Recently, I got to attend the Microsoft Ignite conference and got some interesting insights on the future of the SharePoint server platform and how Microsoft foresees its evolution in the coming years. As expected during the conference Microsoft’s primary focus was SaaS and cloud based solutions (Azure and Office 365). In addition, Microsoft as a company had a unified message of “Cloud first, Mobility first.” which was repeatedly reinforced in every presentation at the conference, providing some insight on the kind of enhancements/features we can expect from Microsoft’s enterprise solutions in the future. So where does this leave the SharePoint server platform?
As Bill Baer and Seth Patton mentioned in their presentation at the Ignite conference (aptly named “The Evolution of SharePoint: Overview and Roadmap“) that SharePoint 2016 will be the first version of the server platform were the enhancements will be inspired by features in SharePoint Online and Office 365. This is a major departure from previous versions were new features were first introduced on the server version and replicated in the cloud version. What this means is that SharePoint 2016 will include many of the same features that we already have access to in SharePoint online.
This approach makes a lot of sense for Microsoft, because the subscriber base for Office 365 is now large enough that it affords Microsoft the ability to roll out new features to the cloud version first where they have the ability to quickly detect and fix potential issues. These more mature and stable updates can then be released to the on-premise version.
There is also a realization within Microsoft, that there will always be instances were companies prefer to manage either all or a subset of their farm in-house be it for legal or for other reasons. Instead of having to choose between either a cloud or an on-premises solution, Microsoft hopes to provide enhanced hybrid capabilities were you get to choose what components are hosted on-premises and what goes on the cloud. Some of these capabilities already exist, but going forward expect these features to work more seamlessly where the end user is oblivious to features hosted on-premises vs those hosted on the cloud. IT administrators can also expect more “intelligent” configuration wizards that will automate many of the manual steps required for hybrid configurations today.
As most companies in the field, Microsoft is focusing its efforts on new advancements in the industry such as machine learning. Office Graph and Delve, two major features released in 2014 as part of Office 365 attests to Microsoft’s emphasize in machine learning. It is interesting to note that both these features use SharePoint search in the backend. Hoping to see some of these features make it to the server version sometime in the future.
In summary, I believe the SharePoint server platform is alive and well at least for the next few years, albeit with some major changes on how new features will be developed. The Office 365 platform has grown rapidly in the last few years and expect it to hog the limelight in the coming years (like what SharePoint was back in 2007) until something more interesting comes along.