On a monthly basis, I host a tweetjam that largely focuses on topics of interest to the SharePoint community. If you're unfamiliar with the tweetjam model, this event is an hour-long public conversation that is held on Twitter using a shared hash tag (in this case, #CollabTalk) and a defined topic or list of questions. There is a panel of experts to help seed the dialog, but the event is wide open to the public -- anyone interested in voicing their opinion can jump in at any time to answer the questions, share experiences, or ask their own questions.
On May 29th, 2014, the #CollabTalk tweetjam focused on the topic of SharePoint hybrid deployments: environments with some workloads on premises, with some workloads in the cloud (whether Office 365, Azure, or some other cloud platform). You can find a tweet-by-tweet summary on Storify. We focused on 7 questions during our hour-long discussion, and I thought I'd provide a summary of that discussion -- with some analysis -- in a series here on ITUnity.
The first question we addressed was “As companies transition toward the cloud, how important will hybrid become?”
At the March 2013 Gartner Conference held in San Diego, California, the Gartner analyst team provided stats from their discussions with hundreds of customers and partners on where they thought cloud adoption was heading for existing SharePoint customers, stating that in the next 5 to 7 years, 35% of current SharePoint customers would remain 100% on premises (no cloud footprint), while 50% would maintain some kind of hybrid environment -- leaving a projected 15% of existing users with an entirely cloud-based SharePoint environment. Given Microsoft's strong cloud messaging and platform roadmap over the past few years, this analysis from Gartner caused quite a stir in the community.
At Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC13) in Houston in July 2013, and then again at the SharePoint Conference (SPC14) in Las Vegas earlier this year, Microsoft and product team leaders acknowledged these statistics -- and changed some of their messaging to reflect the reality of hybrid. Some within the SharePoint community felt that by recognizing the importance of hybrid, Microsoft was doing some serious back-pedaling from previous “all-in” cloud messaging. But the reality is that while Microsoft is still bullish on the future of the cloud, they recognize that short-term customer needs do not always match roadmap enthusiasm and sales goals. As a result, one-third of the 300+ sessions at SPC14 covered on-premises and hybrid topics -- with Microsoft advertising that fact, loudly.
I think it is important to point out, however, that this interest in keeping some SharePoint workloads on prem has not impacted Office 365 growth, which is now the fastest-growing Microsoft platform in company history, beating SharePoint's previous record. And net-new customers who are interested in SharePoint (and other collaboration capabilities, such as Yammer, Lync, and OneDrive) are overwhelmingly choosing to go straight to the cloud. So while 85% of existing SharePoint customers will still have all or part of their environments on prem, new customers are going to the cloud.
To answer the question of the importance of hybrid, hybrid is being used as a bridge for many customers who are not yet ready to decommission infrastructure that is meeting business needs. Some integrations or customizations will require an extensive overhaul to fit into the cloud (and a seemingly not-yet-ready-for-primetime app model), leaving many important workloads (and, more importantly, sensitive content) on premises. SharePoint MVP Jennifer Mason from Rackspace (@jennifermason) and Office365 MVP Rene Modery from 1stQuad Solutions (@modery) said as much in the tweetjam:
More specifically, according to Redmond Magazine’s Jeffrey Schwartz (@JeffreySchwartz), hybrid allows organizations to slowly make the transition, moving one workload at a time – for example, switching to cloud-based Exchange, then possibly re-directing MySites to the cloud and provisioning all new team sites in SharePoint Online, followed by an integrated search capability and adoption of Yammer. Rather than go through the cost of an all-in approach, organizations can move as it makes sense to the business, and as heavier workloads (customizations and LOB apps) can be migrated or recreated.
While Microsoft is focusing their innovation on SharePoint in the cloud (and the entire Office365 platform), many organizations are still looking to get a few productive years out of the investments they’ve already made rather than move (again) to something new. And for organizations who historically bought into the grand vision of SharePoint, customizing the platform and integrating line of business (LOB) applications into what has been sold as the “swiss army knife of collaboration,” many of the solutions they’ve deployed will either need to be completely rebuilt/re-architected for the cloud, or cannot be supported (yet) in the cloud. As Slalom’s SharePoint Practice Lead in Chicago, Rob Toro (@SharePointToro) identifies, hybrid solutions will be around for some time.
As mentioned above, Microsoft does recognizes this need -- which is why, in my view, they’ve been trying to clarify language about future on premises releases. During SPC14 keynotes, SharePoint leadership announced repeatedly that there would be another on prem release in late 2015 (my guess is general availability in early 2016), with another release 2 to 3 years after that.
In short, hybrid SharePoint will continue to be an important part of most existing SharePoint environments as organizations evaluate their path toward the cloud. And as long as customers want to buy SharePoint on prem (i.e. the market demands it), Microsoft will continue to provide an on prem version.
In the second article in this series, I'll tackle the question "What are the most common hybrid SharePoint solutions?"