Unified search results with SharePoint cloud search service

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The first half of 2015 (Ignite in particular) saw several key announcements that were relevant to the future of the SharePoint product. While most of us sought (and were reassured) information about the direction of “on-prem” SharePoint, other features like the evolution of SharePoint also really caught the eye.

One in particular is the new Cloud Search Service Application. To fully understand what benefits this will bring, let’s take a step back and state what the current problems are with search.

The biggest headache IT professionals face is the total and utter lack of unified search results. SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-Premises will happily maintain their own indexes and distinctly unique search results pages. For end-users, this means that they’ll encounter two separate entities with their own relevance and ranking models. Far from ideal.

We can also consider the constant burden and required vigilance of having to maintain a fully functioning search service. Most organizations will need (and expect) high availability, which naturally has cost implications. Additionally, the timing full crawls will have practical implications too. Full crawls that take a while to complete may not reflect recent content changes, which may quickly turn users off from using SharePoint.

The New Kid on the Block

Unified Search Results with SharePoint Cloud Search Service

This is the scene in which the new Cloud Search Service application is being introduced. The Cloud Search Service Application aims to address the current deficiency in searching by enabling the On-Premises content as an end-point for SharePoint Online.

Plainly speaking, the content sources that are currently residing and consumed on your physical estate, will soon be feeding up into the Office 365 Search Index. The benefits of this for the end-user are clearly huge. A direct reduction in the number of search experiences that they’ll have to navigate, and the application of one single search experience in a source-agnostic fashion.

The good news of this unified search experience isn’t exclusively limited to end-users, as technical professionals also benefit. As you can imagine, this new application means that Microsoft will be taking the onerous task of managing search indexes off their hands. In practice, this will mean a reduced footprint, NOT a total lack of one. An On-Premises search service application is still needed to parse and crawl content. But this is now for the most part all that’s going to be needed.

Let’s have a look at some of the other important aspects of this development:

  1. The range of content sources that are currently available to SharePoint 2013 will be available for ‘cloud-crawling.’ This has some impressive benefits, as SharePoint 2007 and file shares can be specified as content sources.
  2. The resultant unified search index will also permit properly authenticated users to return from both cloud and non-cloud SharePoints, without the need to implement query federation.
  3. Furthermore, authenticated users from SharePoint 2010 – 2016 On-Premises products can search the unified index too. Awesome!
  4. On-Premises content will show up in Delve.

So, where might this be useful? The first example is for companies that have a large geographical foot-print. Their international presence will naturally complicate matters for most international departments, such as legal, compliance, finance and so on.

However, it’s in IT departments that this is a particularly acute problem that has to be managed carefully. We could consider a global concert ticketing company, for instance, that stores and houses ticketing, billing, and artist information on differing versions of SharePoint, across different countries and markets.

Typically, even considering an attempt at streamlining these and making all information available for perusal, we’d anticipate a large amount of research, testing, and potential technological streamlining. However, the developments within Office 365 could impact this hugely.

Older technologies (such as SharePoint 2007 or old file shares) need no longer be rushed to retirement, and can, instead, see a stay of execution as their content is made available for search immediately.

Alternatively, closer to home (think government departments and not-for-profit organizations that may have an ageing technology stack) the same benefits can be reaped. The Cloud Search Service app can make a journey towards technological efficiency, from inefficient places, easier by removing the primacy of upgrading everything at once.

For companies that don’t have a profitable bottom line to assist them, or a culture that’s slow to embrace change, Microsoft’s newest facility will be of great use.

A Positive Contribution

Unified Search Results with SharePoint Cloud Search Service

In closing, there are several key benefits here that should be grasped. From end-user ease of use to simpler technological management, the addition of the new Cloud Search Service is set to make a positive and powerful addition to the future of hybrid SharePoint deployments.

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