Microsoft announced the general availability of SharePoint Server 2016 on May 4.
The release included some very enticing features, but what caught my attention was the news that this version will share a common codebase with SharePoint Online. This marks an important milestone for Microsoft, as it greatly simplifies the release process for any future versions. Users who adopt SharePoint Server 2016 should expect more frequent updates and an experience that is much closer to what Office 365 users get.
Sounds good so far? Ready to upgrade?
Well, there may be some very good reasons why upgrading is not a good idea for many customers.
Start by looking at the level of customizations in your current version of SharePoint.
Customization generally falls into two buckets — branding and custom application. Branding involves some combination of changes to master pages, themes, CSS files and certain web parts to modify the look and feel of standard SharePoint pages.
Applications are usually based on “full-trust code,” which is installed and runs side-by-side with SharePoint. They are intended to extend or modify the functionality of SharePoint to meet specific business needs and were encouraged under the idea that “SharePoint is more than just an application.”
The proliferation of these customizations may work well for local environments where SharePoint Administrators have grown accustomed to diagnosing and resolving problems ranging from poor performance to outright crashes, but is not an option in a multi-tenant environment like SharePoint Online where many different customers use the same servers.
With SharePoint Online, Microsoft has forced customers to rewrite essential apps using client-side code (i.e. Java Script) and/or the Azure framework. Custom branding is for all practical purposes, unsupported (a good breakdown of what is supported in SharePoint online is available here). Most customers migrating to SharePoint Online have chosen to leave their branding behind or rebuild it under the new guidelines.
Which brings us back to the concept of a common code-base for SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server 2016.
What Might You Lose in Migration?
In theory, SharePoint 2016 still supports custom branding and server-side code. In practice, you have to wonder how well this will work or how long this will be the case, since SharePoint Online does not.
Let’s assume you are one of the lucky who is running a vanilla version of SharePoint. Why not upgrade to SharePoint 2016?
To start with, unless you are running SharePoint 2013 or willing to splurge on a third-party tool, the process will require a multi-step process (e.g. 2010 —> 2013, 2013 —> 2016). Also consider that Microsoft has deprecated features and made significant interface changes between different versions. Depending on your current environment, certain features may be unavailable and users will certainly need to adjust to a new interface.
An Alternative to SharePoint Server 2016
At this point it probably seems that I am advocating against any type of upgrade.
On the contrary, I believe that this version is probably the most important release since SharePoint 2007. It takes on the biggest flaws in SharePoint: a lack of mobile support, minimal capabilities for sharing and collaboration outside the organization and a painfully slow release cycle.
While SharePoint has gained an unprecedented foothold in the enterprise, the lack of these specific capabilities has undoubtedly contributed to the evolution of shadow IT and competitors such as Dropbox, Box, Google Drive and more recently, Slack.
Among the SharePoint 2016 announcements during The Future of SharePoint event, Jeff Teper heralded three new features: a new responsive design, the release of SharePoint mobile apps and a sharing feature analogous to OneDrive for Business. SharePoint Online users will not only have access to these features first, but they are also in the best position to take advantage of the new capabilities.
Customers who are considering upgrading to SharePoint Server 2016 should first evaluate the option of migrating their entire environment to SharePoint Online (Microsoft is even offering to help you through the FastTrack Center). Some businesses will need a local SharePoint environment to mitigate compliance or security risks. Outside these edge cases, SharePoint should live up to its billing, a place where users share and collaborate. And the best place to do that is in the cloud.