SharePoint 2016 or SharePoint Online?

Posted 31 May 2016 12:00 AM by Matthew Sammut, Business Productivity Team Lead @ ClearPeople

Various considerations to choose the best strategy

This is often a very complex question for organisations to answer without any help and most of the time, it can be a very daunting decision that ends up feeling like a leap of faith. However, there have been hundreds of other organisations who, just like you, have been through this journey to an enhanced digital workspace and now are able to reap the rewards due to increased collaboration across the business.

What do I need to consider before going on the journey?

When the time comes to choose whether to go to the cloud or not, from our experience discussions tend to revolve around the following key points:

Where is my data stored? 

The concern of data sovereignty when moving to the cloud is very common, especially for UK based companies which currently need to rely on data servers outside of the UK. Microsoft has confirmed that as part of a $2 billion project in upgrading the cloud infrastructure across Europe they will be delivering Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online from a new UK data centre region. This is a very exciting announcement as soon this limitation won't even be a consideration anymore.

Is it secure and compliant to our standards?

The second factor is that of privacy and security. Ensuring that the platform meets the required compliance standards and privacy requirements can be very complex at times. However, Microsoft have made this easy and published several whitepapers to help you understand the standards that the platform is compliant with.

What level of customisations do I have?

Rather than the amount of customisation, here one needs to consider the level of customisations. In reality, not being able to do customisation on SharePoint Online is a pure myth. There are some restrictions however, since by using the cloud you're effectively using Microsoft's shared infrastructure which will not allow you to deploy server side code that can break someone else's tenant. 

Whichever route you choose Microsoft always recommend going cloud-first even if using SharePoint 2016. This means that even if developing customisation On-Premise you should still design your customisation with cloud in mind and only do otherwise if there is really no better solution. By doing so you would have a bigger chance of remaining compliant to service updates, and potentially face less problems when upgrading to the next releases.

So why should I upgrade to SharePoint 2016?

Let's assume that for some reason you have so many customisations that the business decides it is not ready to invest in going to the cloud right now. SharePoint 2016 provides you with an alternate intermediate solution so that you are able to get on the latest version of SharePoint without needing to rethink all of your customisations. There will always be additional effort required if you have customisations, however staying off the cloud will definitely be cheaper. This will allow you time to get your customisations ready for the cloud in a phased approach. 

If the level of customisation is what's keeping you from starting your cloud journey, then moving to SharePoint 2016 is the first step. The second part to this is obvious and just like any other system; you will definitely miss out on a tonne of awesome new functionality, especially if you are still on SharePoint 2010.

There are new hybrid features

A huge advantage over SharePoint 2013 is that SharePoint 2016 makes hybrid scenarios easier to implement. In reality, many are making a big wow out of this, and possibly more than it actually deserves. However, I suspect that Microsoft's strategy is to improve on this hybrid experience iteratively to allow organisations to take the transition in smaller steps. Starting by moving from SharePoint 2010 to 2016 and then taking some other workloads to Office 365. I suspect that we will be seeing more features coming this year relating to this.

Keeping up to date is a lot easier and will be less intrusive

I'm sure you have heard this one before. One fundamental difference from the previous versions is that SharePoint 2016 was built from the ground up to work hand in hand with the cloud. The main reason being to narrow down the gap between SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2016 so that users not on the cloud can also get the latest experience.

Thus, one of the biggest improvements relates to upgrades. Several improvements have been made within the foundations of SharePoint 2016 to ensure that upgrading the SharePoint databases does not lead to downtime for the end user. 

Sharing documents and content has improved

There are some funky new features that make collaboration more exciting than ever. New sharing features include the ability to create and share folders directly; you can easily see who the folder is shared with when viewing a folder at a glance and you don't need to have unnecessary administrator permissions but can now share documents even if you are a member. Invitation email is improved and you can also have a one-click email to approve or deny a request for access.

You can learn more about SharePoint 2016 in this video:

That's all good, but how do I get to SharePoint 2016?

Irrespective of which upgrade path you choose, the first thing you will need to accomplish is the installation and configuration of SharePoint 2016 and its required services. There are new considerations to take into account with SharePoint 2016 such as the requirement of having a “MINROLE” compliant architecture which dictates which services should be run together on each server and the number of servers required to have a compliant SharePoint 2016 environment.  

Once the installation and core configuration is complete, the next thing to do is to upgrade your data to the new SharePoint 2016 environment. To keep things simple, there are effectively two upgrade paths that you can choose from. The first path is to use the database attach method and the second is to use a tool to migrate the content. In the following section, I'll explain some of the main differences and considerations for choosing the approach.

Upgrading using the database attach method

This approach requires you to create a new SharePoint 2016 environment, then attach a copy of the SharePoint 2013 content and service applications databases and run through a process which is entirely handled through SharePoint without the need for any third party migration tools and licences.

The main consideration for this approach is that you can only upgrade one version at a time, so if you currently have SharePoint 2010, then you will need to have a temporary SharePoint 2013 environment before you can move to SharePoint 2016. 

The upgrade process itself is still similar to previous versions where after upgrading the database schemas you will go through a validation process of upgrading each site collection individually by using the inbuilt visual upgrade checking tools.

Migrating content using tools approach

Alternatively, if you have complex scenarios involving permissions or custom solutions you might be better off using third party tools such as ShareGate to migrate just the content.

We recommend running a content audit before delivering a migration. During this process we'll assess your current SharePoint environment and work out the most feasible approach for you.

So, how do I make sure I'm choosing the right route?

There are a number of factors one should consider before making a decision on the best route to take, and more often than not it won't be just one or the other. 

This is why ClearPeople will be happy to be your trusted advisor and assist you through the content audit process and provide you with a feasibility report detailing the recommended approach, which will be personalised to your specific requirements.

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