On March 14, 2016, Microsoft announced the Release to Manufacture (RTM) of SharePoint Server 2016. The milestone represents the last major step before SharePoint Server 2016 reaches general availability (GA) on May 4th, at the SharePoint Virtual Launch Event, broadcast from San Francisco. Now it gets real, and it’s time to prepare your organization, your budget, and your technology portfolio, for SharePoint 2016.
To support the release, Microsoft produced a beautiful video that builds upon the pillars that comprise SharePoint Server 2016's value proposition.
There has been quite a lot of commentary in the community that on the surface and for an on-premises only deployment, SharePoint Server 2016 has a slim number of high-profile new features that directly impact the business. But those comments are missing the point. For this release, it’s what is under the hood that matters, and it's where SharePoint is going to go, that really matters.
The future of SharePoint is crazy bright, so I’d like to pitch in my opinion on this issue, and lay out the case for SharePoint 2016, so that you can begin the process of planning and budgeting for, and testing, this very important new release.
Imagine I borrowed your car and returned it to you with a fresh coat of paint and age-old dings and scratches removed. You might thank me kindly at first but not think too much of it. Then, imagine you got inside to drive it and you found that I’d replaced the engine with a rocket-fast Tesla special that required much less maintenance, ran on clean energy, went from “zero to sixty” in no time flat, could take you places you could never get to before and keep you safer and more secure than ever? THEN, you would thank me!
That’s what we’re getting with SharePoint Server 2016. Let’s take a look at the major categories of improvements, and the major themes you need to incorporate into your planning. I'm going to cover the release from a customer-centric perspective, so that you can begin to align your objectives with what SharePoint offers, whether you are an on-premises customer or a hybrid customer, or somewhere on the journey in between.
Improved user experience
While it’s still the SharePoint we know and love, the user interface has been improved in some important ways.
Hybrid customers: Office 365 will see almost direct parity in the UI experience of SharePoint 2016 with SharePoint Online, which will reduce user friction in hybrid environments. Additionally, hybrid services like search and sites, along with new and improved services like Delve, Groups, and OneDrive for Business, will extend the capabilities of workloads that remain heavily on-premises.
On-premises customers: For on-premises-only customers, users will finally see the value accrued in Office 365 with an improved document library experience, and other UI improvements on screens of all sizes.
I personally believe that some or many on-premises only customers will find good reason to put their toes in the water with hybrid search, which enables a truly unified search experience across SharePoint farms on-premises, running 2010, 2013, and 2016. Even if no “actual content” or workloads are moved into Office 365, that’s a big value. From there, it’s a small but high-value step to move towards Delve.
March 14th also marked the general availability of cloud hybrid search for SharePoint.
Compliance and insight
Microsoft has made significant investments in compliance and security in Office 365, and in this release of SharePoint Server, those investments start to accrue to SharePoint Server.
On-premises customers: For organizations that value compliance—e-Discovery, privacy, and security, for example—SharePoint Server 2016 has a lot to offer. Authorization and auditing are more centralized and IT can now locate and manage company and customer-sensitive data.
Hybrid customers: In addition to the on-prem capabilities, hybrid customers can leverage e-Discovery capabilities increasingly across SharePoint on-premises, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Skype for Business, positioning Office 365 (and SharePoint Server) as the “no brainer” store for sensitive and compliance-related data.
Hybrid customers can also take advantage of an impressive new set of features that provide insight into SharePoint analytics streams for both compliance and usage reporting purposes. You’ll gain new ability to understand who is accessing what, when, and from where.
New since Release Candidate
Microsoft has put the finishing touches on a few new features as well. Bill Baer covers these in this Office Mechanics video:
Unlike previous versions of SharePoint, there are no significant user-facing “deprecations” in SharePoint Server 2016. InfoPath still works as it did before, and you’ll still use InfoPath 2013 as the client application. SharePoint Designer 2013 can still create both SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint 2010-style workflows. With Office Online Server (formerly, Office Web Apps), you have what you need from Excel and other Office services. There should be very few instances where legacy code and customizations cause upgrade problems.
It's all about quality
Every discussion I have with Microsoft’s team—both marketing folks and (perhaps more importantly) engineers themselves—includes some mention of the significant quality improvements in SharePoint Server 2016. This is the long awaited moment at which we, on-premises and hybrid customers with SharePoint farms, gain significant value from what Microsoft has learned over the past years of running SharePoint Online in Office 365.
On-premises and hybrid customers: We’ll see significantly higher capacity boundaries and performance improvements. We’ll have the opportunity to patch well-architected SharePoint farms with “zero downtime,” just as they do in Office 365. And much more.
Remember that SharePoint 2016, under the hood, is a branch of Office 365’s SharePoint Online codebase. It is not a “vNext” of SharePoint 2013. It’s a “vOn-Prem” of SharePoint Online, from an internal, foundations perspective.
That codebase, I expect, is by far the most “beat up” version of SharePoint in existence. No customer has put SharePoint through more stress and torture than Microsoft itself, with its tens or hundreds of millions of users. They’ve spent years fixing bugs, tuning performance, and making the service as manageable as possible. Now they’re handing that to us, on-premises, as SharePoint Server 2016.
There’s an important corollary: you do not need to wait for Service Pack 1 for the same reasons you did in the past. This codebase is actually Service Pack X for SharePoint v16. As many of you know, Microsoft starting running “v16” in Office 365 several years ago. This is not a new, untried codebase. That doesn't absolve you from adequate planning and testing, but it should give you the confidence to begin that planning and testing now.
Support and future readiness
In the blog post announcing SharePoint Server 2016, Bill Baer said, “We’ve designed SharePoint Server 2016 to position our on-premises customers to take advantage of innovations more quickly whether SharePoint is deployed on-premises, in the Cloud, or somewhere in between.”
On-premises and hybrid customers: By broadly unifying the foundational code base between SharePoint and Office 365, customers will be set up for the best level of support. Imagine: a ridiculous number of Microsoft engineers and support staff have been working with this codebase for a very long time. It’s well understood. And when there’s a problem, the problem will affect not only you, in your on-premises farm, but Office 365 customers as well. They will want to get it fixed, and fast. That’s good for you, on-premises.
More importantly, the unified underlying code base means that Microsoft has the opportunity to deliver new features, on-premises, that they’ve developed for Office 365. When SharePoint 2013 was released, Microsoft floated the possibility of a more rapid release of features, but they were hamstrung by the fact that the SharePoint 2013 codebase was the end of a fork. Windows and Office clients are getting great new features, on-premises, at a more rapid pace already. This could portend a similar possibility for customers to leverage new features, faster. In fact, in Bill Baer's video, he refers to SharePoint Server 2016 as a "foundation for the future."
Consistent developer experience
While there are not yet significant changes to how developers extend SharePoint Server in on-premises only deployments, Microsoft is broadening and unifying the development experience across server and cloud—i.e., hybrid—deployments in important new ways. Developers can create contextual solutions that span SharePoint Server 2016 and Office 365 from the web, mobile apps and Office.
On-premises and hybrid customers: The most important news for developers (and everyone) can be found in the next section...
There are times in the life of a Microsoft MVP—because we are under non-disclosure agreements with Microsoft—that we have to say: “Really… TRUST ME!” Ben Niaulin and I were joking about this with attendees at SharePoint Fest Chicago. Microsoft was generous enough to share some of its vision and plans with MVPs at the MVP Summit in November 2015. What they have up their sleeve is truly extraordinary. There are fantastic things coming.
As a SharePoint user, administrator, architect, or developer, you will see phenomenal business value coming. You will learn just how closely Microsoft has been listening to its customers and partners over the last few years. And you’ll discover how innovative Microsoft can be when it not only listens to what we’re saying we need, but envisions what we really need, not just today but moving forward… and when Microsoft is inspired by its customers and its leadership to invest heavily in platforms as powerful as Office 365 and SharePoint Server.
So: Trust me! How long will you have to trust me? About 7 weeks. Today Microsoft announced an important date: May 4th. My expectation is that we will all be saying "May the fourth be with you" when we see what Microsoft unveils at the Future of SharePoint Virtual Launch Event.
This is a train you, and your organization, will want to be on. Download the SharePoint Server 2016 bits, start planning your migration (it should be the easiest one yet), and get ready for a great ride as this year progresses.
What do you think about the release of SharePoint Server 2016? Join the discussion, below!