The pitfalls of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 hybrid

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With the cloud being so popular, hybrid solutions are now a very sought-after way of bridging the gap between On-premise and cloud-based technologies.

Hybrid solutions are born out of a need (or desire) to run both a locally managed SharePoint system, and one based on the Cloud powered Office 365. The net result is that organizations run more than one version of SharePoint at the same time.

A Business Case for Hybrid

SharePoint 2013 & Office 365 Hybrid

One common need for Hybrid solutions can be linked to legal or compliance use cases. In the early days of web hosting solutions, the laws that applied to data stored on servers were determined by where that physical infrastructure was situated – the country or region of the data center, instead of the data owner’s (or users’) wishes and their actual location.

For many organizations, this means cloud based SharePoint, brimming as it is with super useful features, doesn’t tick some pretty basic boxes. Indeed, despite Office 365 obtaining and maintaining various Information Security standards and legal requirements, many firms still look to on-premises.

Rather than sticking solely to On-premise, combining different versions of SharePoint (On-premises SharePoint 2010 or 2013 and Office 365) can be the answer. This solution however, can also be a complicated one. A hybrid solution within the current SharePoint 2013 experience isn’t currently as exhaustive as end users (or stakeholders) may perceive it to be. At some point, these expectations and assumptions may need to be managed and reset by IT staff.

The Current Limitations

SharePoint 2013 & Office 365 Hybrid

Presently, a hybrid solution tends to encompass the following:

  1. Businesses Connectivity Services (BCS): The ability to connect to non-SharePoint systems (with limitations)
  2. Search Interface: Being able to search both cloud and On-premise data sources (also with limitations)
  3. Being able to use Duet Features: SharePoint Online provides a way to access On-premise SAP Data

Let’s look into these limitations in some more detail.

BCS Connectivity limitations

The ability to plug into line of business applications was a great introduction to SharePoint. However, with Office 365 the data sources you can tap into are limited for security reasons. You can no longer simply plug into databases but have to use WCF or OData links (these aren’t as flexible).

Search Interface limitations

Search results from the “remote” locations (the alternative data source to where you are running your search) will appear in a separate search results box. They won’t be returned in one unified results page and tend to be confusing for users.

Syncing of features, or not

Beyond these three features, much functionality is ‘synchronized’ between the two versions of SharePoint in a hybrid situation. These include things like navigation, branding, master pages, content types and so on.

As you can probably work out, this is a rather piecemeal approach and may not cater for all scenarios.

Yet, good news is coming, for a brand new version of SharePoint is bringing a much upgraded Hybrid model experience. Enter, SharePoint 2016.

A Taste of The Future

SharePoint 2013 & Office 365 Hybrid

Recent SharePoint 2016 announcements and news point to a future where hybrid deployments may not be as ‘binary’ as we’re currently seeing. The expected beta release of SharePoint 2016 is going to be based on a snapshot of the Office 365 component. This has some interesting ramifications.

The fact that SharePoint 2016’s operational core is cloud based means that it will include inherent support for what Microsoft is labelling a cloud-accelerated experience. So, while this represents a different vision than Microsoft promoting a 100% cloud only experience, it offers a huge step forward for those looking at Hybrid models. It’s also a massive bridge between the current different versions of SharePoint.

Cloud-accelerated experiences are in essence the ability for cloud features to consume On-premise data. Current facilities such as Delve and Office Graph take their data inputs purely from Office 365. SharePoint 2016 (and a pending 2013 patch) will allow your On-premise deployments to act as a provider of sorts. The good news doesn’t stop there though as this line of thinking is also applicable to other services, including OneDrive and Team Sites.

A Bright Future

SharePoint 2016 points to a clear and intelligent way forward for managing hybrid systems and combing versions of SharePoint. We are pretty excited to see what else 2016 brings, but it’s certain we have come a long way since SharePoint 2003, 2007, 2010 and even 2013!

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