Top Concerns with Hybrid SharePoint: Moving Customizations

Editor’s note: This post is one in a series from CollabTalk CEO Christian Buckley called “Top Concerns with Hybrid SharePoint.” Read the other blogs in the series below: 

When talking with customers who are considering moving their SharePoint environments to the cloud, there are two primary concerns that always seem to top the list: data sensitivity/ sovereignty, followed closely by the issue of moving SharePoint customizations.

For many years, SharePoint was viewed as much as a development platform as a collaboration platform. Organizations treated it as a “Swiss army knife” solution (because it was!) that could be used to solve just about any business need. Need a case management solution? SharePoint! Need a basic CRM? SharePoint! Need a website? SharePoint! Organizations often asked the question “Can we build this with SharePoint?” instead of asking “SHOULD we build this with SharePoint?”

Not to discount the many powerful and business-critical solutions built on SharePoint – which is part of the reason why the platform has been so successful – but organizations are now faced with the gargantuan task of moving all of those customizations into the modern digital workplace, and for some, it’s a major area of concern.

I should also point out that SharePoint’s utility as a platform was also the reason why the partner ecosystem has done so well, because SharePoint enabled creative teams to develop rich, complex features and solutions that helped extend the reach of the platform. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) have developed user management and administrations solutions, security and compliance tools, auditing and reporting capabilities, and many other end user productivity and social collaboration solutions.

Within many organizations, SharePoint was leveraged as the core platform for building everything from records management solutions, ticketing systems, human resources platforms, and much more – well beyond what I think any of the leadership team at Microsoft imagined when SharePoint first entered the market.

For organizations considering a hybrid environment, part of your strategy may be to continue getting value out of some of those customizations. What customizations are moved versus re-architected depends entirely on the nature of the solutions in question. Will they continue to work only with the on-premises portion of your environment, or across both on-prem and cloud components of a hybrid scenario? It’s the classic answer to all SharePoint questions: It Depends.

To ensure that security and compliance requirements are being met, experts recommend that all hybrid deployments begin with a detailed review of governance policies and procedures step-by-step, mapping out how each requirement was accomplished on-premises, how each will be accomplished for your cloud environment, and how common measurements will be managed between them.

Quick Overview

In the following video, I spoke with Bill Baer (@williambaer), Senior technical Product Manager with the SharePoint product team at Microsoft, about the difficulty in identifying customizations – and deciding what to do with them as part of your hybrid strategy.

In this video, Bill explains that our fears of managing customizations comes from our long history with SharePoint as a platform, on which we’ve built countless custom solutions – and had to modify them or walk away from them with each major version of the platform. Bill walks us through some of that history, and how each version has handled the migration of customizations – and how this history impacts the move into a hybrid SharePoint environment.

Why is this topic important?

Hybrid usage is on the rise. According to a recent study sponsored by Microsoft, AvePoint, and other leading vendors within the community, more than a third of SharePoint environments will be hybrid within the next 5 years, driven by the complexity of existing environments, restrictions due to data sovereignty, or concerns around security measures.

Customizations from past SharePoint environments may restrict some companies from moving full into the cloud – the time and cost of re-architecting those customizations exceeds the near-term value that the cloud provides. Additionally, there are many companies investigating hybrid solutions as a way to take advantage of the cost and scalability benefits of cloud while maintaining key on-premises infrastructure.

Regardless of the underlying motivation, organizations need to better understand their options for moving or managing SharePoint customizations within a hybrid environment.

Microsoft Guidance

In the TechNet article entitled Weighing your options for SharePoint, Office 365 or a Hybrid Deployment?, Microsoft warns that “custom solutions, if not properly built, degrade the stability of the whole environment, and custom code can be challenging to test, hard to support, and difficult to prepare for upgrades.” In this article, and in similar content around the web, Microsoft provides some basic guidance for SharePoint customizations:

  • Refactor your solutions to move them from full-trust code to the app model, or
  • Move to a hybrid model that allows your organization to continue to leverage your legacy customizations, running them within the on-premises portion of your environment.

In addition, Microsoft encouraged their partners to develop pre-migration assessment tools to help customers better identify customizations within their environments, as well as the likelihood that these customizations would continue to work within a hybrid environment.

Historically, a point of failure for many migrations has been a missed customization, impacting a site or site collection within the migration process. Running a “health assessment” to create an inventory of your system and data and identifying customizations, as well as third-party tools, custom branding, line of business (LOB) application integrations, and workflows can help you better estimate the time and cost of moving to, and managing a hybrid SharePoint environment.

How AvePoint can help

First and foremost, AvePoint provides a powerful discovery tool to help your organization perform a pre-migration discovery analysis to help you identify not just your content and SharePoint structure, but also the many customizations within your environment, including workflows, custom columns and views, InfoPath forms, Nintex and SharePoint Designer workflows, and much more. Once you’ve identified what is running under the hood, you’ll be better prepared to build your plans for a hybrid environment.

You can find out more about the AvePoint Pre-Migration Discovery tool in this feature spotlight (PDF), or by reviewing the user guide (PDF).

Additional resources

Of course, this blog post is barely scratching the surface of topics related to preparing your SharePoint customizations for a hybrid environment. It really does depend on the types of customizations, and your plans for utilizing them within your hybrid environment. But here are some additional resources that may help you in your planning efforts:

  • Transforming your SharePoint customizations to add-in model – Resources [Dev Center]
  • Introduction to SharePoint Add-In Model Transition [Video]
  • On-Prem, the Cloud or Hybrid… What is your transformation strategy? [Blog]
  • The Rise of the Hybrid Cloud and Its Impact on SharePoint [Blog]
  • Hybrid SharePoint Overview from the Experts [Webinar]
  • Point-Counterpoint: SharePoint Online Hybrid [Podcast]
  • Create hybrid connectivity apps for SharePoint [Dev Center]
  • Takeaways from a New Hybrid SharePoint Research Study [Blog]
  • AvePoint Hybrid Management for Office 365 and SharePoint [Product overview]
  • Hybrid SharePoint Study [Whitepaper]

For additional guidance on the broader topic of SharePoint migrations, be sure to check out the first post in this series on Migrations. Of course, you’ll find more help throughout this series on hybrid SharePoint, so please keep reading. And let me know if you have any questions – or your own best practices that you’d like to share.

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Christian Buckley

An Office Servers and Services MVP, internationally recognized author and speaker, Christian Buckley is Founder and CEO of the community-focused CollabTalk.