideas and visions.

Based on the information released by the SharePoint team, releases of new SharePoint features will take two paths. Microsoft will continually update Office 365 with new features and functionality, allowing users to get immediate value out of the tools they have access to. This aligns with the future of Microsoft as a devices and services organization. In addition to the always evolving releases, Microsoft will continue to offer an on premises version of SharePoint that will be released in alignment with their current release cycles of every 2-3 years.

Knowing this, organizations can make a choice as to which path they want to follow.

Evolving Features, Capabilities

There are some foundational elements to consider with an Office 365 deployment. Since Microsoft has full control and ownership of the environment you use when you access Office 365, they have a unique opportunity to provide an ongoing, evolving set of features. This means that no matter what, you will always have the most up-to-date features available -- a big benefit of using Office 365.

The new features roll out on a scheduled basis across all tenants, which means you will be updated regularly but you might not have the same features as another tenant. This update schedule eliminates the previous two to three year wait time for new features. This also allows for Microsoft to be constantly innovating new features without having to be structured to a timeline of a 2-3 year delivery period.

Traditional Experience

There are still many reasons that an organization may choose to continue with on premises SharePoint. Those organizations can expect to see a new server released every two to three years, as it has been in the past. This means the organization can plan and prepare for migrations and upgrades as they have done previously. It is assumed that the newest versions of the server will contain a combination of features that have already been deployed to the Office 365 environments. But it should be noted that some of the features released in Office 365 are built specifically for that environment and will likely not be included in new releases, including features such as Yammer, which is a cloud only offering.

We will continue to see releases of things such as Service Packs in between the releases of the new server products. Microsoft announced the first, Service Pack 1, will be released early next year. While not getting into specifics, Microsoft  has classified Service Pack 1 as a major update that will create a new baseline for support and provide improvements in performance, stability and security. With the release scheduled for early next year, we should expect additional details and specifications soon.

Have It Your Way

Since the news of Microsoft’s new approach to product version releases, there has been confusion on what exactly would happen to SharePoint. Some feared that it would become an Office 365-only feature and others thought servers might be released on a more frequent, possibly yearly basis. With this new information we have been given, all those questions can be cleared up.

We see that Microsoft is committed to both an evolving cloud offering as well as an on premises offering. This gives us choices as we look to implement SharePoint within our organizations. You can determine the best path for your organization based on your business's needs. Remember to determine what you can and can't live with and start planning from there.

Even within the two silos of offerings there are multiple options for configuration. Within Office 365 there are multiple licensing levels available that can fit various needs and requirements. The on premises scenario also offers almost limitless configurations based on your organization's needs, not to mention the various ways you can work with service providers to share the load of configuration and ongoing management of the environment. The point is to make the decision based on what is best for your organization and the needs you are solving for.  

Making the Decision

When it comes down to it, both options are good, and given the right criteria, both options can lead to very successful SharePoint implementations. But, as with all things, the real questions focus on the business; What does your organization need SharePoint for? How will you support it and what resources can you dedicate to leading the implementation? In addition to the environment, you will need to consider your data and any compliance requirements related to the segregation of data or integration with other systems.

By answering all of these questions you will be creating a good set of data points to help you pick the best solution for your organization.  There are pros and cons to every decision and this is something that your organization will need to work through to determine the best path for you.  The SharePoint team provides updated content and resources that can be used to help gather the required data points for easier decision making. 

The most noteworthy upcoming event will be the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, March 3-6. The Office Blog states: “The focus of the conference covers on-premises, Cloud and hybrid spanning four main groups: developers, IT Pros, executives and end users.” This means that no matter your situation, configuration or role, the SharePoint team is working on content that will speak to your needs. The conference in Vegas is sure to be full of the latest and most relevant information and will be a great way for your team to learn about all the options available to help you select the right path for your organization.

Title image courtesy of Paket (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Jennifer knows her SharePoint. Read more in Building SharePoint Solutions: Defining Business Needs