Ignite from a Search Perspective

A tsunami of new capabilities and content

I’m still recovering from an incredible week at Microsoft’s Ignite conference.  There is SO much to talk about!

Since it was the first Ignite, combining the SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync conferences with TechEd and more, nobody knew quite what to expect and where the balance of training and launch event would land.  Ignite was huge, with over 23,000 attendees, and extremely broad.

You may already have reviewed the various announcements; even in the first day keynote there were many (here’s a good rundown).  New versions of Windows, Office, SharePoint, Exchange, and Skype for Business were previewed, alongside lots of new cloud-based capabilities rolling out at a furious pace.  And this was immediately after the Build Conference, which unveiled a boatload of shiny new goodies as well!

Search in the Office 365 universe growing FAST

From a search perspective, there were some great sessions and interesting news.  To me, the biggest hits at Ignite were the Office Graph, SharePoint 2016, and next-gen Hybrid Search.  I will dive into more detail on all three of these as separate articles, and just provide some highlights here.

Personally, there was no ‘news’ on any of these – we have the benefit of being in early programs on all of them.  However, now I can talk about them – at least to the extent that was disclosed at Ignite.  And it was cool to see how enthusiastically these were received by the audience.

It’s remarkable how well Microsoft has been able to keep their enterprise search cohesive and thriving.  The FAST acquisition from 2008 has paid dividends and is now behind SharePoint, Exchange, and many features of Office365 including eDiscovery and the Compliance Center.  The same team and technology is behind the Office Graph, which is evolving rapidly and getting a lot of well-deserved attention.  It’s great to see my friends in Norway thriving, and Ignite was a big milestone for them.

Office Graph in action

The Office Graph was announced 14 months ago at the 2014 SharePoint conference.  In that short span, it’s traveled parsecs:

  • The Office Graph and Delve have gone through pre-release programs, first release, and general release.
  • Content and Signals have been added from many parts of Office 365
  • Mobile, Android and iOS of delve were released
  • Lots of user feedback was incorporated
  • Boards and User Profiles were added (both of these were showcased at Ignite but are already in first release)
  • New “experiences” like the Video Portal and Clutter came out

Wow.

There were a number of great sessions around Delve and the Office Graph, starting with the vision and roadmap session.  It was remarkable to me how much this group disclosed about what was in the works, and how actively they are soliciting feedback (they handed out additional paper feedback forms at every Office Graph related session).  One of the Microsoft execs confirmed my theory that this group was allowed to disclose so much because of their track record of delivering so much so quickly and so well.

At Build, there was a preview of new extensibility APIs for the Office Graph, and a keynote showing an integration with salesforce.com that surfaces salesforce content in delve.  These were repeated at Ignite in the keynote and in an extensibility session, plus previews of:

•    People experiences in Delve
•    Group insights in Delve
•    Organizational insights in Delve

There was also an MVP panel showcasing some apps that have been built off the v1 APIs to the Office Graph.  It was great fun – there were some cool apps.  This is just the beginning – there is a new pair of APIs as part of the Office 365 Unified API coming out.  Bits aren’t available yet even for the inner circle but I can’t wait to get my hands on them!

Stay tuned for more on this.  Clearly the Office Graph is strategic for BA Insight too, and we are all over it.  I’ll give you some hints about where we are going with it soon.

SharePoint 2016

Though in some ways Ignite was a new, strange animal, there was definitely a feel of a “SharePoint Conference within Ignite” – which was strongest at the SharePint parties and at the sessions unveiling SharePoint 2016.  The two top sessions on this were an overview and roadmap session and a roundup of new features.

The timing for SharePoint 2016 release was announced as 2Q2016 prior to the conference, basically to offset the expectation that many people had of leaving Ignite with preview bits in hand. This is over a year away! But the level of detail available and the clear answers to questions showed  that the date expectation was set very conservatively.  Bill Baer, the Microsoft product manager who owns SharePoint 2016 AND hybrid, told me this was done deliberately, to allow for a rock solid release.  There was a hands-on lab with early SharePoint 2016 bits in it to walk through, which I heard was one of the most popular labs. This is not vaporware.

The SharePoint 2016 unveiling seemed truly reassuring to enterprise customers, which is just as Microsoft intended.  In the last 2 years, a lot of signals and mixed messages from Microsoft left many on-premises customers feeling abandoned, but the renewed focus and ‘back to the core’ attitude from Microsoft was refreshing to everyone I talked to.

SharePoint 2013 was a new architecture and a huge change.  SharePoint 2016 is not, it is much more of an evolution. The focus on better user experience, easier operations for IT, and compliance is almost boring.  So what makes it exciting?  Microsoft is doing the right things.  When Seth Patton, the new Director for Product Management for SharePoint all-up, said “Microsoft is renewing its focus on SharePoint, and doubling down in core areas: Files, Content Management, Sites & Portals”, it rang true.

Of course everyone could see many of the new features coming for miles, because they are already available in SharePoint Online.  The trickiest part of this for Microsoft has been to converge the code base between the cloud software (which is on a monthly rhythm) and the on-premises software (which was on a 3-year cycle).  Getting used to the new pace on-prem will be a shock for many customers, but Microsoft has been warming us all up by changing to quarterly, then monthly cumulative updates; the support policies are also changing to force everyone up to more current code and onto this new rhythm.

There is still a huge focus on the cloud and hybrid.  For those that don’t want to hear a single word about cloud or hybrid, the number of SharePoint sessions at Ignite shrinks from ~200 to ~30.  But who would come to any Microsoft conference without expecting to hear about cloud and hybrid all day?

Liam Cleary’s SharePoint Data Security and Compliance session was fabulous, and the compliance center story overall is great.  Of course, both eDiscovery and the compliance center in SharePoint Online and SharePoint 2016 are….powered by search.

Lots more to say about SharePoint 2016 in another article.

Next-Gen Hybrid Search

At Ignite, the next-gen hybrid search unveiling was a real highlight.  Since BA Insight has a major strategic investment on hybrid search, we’ve been deeply involved with this for over a year, so again there was no ‘news’ to me personally. It was great to be able to meet Kathrine Hammervold and Manas Biswas  in person and tell them that we had this working – we are apparently the first group outside Microsoft with it running. They did a great job presenting to a packed room with at least 1100 people….and it was the only session I went to where there was applause (and there was lots of it).

I’ll do another in-depth posting about this and about how BA Insight works with it.  In a nutshell, this provides a single unified search index, hosted in SharePoint Online, referencing content from your Office 365 tenant and also one or more on-premises deployments. The “Cloud SSA” crawls and parses content then transmits the indexable text and metadata to Office 365.

Why should you care about this?

  • It reduces your on-premises footprint; search is the most ‘expensive’ workload from a footprint perspective
  • You don’t have to worry about administering search infrastructure, Microsoft will run it
  • Content you crawl this way can also feed cloud-only workloads. In particular it will be referenced by the Office Graph as well and therefore surface in Delve, in the next-gen portals that feed from the Office Graph, and in applications built on the new Office Graph APIs.

This capability will ship with SharePoint 2016, and is also being ‘backported’ into a package that can be added to SharePoint 2013 on-premises.  The way this was put in the SharePoint 2016 roadmap session confused many attendees – which led to a rampant rumor that “Delve is going to be available on-prem, and in SharePoint 2013!”  That rumor is NOT true – the office graph will always be cloud-only – but Kathrine had to explain and dispel this misunderstanding.  Apparently this also needed to be corrected in a dozen other sessions.

I met with at least 20 enterprises at Ignite around this capability and how to use BA Insight’s connectors, AutoClassifier, and other products with it. What I learned is that we’re totally on track, and that all our currently shipping hybrid search products are still valuable to these folks alongside the next-gen capabilities. We’re committed to having a great solution that leverages the Cloud SSA.  There are also some weaknesses in the Cloud SSA, which we’re busily working to address as well.

Stay tuned for more.

SharePoint 2013 Search alive and well

As I mentioned, Ignite was a mixture of launch event and training event.  Although they weren’t news, there was great material about SharePoint 2013 search.   These were all mobbed and it’s very clear that MANY companies are actively using SharePoint 2013 search for interesting things, and they want to do even more.  My favorites:

I am excited about anyone talking about search (as long as they do a good job).  There is so much of a need for education and help on this subject, because there are so many false conceptions AND because it’s complex technology. These three should be on your “must watch” list!

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