If the rumors are on the Internet are believable (and when has the Internet ever steered us wrong?) sometime this month the very first public beta of SharePoint 2016 will find its way into our eager little hands.

There’s a lot to get excited about.

I find a good way to deal with anticipation is to keep myself busy. I’ve already played about 1,000 games of Solitaire and I’m all caught up on American Ninja Warrior. So I came up with this list of five things we can do while we patiently (!) wait for the beta.

1) Get An Office 365 Tenant

When we got our first glimpse of SharePoint 2016 at Microsoft Ignite in May, it was very clear the hybrid story was going to be important.

When you’re testing the SharePoint 2016 beta you’re going to want to pay a lot of attention to those new features.

One of the things we’ll need to do that is an Office 365 Business tenant. If you were already using Office 365 I would recommend using a different tenant for your tests.

If you have an MSDN license that comes with an Office 365 test tenant. If you don’t, you can also get a Free Office 365 Business Trial.

Of course it will expire eventually (30 days, I think) so make sure you don’t have any data in there you would miss if it were to evaporate into the ether.

And once you hook your SharePoint 2016 up to your Office 365 tenant you’ll see the process isn’t so bad. So it will be easy to do with a different trial if you get another one.

Having this tenant will help you get comfortable with Office 365 itself, but it will also help you see what great hybrid possibilities there are with SharePoint 2016.

2) Buy an Internet Domain

Another part of the full hybrid experience requires an Internet domain.

You’ll need it to sync identities from your on premise Windows Active Directory to Office 365. Like your Office 365 tenant, I recommend using a different DNS zone specifically for this.

Don’t use one you’re using for something else, like your company’s main DNS zone. You will need to make some DNS record changes, and that might impact other things using that zone.

If you’re like me you probably have 10 domains bought and paid for that were going to be The Coolest Thing Ever, but instead cost you $8 a year to keep and give you nothing in return.

Now it’s time for them to earn their keep. I get my domains from GoDaddy (I know, I know) but any domain registrar will work.

I don’t know about the other registrars, but Office 365 can make the necessary DNS records changes for you automatically if you have your DNS hosted with GoDaddy.

I look at that as one less thing I can screw up. That has a lot of value.

3) Make some VMs

I know what you’re thinking; you probably thought this would be the first step, right?

The reason it’s number three is because it will save you some grief if the Windows Active Directory you install SharePoint 2016 into is using the same DNS namespace as the domain you bought in Tip #2.

I’m looking out for you. It’s not necessary that they are the same, but it makes things easier. Linking up your on-premises identities with Office 365 isn’t easy the first time, so you need all the help you can get while you’re learning it.

To test SharePoint 2016 I’ve got three VMs ready and rearing to go. They look like this:

A Domain Controller

I would not test this in a production domain, so I spun up a new domain controller. I installed mine on Windows Server 2012 R2. You can use this script to promote it to a domain controller.

Learning Opportunities

A SQL Server

SharePoint 2016 requires SQL Server 2014, so you’ll need to spin one of those up. For now, I think SharePoint 2016 has the same demands of SQL that SharePoint 2013 did. MaxDOP has to be set to 1. The SP_INSTALL account needs to be securityadmin and dbcreator. Since mine is a test environment I also set all the databases to use the Simple Recovery Model and capped the amount of RAM the SQL engine can use. You can use this T-SQL script to do the same. Of course you’ll need to edit it to reflect your accounts and environment. Also, don’t forget to change the Windows Firewall to allow SQL traffic in. You’ll need to allow port 1433 UDP and TCP in. I always forget that.

Box Itching for SharePoint 2016

Finally, the SharePoint box! It has to be Windows Server 2012 R2, patched within an inch of its life. SharePoint 2016 has the same hardware requirements as SharePoint 2013, so you’ll need to size it accordingly. If you want to play with things like the new Cloud Search Service Application or MinRole functionality, you’ll need additional SharePoint servers. But one server is all you need to get it installed, configured, and start poking around in Central Admin.

4) Create Some Users

After the Domain is installed and happy you’ll need some accounts. For now, I’m recommending the same service accounts I did for SharePoint 2013. They are outlined in this blog post.

And SharePoint is nothing without end users. You’re going to want to test the changes to the User Profile Service sync and identity syncing, so you’re going to need a bunch of users.

This blog post has the PowerShell script I use to create AD users (both service accounts and user accounts) and has a file you can use to seed some users. I’ve since created another file that creates another 30 users or so.

You can find it here. You’ll have to rename it to users.csv for my poorly written script to find it.

After your Domain is installed, and it has some users, download Azure Active Directory Connect and start playing with the syncing. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of that here. That should be its own blog post. Or three.

5) A SharePoint 2013 Content Database

If you’re reading this blog, I assume you already have a SharePoint farm or two lurking around.

And I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you’re going to want to upgrade some or all of that content to SharePoint 2016.

In that case, there’s no time like the present to start playing with that. You don’t need an actual database from your Production environment if you don’t want to.

If you’re creating a new database just for testing try to keep it small (makes those backup and restore times easier to swallow) and try to make it representative of what your Production site collections look like.

If you have a lot of Publishing sites, make sure your test database does.

If you’re feeling brave and you had your Wheaties for breakfast, consider trying to upgrade a Service Application database, too. It’s an advanced move, but I believe in you. If you’ve made it this far in this blog post you’re obviously quite dedicated (or bored). You can do anything!

Like you folks, every morning when I wake up I run over to Internet Explorer (or now Edge) and see if the Beta has dropped. When it has, I’ll be ready for it. And if you followed these steps, so will you.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  Title image by ohsarahrose.

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