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SharePoint 2016 Hybrid Search: "One Search to Rule Them All"

Microsoft Reveals SharePoint 2016 Search Features and Strategy

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.


At the first ever Microsoft Ignite conference last week, Microsoft Senior Technical Product Manager Bill Baer channeled JRR Tolkien in his overview of SharePoint 2016 when he described a new Cloud Search Service Application that will feature:

  • A unified index for on-premise and cloud content (enabling “one search to rule them all”)
  • Support for Office Graph / Delve experiences on premises (i.e. “grounding” some cloud features)
  • Support for Search as a Service (reducing the search crawl footprint)

Microsoft plans to make the new service available as an update to SharePoint 2013 as well as making it a feature of SharePoint 2016, which is scheduled for availability in the second quarter of Calendar 2016.

Other highlights of the SharePoint 2016 product strategy include a focus on improving stability, durability and reliability, as well as making it easier to create extranet sites.

The new Cloud Search Application is notable, however, because it enables implementation of “hybrid” SharePoint strategies where some content is in the cloud (e.g. Azure) while other content remains on-premise.  From a user perspective, this means an interface that presents merged search results from less sensitive cloud content (e.g. documents on OneDrive) to more sensitive content that must remain on-premise (e.g. for compliance).

This hybrid search capability is a tacit acknowledgment from Microsoft that the “move to the cloud” (ideally Azure and Office365) is encountering some market resistance, especially among larger enterprise customers who have to be overly cautious about allowing sensitive content to be stored off-premise.  Of course, some of these same companies have outsourced their entire data centers to third parties, so perhaps the risk is more perceived than real.

At Search Technologies, where we have worked on dozens of SharePoint Enterprise Search projects, we have also heard customers echo the same concerns, as well as express interest in hybrid search deployments.  As a member of the Microsoft Technology Adoption Program for SharePoint Hybrid Search we are an early adopter of SharePoint 2016 and are actively testing the hybrid search capabilities for some key customers.

Search expert and MS SharePoint MVP Agnes Molnar also notes the potential benefits of the latest developments:

"MS SharePoint Microsoft’s latest announcements will be real game-changers, from a findability perspective but also for adoption of hybrid environments. The unified hybrid index powers the search experience to the extent as never before. New discovery scenarios will be available, powered by the enhanced and continuously improved Office Graph and Delve.  'One Search to Rule Them All' becomes a reality now."

When all is said and done, it’s clear that Microsoft has to reluctantly support the hybrid search scenarios (perhaps indefinitely), especially if it is to pacify larger enterprise customers, many of whom are just now completing their difficult migration to SharePoint 2013. Furthermore, the decision to “backwardly port” some cloud features into SharePoint 2013 reveals a strategy to support enterprise customers who may remain on that platform for some time.

On the positive side, the fact that Microsoft adapted fairly quickly to this market signal is perhaps a further indication of the kinder, gentler Microsoft governed by CEO Satya Nadella, and that Redmond, WA is, in fact, NOT synonymous with “Mordor”.

- Graham Gillen, VP Marketing

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