My Top 10 Takeaways from SharePoint Conference 2014
It’s now over a fortnight since the conclusion of SPC14 but I’m still buzzing; what a fantastic week! Microsoft really did put on a display by organising a conference on such a scale and the Venetian, Las Vegas was a fitting venue.
Over 10,000 fellow SharePoint(ers) descended on Sin City for five days and the general consensus amongst the delegates was that it was an overwhelming success. The keynotes, break-out session and conference parties were great and the burden of jet leg (for us Brits) was a small price to pay to be in attendance.
So, while it’s still fresh in the mind and before the memories fade, below are my top-ten takeaways from SPC14 (the ‘Daddy’ of SharePoint conferences)
1 OSLO (Graph)
The headline act of the SPC14 Keynote was a certain President Bill Clinton, although I’m disappointed to report that he didn’t mention ‘SharePoint’, made a slight faux pas by referring to Microsoft as a ‘country’, while I also got the impression he believed the room was full of 10,000 Microsoft employees – never mind.
Anyway, the main announcement made by Jeff Teper was ‘Oslo’; which essentially is Microsoft’s codename for their new Graph application. Like Facebook Graph, Oslo is a visualisation of people relationships, groups, content, and files (amongst others), through ‘machine learning, which displays relevancy to the end user. Oslo’s intention is to be totally intuitive and display the type of information you require………..before you go looking for it.
Do I think it will be a success? Yes, in time, absolutely, although it won’t be available to O365 customers until later this year with no road-map for on-premise (yet)
2. One Drive for Business
Before I dive into the devil in the detail, let’s begin with the basics, and a quick lesson on the terminology. SkyDrive as a brand is defunct and now operates under the name of ‘One Drive’, while SkyDrivePro is now referred to as ‘One Drive for Business’ – so, a clear distinction between the two different offerings! J
One Drive for Business comes with a mouth-watering option of 25GB of space (with the option to purchase additional storage), per-user, for just $2.50-a-month.In my opinion this is Microsoft’s way of officially entering the document repository synch market, so it’s likely to be squeaky bum time for the likes of Google Drive and Drop Box. On-premises SharePoint customers just require SharePoint Server 2013 SP1 to get up and running with One Drive for Business.
The App for One Drive is available on all devices (Windows Phone, IOS, Android), and is supposedly being extended to Mac in the not too distant future supposedly.
3. Asynchronous AlwaysOn for SharePoint 2013
SQL Server AlwaysOn high availability now supports asynchronous replication with SharePoint 2013. This is a pretty significant announcement and I would have expected more of a fanfare (which seemed to be saved for Oslo and anything Yammer).
In terms of high availability, SQL Server Always On, which is a SQL 2012 product, provides, if configured correctly, the shortest possible means of maintaining your SLA’s in terms of RTO/RPO – it’s essentially the quickest form of failover.
Synchronous SQL mirroring still remains the most popular form of high availability when you’re working with local Data Centres and low latency.
Traditionally, when high latency and geographical location considerations form part of your disaster recovery methodology and a recovery/stand-by farm, is your chosen solution, SQL Log Shipping was generally the answer – and still is for many people. However, the announcement that asynchronous replication is now supported for SharePoint 2013, and crucially for a number of Service Application databases, means it’s time to rethink your SharePoint 2013 HA/DR policy.
There are still some service application databases which come with caveats in terms of asynchronous replication, but generally, this is a significant breakthrough as you can pretty much achieve everything you did before with SQL Log Shipping (and improve your RPO/RTO response times in the process)
There is still no official line on whether asynchronous replication is supported with SharePoint 2010.
I’d like to add that this session was excellently presented by Neil Hodgkinson from Microsoft.
Now this is something which really excites me, especially as the restriction on O365 customers has been lifted. Previously, the new wave of PowerBI modules, which include, Power Query, Power Map and Power Q&A, were only available if you owned an O365 tenancy or were configured in a hybrid environment,
However, the introduction of the Power Management Gateway means all of your Business Intelligence data (SQL databases, Analysis Services Cubes) can remain on premises and surfaced via the Power BI Mobile App (which simply translates to ‘BI anywhere’). This adaptation is surely a winner for many a company still concerned about data sovereignty and jurisdictional limitations regarding the cloud.
The majority of these new Power BI tools are built on top of Excel and Microsoft hope this familiarity will ensure their 1 billion Office user base can easily innovate without the need additional training.
My personal opinion is that Power BI ‘Q&A’ will have the biggest impact as its allow you to query corporate data using pre-defined and customisable natural languages and create instant results with rich, interactive visualisations. And the 250MB supported PowerPivot workbooks on mobile devices is pretty darn impressive.
5. Long live InfoPath
‘The King is dead long live The King!’ We’ve known for a while now that InfoPath 2013 would be Microsoft’s last release of the product but it does have a stay of execution, and ultimately, a slow death with support extending for the next ten years until 2023.
InfoPath does have its limitations but it’s very much a simplistic and can deliver quick and easy no-code solutions across the Enterprise. But what is the future of forms beyond 2023, and is there a golden ticket we should be striving for? Well, SPC14 did provide some clues, with both ‘Forms on SharePoint Lists’ (FoSL), pronounced ‘Fossil’ and Access ‘App Forms’ mentioned.
One of the highlights of SPC14 was as the, hilarious, brilliantly organised, funeral procession through the main exhibition hall mourning the death of InfoPath – I even heard a ‘bring out your dead chant’.
6 Yammer is fully SharePoint-integrated
Remember all the fuss about SharePoint Social when SP2013 was released? You know, how everyone will embrace Social and rolling-out MySites across the Enterprise would quickly become the norm? Well, you can forget all of that, as the out-of-the-box social element is being retired, with Yammer, the new ‘go-to’ solution for anyone interested in investing in this area.
Unless your head was in Cloud Cuckoo land or your primary focus while in Vegas was ‘red or black’, it was nigh on impossible to escape the constant drill of ‘Yammer’ (slammer) during SPC14. Even the SPC14 delegate site was fully integrated with Yammer newsfeeds/groups and hot-topic areas.
Yammer is now fully integrated with SharePoint 2013 following the release of Service Pack 1 (and boy don’t we know it!), and it would seem that the introduction of ‘Yammer Groups’ could potentially change the way we traditionally share and collaborate.
One of its new features is the ability to create a SharePoint site with all of the standard document library elements, and then link this directly to a Yammer group conversation. I can really see the benefits in this monolithic approach and once combined with the power of Oslo and Search (which has the power of FAST driving it) you are looking at a fully integrated single view.
Make no mistake; you’ll be hearing a lot more about Yammer over the next couple of years (there’s even a new IT Pro network: https://www.yammer.com/ITProNetwork/)
7. Shredded Storage (Fort Knox)
The ‘Deep dive into Shredded Storage’ was a session I was really looking forward too, particularly since one of the presenters was Bill Baer, who, it’s fair to say ‘knows his onions’ when it comes to everything SharePoint and SQL. And, I wasn’t disappointed as this really was a genuine Level 400 session.
Everyone seems to have their own opinions on the value of shredded storage, while the four highlighted benefits in this session were as follows:
Optimize File I/O
The topic of shredded storage ‘security’ included a new concept, soon to be available on O365, codenamed ‘Fort Knox’.
As things currently stand, a certain level of security is already applied to shredded storage with the way the SQL blobs/shreds are shredded and distributed in sequence. To gain access to the underlying files, you would not only need to understand the sequencing algorithm, but also understand how to recompile – which is no easy task. And now, to enhance this security, the product team have announced that the shredded chunks will be also be encrypted at REST, using AES256 encryption storage (which is a government standard).
In addition, the encryption keys will be stored in a secure store and changed frequently, while the shreds will be located across different Microsoft storage arrays – no single storage area will contain all of the shredded files.
Currently only a handful of O365 employees have access to this area, but the frequency of the changes, the algorithms used to encrypt the chunks mean that no-one will soon be able to access your data – not even those with keys to the crown jewels! Welcome to Fort Knox! As I mentioned, this is Level 400 material (and that’s without going anywhere near the topic of configuring the size of your shreds)
Shredded Storage is on by default with SP2013 and cannot be turned off, although it is customisable. But configured incorrectly, and you could be looking at a possible performance impact, and therefore should be handled with care – it is not a subject to contemplate after a boozy Friday lunch.
Also, a common misconception is that you need to be running SQL 2012 to leverage shredded storage – this is a client product (SharePoint), and not a database solution, and will work with any version of SQL which is supported by SP2013.
8. The benefits of Office 365 and hybrid migration made easy (well, kind of)
Regardless of how much you fight it there’s no getting away from the fact that most of the new cool SharePoint stuff is/will be available with O365. Although, I like to put a different spin on it and hope that once all of the 0365 ‘guinea pigs’ have done their testing, all of the new features will become available to on-premises customers!
The release of SP1 for SharePoint 2013 ensures a more comfortable migration path to an O365 hybrid environment, although don’t underestimate the level of knowledge and expertise required to migrate to a full cloud, or hybrid model. This shortfall of knowledge in the community is somewhere Microsoft is aware of, and trying to address.
Certainly, Search has evolved from a hybrid perspective, with both one-way inbound/outbound, and crucially, two-way bidirectional available. Two-way bidirectional provides the means for a fully federated search query and subsequent results panel across both your on-premises and O365 tenancy.
There’s also the small matter of O365 now supporting 1TB site collections and 1PB tenants. Yes, that is not a typo! That really is a mind-blowing number and genuine elastic scale.
9. SharePoint is alive and kicking…..and here to stay (for the time being anyway)
We all have our opinions of SharePoint, the brand, the longevity of the product and whether one day we’ll one day simply refer to it as O365, or heaven forbid ‘Yammer’. One thing which is abundantly clear is that Microsoft are committed to making the next version (SharePoint 2015) available on-premises. (Confirmed by Bill Baer during the IT Pro Keynote)
Beyond that time, who knows although it wouldn’t surprise me if the next version is the last offering for those who can’t entertain cloud or hybrid model.Microsoft are probably hoping that this on-premises ‘last chance saloon’ will pave the way for everyone to make their plans for the Office 365 or Azure. One thing is for certain; O365 is growing at a monumental rate and is Microsoft’s fastest growing commercial product.
SharePoint’s identity is also changing at a rapid rate of knots and we’ve already witnessed a fair degree of decoupling with the likes of Office Web Apps and Workflow – they can safely be labelled as separate products. This segregation does mean additional configuration and administration overhead, but the slimmed down architecture does in theory, provide better reliability and performance.
Whatever way the wind blows, it’s just a shame that not everyone loves SharePoint (taken from a ‘popular’ Search engine…….give it a try)
10. And finally, some quick-fire announcements
Yammer has also been integrated into Dynamics CRM
Release of new Office Web Apps Widgets, which include People Picker and List View
MS opening API for O365 self-service site collection (be brave!)
Despite weekly updates being applied, 99.98% up-time assured with O365
New O365 Video portal available, powered by Azure media services (I can see this receiving a lot of positive exposure)
Lync and Skype are coming to Yammer (no official timeline)
App Model is developing and the Product Team is hoping to get AutoHosted Apps out of ‘Preview’ by the end of the year
PowerBI connectivity to SAP business objects via Power Query
Azure AD is set to replace Azure Connectivity Services (ACS). Azure AD OAuth for developers now available in preview
Compliance and eDiscovery features from SP on-premises are to be introduced into O365
Viva Las Vegas!