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SharePoint 2016 and Enterprise Search

What might the future bring for search applications based on SharePoint?

Update: since the release of SharePoint 2016, we've seen the cloud environment becoming more mature and cost-effective. Organizations evaluating cloud, on-premise, and hybrid SharePoint search environments can read about practical insights and deployment guidelines here.


HEADLINES

Microsoft has indicated that an on-premise SharePoint 2016 release is due before the end of 2015 (although some commentators suggest that the date will be rather later), providing reassurance to many customers who are not yet comfortable with moving all of their content assets to the cloud. SharePoint 2016 is expected to be demonstrated publicly for the first time at the Ignite conference 4-8 May in Chicago.

In this article, we take a brief look at some of the search functionality that Microsoft might address in SharePoint 2016, based on our experiences implementing enterprise search with SharePoint 2013.

SHAREPOINT 2013 SEARCH IN A NUTSHELL

We'd highlight the following as positives for the current SharePoint search:

  • The core engine is robust and well thought through
  • Index control is available at many levels, and this provides a search platform with full-on enterprise potential
  • Strong linguistics, including sophisticated query processing
  • Tightly integrated with the SharePoint environment
  • A competent, built-in People Search function, including phonetic matching

When all of the content that requires indexing is already in SharePoint - and presumably this is what Microsoft would like customers to do - search is easy to implement and tune.

However, for most large organizations adopting SharePoint, important content sets remain external, and it is in this area that the main weaknesses of SharePoint 2013 lie, in terms of its enterprise search capabilities.

  • Native connectors are complicated and don't always deliver (but this is not unique to SharePoint)
  • The centralized "pull" model for crawling external content is not scalable, yet content sets continue to grow
  • Content processing capabilities are weak and this is a critical aspect to get right in enterprise search scenarios. The CEWS call-out capability can cover content processing to an extent, but in a large organization, limitations soon overwhelm if this is the only approach used
  • It is not easy to include "external signals" into the relevancy mix. For example, from social media

THE GOOD NEWS

All of the above limitations can be fully addressed through add-ons and services provided by Microsoft partners. Search Technologies has been a Gold-certified Microsoft partner for 6 years, and we can address all of the above issues. 

WHAT WOULD WE LIKE TO SEE IN SHAREPOINT 2016 SEARCH?

Enterprise search systems will never excel, out-of-the-box. Like all search applications, tuning and customization are required to take account of the content environment, and user needs. Frankly, this has always been the case with enterprise search, regardless of the era or the technology stack being used.

Partners can take care of items such as connectors to external repositories, and software for content processing tasks such as categorization and entity extraction. But, it would be great if SharePoint 2016 search makes this easier through providing:

  • A push method for submitting documents for indexing
  • Additional CEWS call out options, for example, at the beginning of the indexing pipeline (especially for processing native SharePoint content)
  • More hooks for involving external content in ranking calculations
  • A wider range of Web Parts for search. Sure, Partners and customer staff can always create new Web Parts, but customers often prefer to use standard items where available.

TACKLING HYBRID ISSUES

But above all, we hope that SharePoint 2016 search will provide a coherent strategy for hybrid environments where search needs to cover both cloud-based and on-premise content. This probably means the provision of APIs for accessing content. Partners can then do the rest. In large organizations especially, hybrid enterprise search systems are likely to be the norm for the next few years.

OUR APPROACH

We are already anticipating some changes to the way that SharePoint search works in the 2016 version. Microsoft is due to provide initial details during the next few months - maybe starting in May, in Chicago.

In the meantime, we are working with customers to build enterprise search architectures that will provide search excellence now, and easily transition to SharePoint 2016 when the time comes. 

In the near future, we hope to publish some best practices for using other key Microsoft assets, especially Azure, Azure Tables, and HDInsight, in support of brilliant enterprise search. Watch this space.  

 

Contact us in the meantime if you would like to discuss.

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