The Future is SharePoint Hybrid (and the future of SharePoint Hybrid)

The Future is SharePoint Hybrid (and the future of SharePoint Hybrid)

The year 2016 is coming to an end. And for everyone who predicted SharePoint hybrid as future in past 3 years, the future is here (almost). And enterprises have also learned that the barriers to the hybrid cloud are more numerous than originally anticipated. However, it’s important to do some reflection and introspection on where the hybrid SharePoint implementation is today.

Adoption: Interest and consumption are beginning to ramp up quickly. Enterprises who, earlier had goals to move all in a cloud are now considering a hybrid approach towards using SharePoint.  Several migrations to Office 365 initiatives have failed drastically and made their way as the staple diet for discussions at various competition conferences and whitepapers.  As a result, IT leaders are making a rapid shift in the direction of public cloud by adopting hybrid cloud for their SharePoint implementation. The combination of private and public cloud gives IT the tools required to help the business innovate and iterate faster at a lower cost.

Governance: The most common policy discussion that required consensus from governance board was data protection vs extending SharePoint over the internet. Just like vim vs emacs, there were always two sides to this discussion whether SharePoint should be served over VPN or should the infrastructure be made available on DMZ for easy access or publish SharePoint over web application proxy. Each side has a stronger business case; right from a sales director citing the pathetic performance of applications over VPN vs a finance controller worried about his excel sheets leaving the very secure boundaries of their internal data center. With SharePoint 2016 hybrid, a third option as emerged as a solution and it is now easy for organizations to determine which content can be made available over cloud vs what remains on premise. The boundaries for content and their availability over search are clearly articulated.

Optimized use of Infrastructure – With 1 TB available with each OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online Site Collections storing TB of content and Videos for storing rich media content, IT managers are now able to establish an optimized storage and compute utilization plan to store low function high storage content on cloud while retaining content that has legal, compliance or business critical applications with security and performance demands can be hosted on an on-premise environment. In addition to this, with the zero downtime patching for SharePoint 2016 and managed releases for Office 365 SharePoint Online, it is easier than before the meet the Service Level Agreements for SharePoint based solutions.

Search – Content findability has always been a challenge for most of the SharePoint Implementations. Even though in SharePoint 2013, enterprises could configure hybrid search, the results weren’t encouraging with multiple search result sets that were not commingled. The relevance was different and so was user experience. With SharePoint 2016, the search has been re-architected and these issues have been addressed.

The hybrid infrastructure does provide best of both the worlds. Combining these two cloud models leverages cost efficiencies and also builds resilience into a solution.

To achieve the Hybrid model and gain some of the benefits listed above, the core architecture for Office 365 and SharePoint On-Premises needs to be understood.

SharePoint 2016 Hybrid Cloud

SharePoint 2016 Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure

 

The core logical design is about connecting your On-Premises Active Directory with the Azure Active Directory that is available. This ensures that accounts are synchronized and licenses from the cloud services can be assigned. Once done then the On-Premises environment needs to be connected through standard network connectivity. Once SharePoint 2016 on-premise is configured with SharePoint Online, the users would be able to manage the following hybrid workloads.

Hybrid Workloads

Hybrid Workloads

 

So based on where we are, the future (Hybrid) has already arrived. But where do we go from here? What is the future of Hybrid ? With enterprises moving to Azure to host their SharePoint 2016 farm, will they continue to be true hybrid ? Or the hybrid would no longer differentiate between on-premise data center, public cloud & private cloud, but it would just be a combination of IAAS, PAAS & SAAS based solutions hosted across infrastructures.

And if you are interested in defining your SharePoint Hybrid Strategy, please reach out to me using the contact me page.

Power Trio – PowerApps, Flow & Power BI

After long and encouraging previews, Microsoft announced general availability of Microsoft PowerApps & Microsoft Flow for general availability today. Both PowerApps and Flow will be included with Dynamics 365 and in the subscriptions of millions of Office 365 Enterprise and Business Premium and Essentials users.

Combined with Power BI, the company is calling the three services the “power trio“, as they allow non-developers to do things that previously required programming skills. Each app plays a specific role in this strategy.

Microsoft Power BI – Power BI transforms your company’s data into rich visuals for you to collect and organize so you can focus on what matters to you. Available for web, desktop and mobile, Power BI puts visual analytics at your fingertips with intuitive report authoring. Drag-and-drop to place content exactly where you want it on the flexible and fluid canvas. Quickly discover patterns as you explore a single unified view of linked, interactive visualizations.

Power Apps – In PowerApps, you can generate an app automatically, customize it, create an app from scratch, and share and run apps that you create or that others create and share with you.

Microsoft Flow – Microsoft Flow is a service that allows you to create automated workflows between your favorite applications and services to synchronize files, get notifications, collect data, and more. For example, you could log your favorite Twitter user’s tweets to an Excel file, or get an email notification every time a new item is posted to a Sharepoint list. Or maybe you could add popular Twitter followers talking about your company as leads in Dynamics CRM and then send a follow-up email.

The company says that the power trio follows its strategy of “five seconds to sign up, five minutes to wow!” This means that it should be easy to get started and then users should be able to quickly understand the service. Despite being easy to use though, Microsoft says that these are very powerful tools.

Power BI & Power Apps provide a gateway component that provides on-premise integration by accessing data within your data center. With the on-premises gateways, you can keep your data fresh by connecting to your on-premises data sources without the need to move the data. Query large datasets and benefit from your existing investments. The gateways provide the flexibility you need to meet individual needs, and the needs of your organization.  Multiple users can share and reuse a gateway in this mode. This gateway can be used by Power BI, PowerApps, Flow or Logic Apps. For Power BI, this includes support for both schedule refresh and DirectQuery.

It is very encouraging to see these components in general availability as enterprises will have more options to build solutions to complex and challenging business problems. I would be happy to help you build a proof of concept as well as business case for using these workloads. Please use the contact me form to share your queries.

PowerApps, Flow & Azure Functions – Do you still need SharePoint ?

Its the year 2016. Organizations are wondering if the decade worth of customization on SharePoint has paid off ?  In 2007, they built several shared service providers in MOSS to customize their business needs and keep their end users happy. In 2010, they evaluated buy vs build vs build on SharePoint vs buy for SharePoint (WebParts & Add Ins).  Their productivity increased multifold and so did their time to market for their applications.  In 2013 (and 2016), they developed and deployed several apps (now add-ins) using client side technologies and achieved challenging customizations for the end users. And Office 365 gave them a huge playground for apps that were built with perfection by the product companies.  Now where do they head next?

SharePoint is an excellent collaboration tool with flexibility to customize business needs with out of the box features. Throw in some custom code, java script and BCS and you can build enterprise grade business application. Create some custom content types and you have reusability at its best. And then came a mandate. Conversion to the next version. Every customization, every workaround  and every piece of unsupported code comes haunting your sleep. Large lists that your  end users created with love and affection. And don’t mention terabytes of data in single content database that your database admin has been always warning you about, but his email ended up in your clutter.

So how did all of these happen? SharePoint architects made an informal checklist for every business problem.

  1. Do you require workflow ?
  2. Do you need item level security ?
  3. Are there internal users ? Or external users ? Or public access required ?
  4. Do you need access to external data ?
  5. Do you need findability ?

If the answers to above questions have 3 affirmation, SharePoint becomes the undisputed solution.

I am sure by now SharePoint Architects would be building nasty comments in their minds to criticize this article, but I am a SharePoint Architect myself. And knowing when NOT to use SharePoint makes you a successful architect. There is no defined recipe of where to use SharePoint and when not to use SharePoint.

In my opinion, Microsoft have head subtle hints from SharePoint community to fix long standing issues related to customization and Microsoft did hear them all but offered a completely different but relevant stack of product to address these issues. These are part of Azure cloud stack namely Power App, Microsoft Flow and Azure Functions.

So why do I say Microsoft Flow, PowerApps and Functions presage a new model of cloud applications? Because increasingly, cloud apps are evolving toward a lego-block model of “serverless” computing: where you create and pay only for your business logic, where chunks of processing logic are connected together to create an entire business application.

So how does this all fit in? Let’s say John Doe is a supply chain manager who wants to build a tracking system for every exception in their route management process. He wants to track all exceptions, route them for approval to stakeholders and perform some near complex business logic before sending the response to the exception team. John Doe (or a power user from his team) can create forms in PowerApps at astonishing fast speed.  Want that app mobile-enabled on any smartphone? No problem, you use the Common Data Model available in PowerApps enabling a lingua franca between applications. Kick off a Flow  to create next steps of assignment. And if you need some complex business logic added, have a developer use Azure Functions  that can be triggered by virtually any event in Azure, 3rd party services, or on-premises systems. Azure Functions is built on a serverless architecture, which handles the heavy lifting of building highly available, scalable, end-to-end Functions.

It is easier said or written than done but so was SharePoint. But as the question of my blog post suggested, has SharePoint become irrelevant? I would say no. Not for the purpose SharePoint has been built in the first place. SharePoint is still the first choice for content management, business intelligence portal, enterprise social, enterprise search and workflow to leverage team collaboration and publishing features. But when evaluating complex application development with critical functionalities, it makes sense to evaluate vis-à-vis availability of  compute time and resource for Microsoft Azure with the organization. But as the code of conduct for Architect community says, plan to leverage existing licenses and investments but not at the cost of architectural debts. That’s where we (the architects) come-in. Provide the best bet solution to the business problems. And next time a business user walks up to your desk asking can I solve this on SharePoint, calm down-take a deep breath-and show him this blog.

Disclaimer – No SharePoint Architects were harmed while writing this blog.

 

 

 

 

 

The Microsoft Cloud Journey

The Microsoft Cloud Journey

Microsoft’s cloud focus has been both interesting and encouraging. In last few years, we have seen world wide adoption of Office 365 & Azure. Five years ago, Microsoft’s server products were much more powerful than their Office 365 counterparts. Today, those differences are shrinking, and Microsoft is increasingly offering Office 365 services that have no in-house counterparts. IT departments continue to struggle with understanding how Office 365 services interoperate with other Office 365 services, Microsoft server products and third-party solutions. The devil is in the details, and the details constantly change. And then there has been an interesting feedback from CIOs and IT Leaders, that they all prefer to start hybrid and continue to use in-house infrastructure and software in concert with Office 365.

As a CXO, you have had your leaders establish cloud first strategy, but have you defined your tolerance for SAAS and PAAS based applications in your cloud journey? Because once these pitfalls are understood and tolerance is defined, you are very close to commence your cloud journey.

There are unique challenges about several Microsoft cloud products that lead to failed implementations and thus reducing confidence in the cloud strategy. Some of them are

  1. The misconception about Azure as VM service: Azure is way bigger then spinning few VM. Its has full stack cloud portfolio that provides services and workloads across identity management, machine learning, big data, storage, API management, CDN and many more. You can see the directory of Azure Cloud Services here.  It is important to consider these services when building a cloud first strategy.
  2. Treating Office 365 as a quick fix: The time to market for Office 365 product line is quick but it needs detailed assessment and planning before jumping the bandwagon. The pre configuration for integrating with Active Directory for sync and single sign on takes time, effort and resources.
  3. Planning performance & delivery: Multinational organizations find that connecting to Office 365 has challenges with the individual services — the bandwidth required, the data and the quality of service. Under Microsoft’s current delivery model, customers must pick a region for the primary delivery and storage of the data for the services.
  4. Upgrades & New Functionality– Office 365 is ever evolving and dynamic with a new functionality being rolled out every quarter (or less).  Organizations can, at the most, delay the release, but not completely avoid it. Communication has to be frequent and consistent before, during and after new functionality has been rolled out.
  5. Deciding what to use when – Organizations face a very unique challenge. Over availability of solutions to address single problem.  You want your network drive that needs to be migrated to cloud, you have solutions ranging from OneDrive, SharePoint Team Sites,  Azure Storage, StorSimple to name a few. You want a digital media solution, you have Office 365 Stream, Videos, Azure Media Services and SharePoint sites. You want workflow based application and you have PowerApps + Flow, SharePoint Online, Azure App Services, etc to address these problems.

Most organization treat cloud as a single project. May it be Office 365 migration or Azure implementation. And this is generally followed by implementing all services at one go.  And then there are other organization that focus on single service model for Office 365 or Azure. They start with Exchange Online and then stop at everything.

In order to mitigate these challenges, it is imperative that organizations use methodology that allows them to tailor-make their deployments that are best suited to achieve their goals. As a consultant, I have come across instances where a cloud service is brought in for a proof of concept, then converted into production and finally end up building processes and metrics to support that deployment.

I consistently thrive to help organizations address these problems by following an approach that brings in agility to adopt cloud services based on their appetite to handle change.

cloud

 

This 4 step approach follows a service catalog methodology that helps define owners for each service and plan the migration accordingly. It involves different teams like cyber security, data center & network and firewall early to plan if hybrid deployment is needed and how to assess the readiness of on premise infrastructure to integration with cloud. Each Service would follow a swimming pool analogy with multiple lanes for swimming.

  • In some lanes, the organization will dive in and swim as fast as possible (for example, when implementing services such as Exchange Online).
  • In some lanes, the organization will stay in the shallow end of the pool. E.g Identity Management
  • In some lanes, the organization will merely dip a toe in the water. E.g PowerBI
  • Some lanes will not be entered at all.

If these challenges are well mitigated, your cloud journey can be as smooth as a summer trip to the beach with adequate sun tan and anti glares to keep you woes at bay. If you are interested in building your Microsoft Cloud strategy, reach out to me at ravee@gokulgaandhi.com and I would be happy to help.

Questions you should ask yourself before starting a OneDrive Migration

Questions you should ask yourself before starting a OneDrive Migration

 

To successfully migrate documents to OneDrive for Business, and get the most out of the platform, there are a number of things that need to be considered before you start. Here we will go through some of the questions that you should be asking yourself at the pre-migration stage to hopefully make your migration easier.

 

  1. What do I want to get out of OneDrive for Business?

    OneDrive for Business is used to access work files in the network environment through different devices. It facilitates controlled sharing of files—users can keep their files private, or can share them partially or completely with one or more people. To facilitate offline working, users can sync files to their local computer. Documents are also accessible from network/internet connected devices. Understanding all of this is key to determining what you want to get out of OneDrive for Business.

     

  2. How important is compliance?

    When choosing between on-premises OneDrive for Business and a cloud based one you have to consider how it will affect your compliance. For organizations that have to regularly meet compliance requirements it is recommended that an on-premises facility is used (OneDrive for Business in SharePoint Server 2016). If the opposite is the case, then Office 365 can be used without any SharePoint infrastructure on the premises.

     

  3. Should you choose hybrid or on-premises as your deployment configuration?

    OneDrive for Business can be used in SharePoint Server 2016 or in Office 365. Organizations can use OneDrive for Business in Office 365 while retaining the SharePoint Server for all other uses. Office 365 allows employees to access their documents through the internet (outside the corporate network). The hybrid option is great for businesses with a large number of users outside the corporate network.

     

  4. What do I need in place before I start?

    To use One Drive for Business, three services — My Sites, User Profile Service Application and Managed Metadata Service — need to be configured in SharePoint Server 2016. But all Office 365 Business plans have OneDrive for Business included with them by default.

     

  5. What about SharePoint Team Site?

    Many organizations do not understand the difference between OneDrive for Business and a SharePoint Team Site. OneDrive for Business is for storing personal work documents – so the documents with little or no requirement for being shared should be moved to OneDrive for Business. Documents for collaborative work only should be moved to SharePoint Team Site.

     

  6. How much storage space do I need?

    Before starting the migration, you should calculate the required storage space and plan accordingly. The storage space for OneDrive for Business document library is determined solely by the administrator in the case of SharePoint Server. In the case of Office 365, it is decided by Microsoft according to the SharePoint subscription plan.

     

  7. Will you be migrating files/folders with long names?

    OneDrive for Business does not allow lengthy file/folder names or names with invalid characters. Large sized files as well as certain types of files are also restricted. There is also a limit to the size and number of items that can be synced with the local computer folder. It is important that you know the details about these restrictions before you begin the migration so that you reduce the likelihood of encountering an error.

     

  8. Have you considered how you’re going to validate files/folders?

    Moving documents to OneDrive for Business manually is time consuming. It can be particularly difficult to manually validate the files and folders for restricted file types, large sizes, lengthy names and illegal characters in names. Make sure you set aside some time to go through this as it can be vital to completing the migration without error.

     

  9. Have you thought about how you’re going to manage end user adoption?

    End user training helps the organization to tap the full potential of OneDrive for Business. Employees should be trained in accessing their documents from inside and outside the network. They should know to save and open files in OneDrive for business and to use features like co-authoring, versioning, tagging, document preview, simplified search and recycle bin.

     

Summary

Clearly there are a large number of questions you need to be asking yourself before you begin the process of migrating to OneDrive for Business. It is impossible to avoid answering some of these questions manually, even though it can be a time-consuming and laborious process. Other questions can be answered quicker and easier with the help of third-party solutions, such as LepideMigrator for Documents. Whichever approach you opt for, just make sure that you ask yourself these questions before you begin, so that you can reduce the risks of a failed migration.

 

Governance Plan for Hybrid SharePoint Environment

Governance Plan for Hybrid SharePoint Environment

You had a problem. You brought SharePoint. Now you have two problems!!! 

 

Some wise person told, we create our own demons. Sometimes, without us knowing about it. And this is what is happening with many enterprises who bring SharePoint to “fix” their problems.

 

SharePoint and Office 365 are excellent productivity tools widely used for enterprise collaboration, content management and search. And with the 2007 setup, there were two flavors of SharePoint viz. Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) which was technically free SharePoint that came along with Windows Server and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 that was a licensed product. Then came SharePoint 2010 with Foundation which was free and licensed version SharePoint Server 2010.

 

But then Microsoft started SAAS based product like called BPOS that featured skimmed down version called SharePoint Online. And as these products matured, we ended up with SharePoint 2013 and Office 365, the SAAS based offering of SharePoint, Exchange & Skype for Business. The choices increased and so did complexity. Enterprises started evaluating SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business in parallel with their SharePoint On Premise installation. They liked what they saw.

  • Minimum administrative overhead, maximum productivity, no upgrade or patching headaches. And the onus for downtime goes to Microsoft.
  • End users would demand just one more site collection on SharePoint Online. Power users would demand just one more APP. Infrastructure Managers started moving their network drives on OneDrive for Business. Sweet!!! 
  • And then comes chaos. Chaos on what content goes where? When to use OneDrive for Business? When to use SharePoint Site? And most importantly, when not to use SharePoint? To add to the confusion, questions like what content goes on premise? what content goes online? How do we search? Where do we search? What gets priority? 

 

Hence, Governance for SharePoint Hybrid. So let’s start with the basics, how does SharePoint Governance help? 

 

Governance is important and essential part of every SharePoint deployment. A solid and real governance plan helps answer the most critical question any organization has

 

How do we effectively manage our SharePoint environment?

 

This question has haunted IT Leadership for long.  And Governance is the answer because it helps define Policies, Processes, People and Tools that control your IT teams, Business teams and executive sponsors to work in harmony.  

 

How can Governance help in hybrid scenario? 

 

  1. Avoid content chaos.
  2. Consistent user experience.
  3. Enforce standardization and best practices.
  4. Eliminate redundancy and ambiguity in content life cycle process. 
  5. Establish a consistent mechanism to identify whether SharePoint Online, SharePoint On Premise or OneDrive for Business is the right tool for given classification of content. 
  6. Governs storage and compute power. 
  7. Improve find ability. 

 

 

 

What is a Governance Plan?

 

Governance Plan is more than a document. Its a complete guide that keeps IT & Business goals as central focus and defines policies, processes, people and tools to effectively manage the SharePoint environment. IT points to resources, templates and guides to execute tactical and operational activities related to SharePoint. 

 

Policies – The governance plan needs clearly articulated policies. These policies have to be in line with business, legal and compliance needs of an organization.  

 

Processes – The governance plan would require processes to enforce policies, escalate in case of non-compliance and process to request for overriding of policies along with service level agreements to complete the processes. 

 

People – The governance plan would require clear definition of people (roles) involved, their responsibility, escalation matrix, operational level agreements and authorization matrix. 

 

Tools – No all policies can be enforced manually or via a document. It is imperative to define tools to execute various processes. E.g. Backup tools, compliance tools, etc. 

 

Governance Segments

 

The following picture depicts governance plan broken into three segments, each having its own area of importance. 

 

Figure 1

  
 

IT Governance: This segment defines policies and processes around IT Infrastructure like storage, backup, restore, high availability, disaster recovery and content security. It also deals with identity, authentication and access management plan.  

 

Information Governance: This segment defines policies and processes around content and how it is organized and presented to end users and content owners. It also deals with taxonomy and hierarchy of content along with its findability. 

 

Application Governance: SharePoint is as much of a platform as it is content management system and customization using API and services is possible. It is imperative to have Application Governance defined to ensure user experience, system performance and customization standards are consistent and adhered to. It also deals with application life cycle management and dev ops procedures to minimize disruptions.

 

Governance and Site Types

 

Different type of sites require different policies. And in case of hybrid, the importance varies depending upon whether the content is on premise or cloud. Published sites have tighter governance over information and application management than team sites, personal sites and OneDrive for Business. Generally, the larger the number of people who get information from a particular type of site, the more tightly it is governed, and vice versa. This is shown in the following graph. For example, if your intranet home page is available for everyone in your organization, it’s generally much more tightly governed than the site for the accounting department, which is more tightly governed than most group or team sites, and so on. Personal sites are generally the least governed types of sites. 

 

 

Figure 2

 

 

Governance Operating Framework

 

GOF or Governance operating Framework is the various area of SharePoint Operations where Policies & Processes are defined. The following diagram depicts the Governance Operating Framework for which the Governance Team would establish policies and processes. In my subsequent blog post, I would create a sample governance plan taking the below into consideration. In case of hybrid environment, it is imperative to have these broken down for clear demarcation between SLAs and processes for On Premise and Online environments. 

 

Figure 3

 

 

Best Practice for Governance Plan

  1. Goals: An effective governance plan anticipates the needs and goals of your organizations business functions and IT teams. IF you have a goal defined, you will have a metric to measure it.
  2. Uniqueness: While the intent is to standardize processes, the governance plan has to be unique to your organization. Templated one size fits all plans are useless and misdirect governance team energies towards tweaking processes other way round.
  3. Classification: Classify your business information. Build Taxonomy or Buy Taxonomy that’s tailored to support your business needs.
  4. Educate: Establish training and education plans. It is imperative that every SharePoint user is educated to organization’s policies and processes.
  5. Phased out approach: Governance plan is an ongoing initiative. And you many not achieve perfection on day one. Plan phases. Start with small governance team. Build the foundational policies and processes. Aim high but execute in phases.

 

To summarize, hybrid SharePoint environment needs to be governed and control to avoid the content and information being scattered. A back up plan for on premise might not apply on Office 365 and license management plan for Office 365 might not apply on on premise environment. In my subsequent blog post, I will publish a template and elaborate on how to approach establishing a governance plan. Till then keep watching this space.