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Microsoft Releases SharePoint 2016 IT Preview

Microsoft today released SharePoint Server 2016 "IT preview," as well as a preview of a new "cloud hybrid search" Office 365 capability.

The SharePoint 2016 IT preview just represents "a first look at a select set of new infrastructure improvements," according to Microsoft's announcement, which was attributed to Bill Baer, senior technical product manager for Microsoft's SharePoint team. However, many of the features described for this release reflect what Microsoft had promised during its May Ignite presentations. Nevertheless, Baer explained that "what we're sharing today is just a fraction of what will be in SharePoint 2016!"

IT Pro Perks
IT pros and hosting service providers are getting some improvements in SharePoint 2016 that will "reduce the emphasis on IT and streamline administrative tasks."

Deployments are simplified with a new MinRole option. It's not clear from Microsoft's announcement, though, if this preview has these MinRole capabilities, but Microsoft described them back in May as reducing SharePoint 2016 to hosting just three roles. The MinRole capabilities, including user roles, robot services roles and cache services roles, can be leveraged to help organizations scale their operations.

The preview does have a new Configuration Wizard, which lets IT pros define responsibilities for SharePoint 2016's front end, application, distributed cache, search and specialized load roles. There's also a new "single server farm" option (it used to be known as the "standalone server farm" option). After using the Configuration Wizard to set up SharePoint 2016, it will be possible to determine if a server is in compliance or if it's out of compliance via SharePoint's central administration portal, which will serve as a new compliance repository, Baer explained, in a Microsoft-produced Office Mechanics presentation.

IT pros are also getting a more simplified patching approach with the SharePoint 2016 IT preview that Baer had hinted at back in March. While SharePoint administrators today face a patch burden that can involve installing 37 MSIs and MSPs, plus additional patches associated with Language Packs, Microsoft plans to deliver just one MSI and one MSP patch, plus one patch per Language Pack, with SharePoint 2016. It's all part of SharePoint 2016's "zero downtime" patch approach, Baer said, in the Office Mechanics video.

Microsoft is also increasing file sizes when sharing files. SharePoint 2016 IT preview supports uploading files of "up to 10GB." Currently, with SharePoint 2013, Microsoft lists the file size limitations for Lists and Libraries at 2GB max.

The SharePoint 2016 IT preview has some new compliance capabilities. Organizations can set time-based hold policies to preserve files with a new "in-place hold policy" feature. In addition, they can use a new "document deletion" feature that allows files to exist for just a set period of time.

New Features for End Users
The IT preview of SharePoint 2016 has improvements that will let end users get access to resources when using the mobile devices of their choice, Microsoft promised, in its announcement. SharePoint Server 2016 supports the latest mobile push and sync standards and technologies to that end.

This release also supports a new "app launcher" navigation feature for end users. It works for Newsfeeds, OneDrive for Business and Sites, providing quick access from the top navigation bar.

Microsoft improved the sharing experience from document libraries in SharePoint 2016. The libraries now have a new "share" button that's located at "the top right corner of every page." While sharing documents still involves "permissions levels, groups and inheritance" specifications, end users are less burdened with having to know those details, Microsoft promised, in its announcement. Users can click a new "shared with" menu selection to understand who has permissions for a site.

Cloud Hybrid Search
Microsoft also rolled out a preview of a new cloud hybrid search capability for SharePoint Server 2013 that can be downloaded here, but it's also built into the SharePoint 2016 IT preview. It's for Office 365 users with hybrid SharePoint Server architectures and indexes searches across premises and cloud into the Office 365 search index, delivering "unified search results."

Microsoft claims that its cloud hybrid search capability will reduce the footprint size of on-premises searches. It will work across older SharePoint Server versions down to SharePoint Server 2007, without have to perform a server upgrade.

Testing the Previews
Microsoft flat out advises against using SharePoint 2016 in production environments. It's just for testing purposes right now, with the final product ("general availability") expected to happen around Q2 2016. The bits can be downloaded here.

The IT preview version will not upgrade to the coming release-to-manufacturing version of SharePoint 2016.

SharePoint 2016 will run on Windows Server 2012 R2 or the Windows Server 2016 technical preview. If run on Windows Server 2016 tech preview, it requires .NET Framework 4.6 preview. Using Windows Server 2012 R2 requires .NET Framework 4.5.2 to run the SharePoint 2016 IT preview.

In general, Microsoft has warned that .NET Framework 4.5.2 will be "minimum version" of the .NET Framework supported after Jan. 12, 2016. For more about the hardware and software requirements of SharePoint 2016, see Microsoft's "Quick Start Guide," which can be downloaded here.

With regard to the cloud hybrid search preview, Microsoft is saying that "the indexed content will remain in the Office 365 index when that service goes live." So organizations won't have to re-index premises-based content after using this preview. An Office 365 Connect page indicates that the cloud hybrid search feature will be available in Office 365 "starting September 7, 2015."

Coming SharePoint 2016 Features
They may not appear in this IT preview release, but SharePoint 2016 will be getting some additional features that were described in Microsoft's "SharePoint Server 2016 Preview Reviewer's Guide" document.

Scalability improvements to come, as listed in the guide, include:

  • Search support for indexing "up to 500 million items per Search Server Application"
  • Site Collection storage of "up to 100,000 site collections per content database"
  • Content databases expanded to store "terabytes of information per database"
  • List View limits "relaxed" for large lists

Microsoft will be bringing its Background Intelligent Transfer Service (BITS) to SharePoint 2016. BITS is a way of delivering updates to the server that taps an organization's unused network bandwidth.

Microsoft will be bringing Project Server 2016 into SharePoint 2016, allowing users to "track deliverables across SharePoint, Outlook and Project." However, Project Server 2016 integration won't be free. It'll be licensed separately.

Many of Microsoft's Office 365 cloud-based services will get extended to SharePoint 2016. This more cloudy SharePoint 2016 was explained by Mark Kashman, a senior product manager at Microsoft on the SharePoint team, back in June. The idea is that SharePoint Online improvements will filter down to the server product or will be accessible in hybrid configurations.

Microsoft is planning hybrid enhancements with OneDrive for Business, Team Sites, Office Graph/Delve and Yammer, according to the "Reviewer's Guide." On the Yammer side, Microsoft is promising that Yammer conversations will be possible for "any document that is stored in SharePoint Server 2016 document libraries or in OneDrive for Business by just clicking Post," which will be a new option.

SharePoint 2016 will have some new data loss prevention capabilities, including "Document Fingerprinting, Item-level Encryption and eDiscovery across cloud and on-premises content," according to the guide. With the Document Fingerprinting capability, it will be possible to customize form templates to specify transport rules regarding potentially sensitive content. Microsoft also is building data loss prevention capabilities into enterprise search via an eDiscovery Center. Document encryption will be supported by an Information Rights Management service for Microsoft Office documents, as well.

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