SharePoint administrators and users want a lot of things out of their Microsoft platform.

High up on that list? They want to find things.

Over 850 attendees, vendors and Microsoft officials gathered this week at the SharePoint Technology Conference, the twice a year conference, held this week at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston. And search came up in a lot of the conversations. Microsoft is changing search in the latest SharePoint version, and administrators wanted to know how it will make their (search) lives better.

On Monday, Microsoft announced a new cloud hybrid search preview that allows customers using SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365 to crawl through a combined search index of on premises content and cloud. This new hybrid search solution is native to SharePoint Server 2016 IT Preview and could be available as soon as next week.

‘All About Search’

headshot of benjamin niaulin of sharegate

“Everything’s been all about search since SharePoint 2013,” said Benjamin Niaulin, Microsoft SharePoint MVP and SharePoint specialist at Montreal-based Sharegate, which provides SharePoint migration and management. “This update isn’t necessarily a huge improvement to the search engine, it’s that there’s what they’re calling a hybrid cloud search. It allows you to benefit from your data that’s on premises with features that are only on Office 365, like Delve, video portal and all these things they’re building that users search. Now you’ll have your content from on premises as well.”

Who's excited about search upgrades? SharePoint administrators like Michelle Warfield. An attendee at the SPTechCon, she’s one of two SharePoint administrators at the Renton, Wash.-based Valley Medical Center, which has about 5,000 employees with access to SharePoint. The senior applications analyst plans to use search as an underlying architecture to deliver information to programs like Delve. Microsoft also will be providing support in SharePoint Server 2016 for uploading files up to 10GB.

“It’s being able to find the right people associated with the right projects,” she told CMSWire in an interview Wednesday. “And I have users almost daily who tell me they want to upload a small video to show their staff that they made with their phones. Being able to find it quickly and associate it with the right person is huge — and it’s out of the box with SharePoint 2016. It’s going to be amazing.”

headshot of michelle warfield of valley medical center

Warfield administers SharePoint 2010’s standard on premises version and Office 365. According to Warfield, SharePoint 2010 search won’t allow you to find information and publish it across sites — unless, as she put it, you’re a “search master.”

“Most people don’t know how to set up an environment for that,” she said. “But it’s already built in for 2016, and you don’t have to worry about it if you’re a SharePoint administrator like me who has a big responsibility along with nine other apps. It’s less time spent on administration. With that, I’m sure it comes at a cost of flexibility in configuration, but it’s outweighed.”  

Hello, Single Index Search

In his keynote Wednesday morning in Boston, Microsoft’s Mark Kashman, senior product manager on the SharePoint team, told the audience that the Redmond, Wash. company is moving away from hybrid federated search queries.

“It’s good but not great,” Kashman said. “The great thing that’s coming will be a single index of content no matter where it lives. And if your on premises server is connected to a third-party or certainly SharePoint itself, all of that is collectively indexed with anything going on in SharePoint online.”

Bill Baer, senior technical product manager for the SharePoint team, wrote in the blog announcing the availability of SharePoint 2016 preview that the new search functions allow SharePoint 2013 and 2016 users to:

  • Reduce their on premises search footprint
  • Crawl in-market and legacy versions of SharePoint, such as 2007, 2010 and 2013, without requiring upgrade of those versions
  • Save costs of sustaining large indexes, as it’s hosted in Office 365

‘Great Place to Start’

Microsoft’s hybrid search play is another way the company’s nudging SharePoint users to the cloud, according to Larry Hawes, principal of Dow Brook Advisory Services in Ipswich, Mass.

headshot of larry hawes of dow brook advisory services

“From Microsoft’s standpoint, if you want to encourage people to live in a hybrid world and eventually transition as much of them as possible to the cloud, they’ve got to build off that functionality,” Hawes told CMSWire in an interview at the SharePoint Technology Conference Wednesday. “And search is a great place to start. It’s a high-impact area — people looking for SharePoint content, which is notoriously hard to find anyhow.”

He liked the “single index” approach versus “federated” and called the search news bigger than the 2016 IT preview itself.

Taking in Kashman’s hour-long keynote, Hawes said he was surprised to see the Microsoft SharePoint executive highlighting the platform as a “document repository,” calling it a “diminished role” if that’s the case.

“Yes, that’s kind of been the de facto use of it, but I think it’s the last thing Microsoft wants to do at this point,” Hawes told CMSWire. “Is it going to be its role moving forward?”

2016: No Surprises

As for SharePoint 2016, Kashman noted Microsoft’s building it from the “cloud up,” adding the aim in the latest version was to “make it a good experience no matter what device you’re on” and to be able to “connect on premises data.”

Sharegate’s Niaulin saw no surprises in SharePoint 2016’s IT Preview, blogging about it here

“It looks exactly like SharePoint 2013,” he said during the conference in an interview with CMSWire. “And the little app launcher at the top is the same as Office 365. They're building it so hybrid is a possibility and thus are trying to get more people to an Office 365 subscription. To make it possible for a hybrid scenario to work they have to make the look and feel look similar so the end users switching from on premises to Office 365 doesn’t really see the difference.”

Niaulin also said SharePoint administrators and IT professionals behind the implementation of the technology should be excited about the promised no downtime on server patches. He also added alerts will be generated if someone installs something on the web front end, where it’s supposed to be installed in search, for instance.

Niaulin was impressed with the 2016 version’s “durable links,” where links to documents and material always works no matter where it moves.

“It's moving boundaries limits it had on a lot of things,” he said, adding he would like to see improvements with OneDrive for Business's sync function. Users have trouble syncing OneDrive for Business to their desktops offline, which Microsoft is addressing.

Niaulin sees the bulk of SharePoint 2016 migrators being those on 2007 or 2010 versions of SharePoint and those that need a hybrid scenario.

“For many people on 2013,” he said, “it will be a difficult decision to upgrade to 2016. On the flip side it’s an easy upgrade because it’s pretty much the same.”

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