A release candidate of SharePoint Server 2016 has arrived as a New Year’s present for us all. And with the release to manufacturing (RTM) of the latest version of Microsoft’s flagship collaboration product expected sometime this year, it appears to be a good opportunity to step back and survey seven things every CIO should know about SharePoint Server 2016.
1. SharePoint Server 2016 might be the last version of SharePoint designed to run on premises
You can even tell in the messaging for this 2016 release that the cloud is where Microsoft sees SharePoint living, in that the software giant claims SharePoint 2016 is a version of SharePoint baked with all of the knowledge and learnings and improvements that Microsoft has been able to integrate because of running SharePoint … in the cloud. Put simply, SharePoint has been cloud-first for a few years now, but we very well may be entering the stage of “cloud only.”
Microsoft always plays the “we do not talk about future releases beyond the version we are currently working on” card, but it is somewhat telling that the roadmap beyond SharePoint Server’s 2016 release this year is so muddy. It is abundantly clear that Microsoft is pushing everyone to sign up for SharePoint as a service, and regardless of how many features are in the 2016 release that are designed to make coexistence with Office 365 and your own on-premises servers more manageable and functional, you simply cannot argue with the fact that Microsoft sees SharePoint Online as SharePoint’s future – with a strong possibility of SharePoint Online being the exclusive way to use new versions of SharePoint. You should plan accordingly.
2. There will no longer be a free version of SharePoint for smaller shops or departmental use
Historically there has always been a free edition of SharePoint, called SharePoint Foundation or Windows SharePoint Services or some such that was available at no cost to install and had a reasonably complete set of features for a free product. It lacked some enterprise functionality like advanced database support, identity management integration, Excel Services (more on that in a bit), and others, but it was a credible solution for limited document management and collaboration needs.
The availability of such a free version let smaller businesses and branch offices use the benefits of SharePoint without having to be tied into a complete enterprise deployment and pay tens of thousands of dollars. Even small departments at places like universities hosted these free versions of SharePoint because of their autonomy. This is more – if you want SharePoint, you either pay Microsoft to host it for you via Office 365, or you pay for a license to SharePoint Server 2016.
3. Excel Services has vanished, and to get Excel functionality, you must use Office Online Server
Many organizations used Excel Services as an easy way to collaborate on simple Excel spreadsheets by hosting them within SharePoint and letting folks access them to view and edit the contents through a simple web browser. This was easier for users on the go to access, rather than having to boot up a copy of Excel and download a sheet, check it out, and save it again and check it in. There were also rich business intelligence style capabilities that required a far more complex deployment, and it is probably because of this dichotomy that this feature was removed entirely from SharePoint. For the next version, Excel through a browser is a separately licensed affair. The bottom line: if you used Excel Services functionality you must develop a budget and deployment plan for Office Online Server if you plan to deploy SharePoint Server 2016.
4. Managing SharePoint from the command line is pretty much a PowerShell-only affair these days
STSADM, the venerable command line executable that managed a lot of SharePoint in the 2007 and 2010 days, is deprecated in the SharePoint Server 2016 release. STSADM was the central point around which a lot of custom administrative scripts were built, as it was pretty much the DOS prompt equivalent of the SharePoint Central Administration website. Luckily in the last couple of versions of SharePoint Microsoft has been pushing PowerShell as the language of choice for administrators and also equipping SharePoint PowerShell modules with a load of features and capabilities, and of course Microsoft uses SharePoint internally to control its SharePoint Online deployment within the Office 365 datacenters. PowerShell is definitely where your administrators’ command line efforts should be based, so this is not a total loss, but it will require some rescripting and rethinking if you’re on premises deployment relies a lot on calling STSADM.
5. The migration process to SharePoint Server 2016 will be a bit involved, depending upon from where you are starting
If you are ahead of the game, relatively speaking, and have already moved your on premises SharePoint deployment up to 2013, then moving to 2016 will not be a very big deal. You can do an in place upgrade of your 2013 deployment to step up, keeping in mind you will need to have all sites and libraries that are on 2013 but using the 2010 “skin” over to the standard 2013 “skin” before completing the upgrade. However, if you are still on SharePoint 2010, then you will have to lift and shift your content into a new SharePoint Server 2016 deployment. You will probably want to engage some specialists to help with this migration unless your intention is just to move up to Office 365, in which case Microsoft has a lot of tools to do the heavy lifting for you.
6. The Microsoft workflow and forms solution InfoPath is now moribund
InfoPath and SharePoint often worked together, with InfoPath forms (like vacation requests, purchase orders, employee evaluations, expense reports, and other sorts of process oriented places to store information) hosted in a SharePoint app or library to route information and requests along a business process. However, Microsoft has decided InfoPath has reached the end of the, well, path. InfoPath 2013 is the last version of InfoPath and it will be supported through 2026, and InfoPath forms will be supported within SharePoint Server 2016 but probably not beyond. Additionally, InfoPath forms are supported inside SharePoint Online and Office 365 for an unspecified period, which Microsoft calls “until further notice,” which you can surmise means the support will be removed at some point in the future.
7. There is a big focus on hybrid connectivity in SharePoint Server 2016
If you are already dabbling with SharePoint Online and Office 365 but still have a logistical or regulatory reason why you need to keep some SharePoint assets on premises, then SharePoint Server 2016 is geared for your organization. It has several features designed to integrate your sites and libraries in the cloud with what is still on premises, including hybrid search, file synchronization with OneDrive for Business, hybrid sites so users can follow sites in either location in a single list, and integrated profiles so users have one profile that lives in the cloud and that can migrate down to your on premises deployment as required.
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