Last month’s Microsoft Ignite conference was eye-opening for people like myself who have been in the Microsoft space for a long time. It was, of course, the largest Ignite conference yet, and with the shuttering of the product-specific events like the SharePoint Conference, it was the most important Microsoft event of the year so far for those seeking news and announcements on upcoming products. With the official announcement way back in February of SharePoint 2016, SharePoint aficionados, administrators, developers, and consultants like me looked eagerly to Ignite for any scrap of info we could get on the latest and greatest Server release.
We did get some good info out of the conference. For example, the release time frame (Q2 2016), the beta time frame (Q4 2015), the server specs and requirements, and some tantalizing bits on new features like MinRole, no downtime patching, durable links, and others. But for me, what was perhaps most interesting was the tone of the conference.
I attended Ignite 2014, and the tone then was very different. Azure and Office 365 still had that fresh paint, new carpet smell about them, and Microsoft clearly thought that the cloud was inevitable and should be firmly in the cross hairs of every IT department’s strategy. The message from Ignite 2014 was cloud, cloud, cloud! And if you don’t think you’re ready to go cloud for some silly reason, well we’ve got a hybrid to sell you. What is hybrid, you ask? Well, last year, hybrid to Microsoft meant, essentially, the first step into your inevitable cloud future. The message to customers would have been some variation on this:
“We know you have (or think you have) some challenges jumping into the cloud, so we’ll help you ease into Azure and Office 365 with a hybrid stepladder. First, buy Office 365 for a few pilot users. Next, expand your userbase. Then, integrate your cloud services (Team Sites, Power BI, OneDrive, etc) into your existing intranet. Finally, migrate fully into the cloud and decommission your servers.”
Well, as a consultant who has worked with many different clients in many different industries over the past year, I have heard a lot of different responses to this message. For some, this playbook works great. They see the value of the cloud, they want to get there, and a phased approach works great for them. For others, this playbook is actually too slow. They don’t need the stepladder. Perhaps their company is young or particularly agile or they haven’t made a lot of investment in their IT infrastructure, and they can just go full bore cloud without the hybrid stepladder. Microsoft’s message was on point with both of these kinds of clients.
But I’ve had many other clients over the past year–often in the financial or health care sectors, though a few in legal as well–who, either due to regulatory requirements or internal policies, have told me, point-blank, their organization cannot or will not go cloud in the foreseeable future. At last year’s Ignite, it felt as though Microsoft was either ignoring these customers or simply skeptical of their viewpoint. This year’s Ignite was different.
Bringing the cloud on-prem
The keynote that started Ignite 2015 off had a dramatically different tone, as did the sessions on SharePoint that I watched. Of course, we heard a lot about the “mobile-first, cloud-first world,” Microsoft’s goal of “reinventing productivity,” and the impending Windows 10 release, but hybrid was very much in the air once again. However, this time, Microsoft acknowledged that many of their customers were excited about the innovation happening in Office 365 and Azure, but unable to participate since they couldn’t go cloud. No hemming or hawing, no winking or coughing in the sleeves: Microsoft just flat out stated that many of their customers weren’t going cloud any time soon.
And so, with what felt to me like a remarkable about face, Microsoft has taken this feedback to heart, and filled Ignite with a number of non-cloud announcements–including what amounts to the release of an on-prem Azure with the Microsoft Azure Stack announcement!–and a slightly, but importantly, recast message on hybrid: hybrid is no longer about pushing you gently into the cloud; now hybrid is about bringing the cloud to you, wherever you are.
What does this mean in more concrete terms? Well, in the SharePoint world, this means that if you like Office 365’s Delve application, but are running a SharePoint Server 2013 (or 2016) farm, Microsoft will, starting in Fall of this year, allow you to connect the Office Graph and Delve to your on-premises SharePoint environment. This is an about face from just a few months ago when Microsoft flatly stated that Delve was and would always be a cloud-only service. If you would like to use the new Office 365 Compliance Center on on-prem data, soon you will be able to. How about the Videos portal? How about Sway? The promise from Microsoft is that in the coming months and years, more Office 365 and Azure apps will be coming to your on-prem environments as cloud services.
Microsoft is bringing the cloud on-prem. Now, I still have a lot of questions about how this will play out, and how much my on-prem clients will really be able to take advantage of this new hybrid approach, but if nothing else, I welcome the change in tone. SharePoint 2016 will be a great upgrade if it does nothing more than bring Office 365 in a compliant way to our on-prem farms.