“What have you learned, Dorothy?” – The Tin Woodsman

It’s a worthwhile question to ask anytime you return from Kansas – or anywhere in the Midwest. I recently got back from five days with about 23,000 others at the inaugural Microsoft Ignite conference at McCormick Place in Chicago.

CEO Satya Nadella told the crowd: “We’re the only company that cares deeply about individual experiences and organizational solutions.” To that end, Microsoft issued a lot of news at Ignite and Build before it, all driven by a mantra of "Mobile First, Cloud First." (Side note: that slogan always sounds like a tie – are both first?)

And Windows 10 is the centerpiece of its efforts. 

As we move from the BYOD wave to the Internet of Things (IOT), the number of devices will soon outstrip the number of people on the planet. Microsoft has carved out an ambitious goal: over one billion Widows 10 devices, all of them able to run the same set of Universal Apps across smartphone, tablet and PC form factors.


Microsoft’s keynote announcements were grouped into three areas:

More personal computing. Along the theme of keeping users experiences consistent across a broad range of devices, Microsoft announced new versions of Windows Update for Business and System Center.

Reinvent productivity. Microsoft’s unifying principle balances individual output and process controls. Some of the major investments are in areas well beyond the traditional Word/Excel/PowerPoint arc with new paradigms like Sway, Cortana and Delve. Major announcements include:

  • Office 2016 – support live coauthoring
  • Delve for Organization – new insights in collaboration patterns
  • Skype for Business
  • Cortana, the voice assistant, added to Windows 10 with support for Power BI
  • Exchange 2016
  • SharePoint 2016 (more below)

Build the intelligent cloud. Here’s where Microsoft deploys major infrastructure support to unify cloud and premises systems:

  • Windows Sever 2016
  • SQL 2016
  • Ops Management Center (control multiple clouds)
  • Advanced Threat Analytics
  • Azure Stack to allow on premises data servers to operate more as a private cloud of Azure services to support custom apps

To be sure, some of Microsoft’s major announcements were made in the weeks leading up to Ignite. Seth Patton, Senior Director of Product Management at Microsoft, announced in April that SharePoint 2016 would be moving to public beta in the fourth quarter of 2015, with a release date in Q2 2016. In addition, Microsoft announced new API support for tracking more than 150 user and management activities in Office 365, as well as expanded support for using Azure RMS to encrypt sensitive data in Office 365.   


Microsoft’s keynote demos were too numerous to cover in detail, but I had three favorites.

  • Windows 10 Hello uses cameras and face recognition to automatically identify and log you into systems.
  • Universal Apps will use one code base to run seamlessly across multiple devices and form factors, ensuring, for example, a consistent Outlook user experience on smartphones, tablets and traditional PCs.
  • Delve applies machine learning to the Office Graph to spotlight personal, team and geographic patterns in enterprise collaboration – for example, which teams never meet with other teams and correspond mostly by email.


Delve for Organizations

SharePoint Upgrades

SharePoint 2016 is coming, and it’s going to be big.

Hybrid is already a huge part of the story. Cryptzone’s Office 365 survey published at Ignite noted that 41 percent expect to run SharePoint in a hybrid topology for a period of time, if not permanently, while 59 percent of respondents are still unsure. There is a lot of cloud adoption, as well as on-premises. SharePoint continues to grow at a double-digit annual rate.

Fundamentally, SharePoint 2016 takes a different approach to coexistence with a hybrid cloud. Instead of forcing enterprises to move to the cloud to access new features, SharePoint 2016 allows enterprises to bring the best of the cloud down to an on premises farm, while continuing to use on premises SharePoint for content.

SharePoint 2016 will greatly expand core capacities from the 2013 version, with support for 10GB files, list view limits well above 5,000 items, and content database support well beyond 1TB.  

Bill Baer, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Product Management, spotlighted many of these enhancements:

  • Live telemetry and usage management dashboards to closely match what Microsoft uses internally to support and troubleshoot SharePoint Online. These screens are far more sophisticated than anything in the product to date
  • Server installation will only install the specific bits needed for each server’s role – web server, application server, cache server or custom application server, an approach called MinRole
  • Simplification and streamlining of service database structures
  • Live, zero-downtime patching will be standard in SharePoint 2016
  • New wizards to install and configure seamless access to cloud services and identity
  • A new unified search service application for 2016 (and also coming for SharePoint 2013) to allow on-premises content to generate signals to be consumed by the Office Graph and Delve
  • An update to Performance Point for on premises use

In case you missed it, Office Graph is a cloud-based machine learning service that mines all your personal interaction with files, messages, email and other cloud services for patterns. Delve shows you the results for your own work, as well as what’s going on around your teams, surfaced with “cards” to guide you to recent content.

Office 365

There is a slew of new things coming to Office 365, most of which can be easily integrated on premises:

  • NextGen Portals – Microsoft is rolling out ready-to-use toolsets tied closely to Office 365 and on-premises. The video portal is already shipping, along with Delve. New support for people tracking, knowledge management, article publishing and custom portals are all on tap for the next year or so
  • Delve Boards – With the new on-premises search integration, Delve document boards will blend on-premises signals with those from the cloud in Office Graph
  • Groups – They allow you to assemble a collaboration space with a site collection for documents, a common calendar and threaded discussion tied to email and stored through Exchange
  • Search – Office 365 will be able to unify search results and ranking in one screen, combining on-premises and cloud sources
  • Power BI – It includes a new dashboard pack to allow enterprises to visualize and monitor Office 365 usage and adoption
  • New granular administrative roles in Office 365 – These will let you define an administrator for just SharePoint, Exchange, Skype or Office alone

Some things are not being enhanced: InfoPath and SharePoint Designer 2013 are remaining as-is in 2016, with no new versions being released. The free, low-end SharePoint Foundation server is also not being refreshed for SharePoint 2016. Support for AppFabric and Forefront is being reduced. 

Finally, Yammer was conspicuous by its absence in the Ignite keynotes. There were no new, compelling stories about Yammer for enterprise collaboration as Microsoft shifted a lot of its Ignite focus to Groups.

What Does it All Mean?

Microsoft is not backing away from its commitment to a cloud-first approach. Office 365 will remain Microsoft’s first hub for innovation and collaboration for years to come.

However, SharePoint 2016 represents an honest assessment that on-premises usage is also a permanent part of our collaboration fabric. Microsoft’s hybrid innovations can ease the forced pressure to “move everything to the cloud.” In truth, you’re going to be able to sustain an on-premises environment, probably forever. 

If governance is, in part, about establishing business outcomes and matching the technology and process to support the goals, SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 are a prime case. There are certain workloads like SQL Reporting Services or full trust code that are well suited to running on-premises. Other aspects of collaboration, like Delve or Power BI, belong in the cloud, while team sites could run in either mode.

I think SharePoint 2016, in the end, is about engaging the cloud on your own terms, rather than having Microsoft dictate them. It represents an expansion of Microsoft’s R&D investment in four core aspects of collaboration:

  • Files
  • Sites
  • Portals
  • Content Management

The message is to focus on what SharePoint does better than anything else — collaboration.

There’s a lot to take in. I haven’t even mentioned my own Ignite sessions on RBS, enterprise content management and the MVP panel Q&A. But these sessions and more were all recorded and are available to watch free of charge at http://ignite.microsoft.com.

Finally, if you think there was a lot this year, you’re right. That’s why Microsoft will be bringing Ignite back to Chicago again next year, May 9-14, 2016. See you then.

Title image by Chris McNulty/All rights reserved

Title image by Chris McNulty/All rights reserved