Today, Microsoft Senior Director of Product Management for the SharePoint team, Seth Patton, published a blog post on Office Blogs that updates the community on Microsoft’s progress towards the release of SharePoint Server 2016, and reveals the core investments that the company is making in the on-premises product.
Microsoft had hinted that SharePoint Server 2016 would start to become available in late 2015 and today’s announcement clarified that the public beta will be released in the fourth quarter of 2015. The final release is targeted for the spring of 2016.
While the release date is slightly later than many had originally expected, I’m thrilled to know that the Office team is giving themselves the time they need to deliver the product with the features and quality they have spec’d out. In past releases, SharePoint Server releases were tied to the release of Exchange and other products. This is the first release cycle where we start to see server products de-coupled—or at least loosely coupled—allowing each team to innovate and iterate without the somewhat arbitrary restrictions of concurrent server release dates. I think we can expect a higher-quality release with the extra weeks.
The future of SharePoint on-premises
Microsoft also made it as clear as possible that SharePoint Server 2016 will not be the last version of SharePoint Server—and that they will be “delivering on-premises releases of SharePoint for the foreseeable future.” I have my own guess and hope as to exactly what that means, in fine print, but I’m not going to speculate publicly :-) But rest assured: this is Microsoft’s way of saying, “on-prem SharePoint is nowhere near dead as an on-premises server.”
Core investment areas in SharePoint Server 2016
The blog post also laid out the areas of core investment in SharePoint Server 2016, beginning with a marvelously clear statement from Mr. Patton:
“We are focused on delivering value to customers as part of their on-premises deployments, while at the same time making it easier to take advantage of cloud innovation thru hybrid deployments of SharePoint Server with Office 365.”
There are three areas, or themes, within which investments are focused.
The first is “improved user experiences.” Microsoft has been innovating rapidly in Office 365, with its “cloud first” approach to agile development of features, including Delve, Groups, Clutter, Office 365 Video, and more. We can expect many of those experiences to be brought into the Server product. Some of them will work, out-of-box, in on-prem only environments. Some will require connection to Office 365 or other services.
Microsoft has said in the past, for example, that Delve will be available to on-prem customers, which suggests that the app might be running within the context of the Server product. However, Delve is powered by Office Graph, the compute power of which makes it a cloud-only service. So the Delve experience would be an example of a cloud-powered experience—running on-prem, but consuming a cloud service. The Office Graph will be fed with signals from on-prem content and activities.
Importantly, Microsoft is also improving the user experience (singular). Currently, there are enough differences in the user interface (UI) between on-prem SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365 that a transition between the two is jarring. Users accessing SharePoint through browsers have a very different experience than users on mobile devices. Microsoft is working hard to craft the new experiences with a more seamless experience across devices and form factors, and between workloads hosted on-premises and workloads hosted in Office 365.
The second area of investment is “cloud-inspired architecture.” This is the area that’s most exciting to IT pros. Starting with SharePoint Server 2013, Microsoft really, really learned what it takes to deploy, support, operate, monitor and manage SharePoint at scale, to hundreds of thousands of customers in Office 365. SharePoint Server 2016 will be infused with all kinds of goodness from Microsoft’s “lessons learned” in the cloud.
The third area of investment is “compliance and reporting.” Clearly, Microsoft is hearing customers’ clear demands for increased data loss prevention (DLP) and tools for configuring, monitoring and reporting compliance across servers and services.
Microsoft also wants to provide a balance between user self-service and compliance. The company will continue to push compliance more deeply into the tools, applications and experiences that users consume. The goal is to enable compliance earlier in the information lifecycle—with the user—rather than compliance being a reactive, monitoring and auditing exercise. If you have experienced what Exchange has done with information, you’ll understand the concept: When a user composes an email message that breaks a policy they are informed directly in Outlook. By involving and informing the user about policy, information can be more secure and compliant from the moment of creation.
While today’s blog post doesn’t reveal any details, features, or specifications for SharePoint Server 2016, it sets the stage for all of the announcements that will come over the next weeks, at Build and Ignite. You will certainly see the specifics line up with these three pillars. So pay attention to these themes, and let’s all watch what Microsoft announces at its big events!
Next week’s TECH TALK WITH BILL BAER will be focused on today’s announcement—Microsoft’s timing, investments and commitment to SharePoint Server in 2016 and beyond. Join us for the discussion with Bill and the opportunity to “Ask Bill Anything!”