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What to expect in SharePoint 2016

How will SharePoint 2016 migrate users to hybrid clouds, and what's in store for integration with SQL Server, Power BI and Office 365?

While Microsoft has stated its intention to move its users to cloud-based versions of its products, practical considerations...

indicate that this transition will take time. That means there will inevitably be a transitional period where users are in process, and hybrid cloud scenarios prevail. Hybrid cloud scenarios allow users to migrate slowly, because migration can take time, or to retool their on-premises deployments if they are not suitable to be migrated to the cloud as-is. So, let's consider some of what we might expect from SharePoint 2016 in terms of cloud-based features.

While some of the foregoing discussion is speculative, we'll explore some of the integrations and enhancements to expect from SharePoint 2016, and its augmentation of other Microsoft products, such as SQL Server, the database application, Microsoft storage and hybrid-cloud based infrastructure. SharePoint2016 Online will also likely take advantage of new features in Power BI, the cloud-based analytics platform; Office 365, the suite of business productivity applications; and Yammer, the enterprise social networking application that has been built into SharePoint.

SharePoint 2016 isn't expected to be released until next year, but Microsoft has already given us hints as to what we might expect. When you combine these vague references with the information that has been leaked, we can begin to get a better picture of what SharePoint 2016 will actually look like.

Obviously, 2016 is still several months away and Microsoft could conceivably change just about anything between now and then. Even so, those who are responsible for planning software upgrade roadmaps have a vested interest in learning what the future holds for SharePoint.

One of the big rumors that had been going around about SharePoint 2016 was that Microsoft will not make it available for on-premises deployments. There has been a lot of speculation that SharePoint 2016 will be made available only through an Office 365 subscription. A couple of months ago, however, Microsoft announced that the next SharePoint release will be possible to install on-premises.

Even though a big deal has been made of the fact that SharePoint 2016 can be installed on-premises, hybrid deployment capabilities will undoubtedly be a key feature in the next version of SharePoint. Think about it. Microsoft has been pushing customers toward Office 365 with such vigor that there was initially a question as to whether the next version of SharePoint would even be available for deployment in the corporate data center. As such, Office 365 is clearly where Microsoft is focusing much of its resources. Microsoft and its customers seem to envision a day when Microsoft server products will be cloud-only.

With that in mind, imagine what would be required today to migrate a large SharePoint 2013 deployment to SharePoint Online. Forget that some SharePoint workloads are unsuitable for SharePoint Online. Just think about an ideal situation in which everything can be cleanly migrated. Even under ideal circumstances, migrating to SharePoint Online can be a complex, time-consuming and messy process.

Other SharePoint 2016 features on tap

If Microsoft's ultimate goal is to move its SharePoint customers to Office 365, it will have to provide an easier way of doing so. One such way would be to design SharePoint 2016 to be a hybrid solution, in which some resources reside in the data center; others in the cloud. The solution would need to be completely transparent so that the data's physical location becomes completely irrelevant to users. Similarly, administrators would need to be able to easily move SharePoint resources to or from the cloud.

If you need more evidence of Microsoft's intention to focus on hybrid capabilities in SharePoint 2016, look no further than the session schedule for the upcoming Microsoft Ignite conference. One session -- "What's New for IT Professionals in SharePoint Server 2016" -- while vaguely outlined -- states that it will include "a lot of new information for admins, sharing what's new and coming in the next on-premise version of SharePoint -- SharePoint Server 2016 -- with insights on hybrid too."

Another session, "Elastic SharePoint Storage with StorSimple and Microsoft Azure," mentions in its description "Remote BLOB Storage architecture, boundaries, and scale limits, disaster recovery, and improvements in SharePoint 2016." The session focuses more on storage than on SharePoint 2016, but the description alludes to the idea that SharePoint 2016 may offer better disaster recovery options and perhaps improved storage management.

Another session description for "Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016 with SQL Server vNext: Better Together" is also telling. It isn't surprising that Microsoft is pitching the idea of using the next version of SharePoint with the next version of SQL Server. What is interesting, however, is that the session description seems to suggest that SharePoint 2016 will be able to leverage new compliance and reliability features that will be baked into the next version of SQL Server.

Of course, hybrid deployments aren't the only things that we can expect from SharePoint 2016. SharePoint Server has always shared a close relationship with Microsoft Office, and there is no reason to expect that relationship to change. As such, I fully expect SharePoint 2016 to fully leverage some of the newer Microsoft Office capabilities. For instance, Power BI is an analytic feature that allows Excel to import data from multiple sources and perform sophisticated data analytics. Although nothing has been officially announced, it seems likely that SharePoint 2016 will include support for hosting Power BI sites.

Office 365 almost seems as though it has become a place to introduce new features before they make it into Microsoft server products. With that idea in mind, Office 365 may be a preview of what we can expect in SharePoint 2016.

It also seems likely that SharePoint 2016 will support new capabilities in Office 365 recently. Microsoft has long used a process that it calls dog fooding. The idea is that before a product is released to the public, Microsoft uses it internally in its own production environment. More recently, Microsoft seems to be extending a variation of this concept to Office 365. Office 365 almost seems as though it has become a place to introduce new features before they make it into Microsoft server products. With that idea in mind, Office 365 may very well be a preview of what we can expect to see in SharePoint 2016.

One such example is that Microsoft is using currently using Office 365 as a platform for delivering what it calls NextGen Portals. These portals leverage Office Graph to deliver a personalized experience while also supporting Yammer based social interaction. The first NextGen Portal to be released was Office 365 Video, which acts as a video sharing portal. Although Microsoft has not made any announcements, NextGen Portals would be a logical feature to include in SharePoint 2016.

To the cloud we go?

Although some information about SharePoint 2016 has been made available, Microsoft has yet to officially disclose anything beyond a few hints as to what we might expect. Microsoft plans to demonstrate an early SharePoint 2016 build at the Ignite conference in Chicago this May.

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