How to Choose the Right Microsoft SharePoint Environment | Advice from a Microsoft RD

What decision points should an organization focus on when considering which platform is right for them? 

Step 1: Determine if you’ll be on-prem, in the cloud, or a hybrid of the two. 
If you’re starting from scratch, or are otherwise looking to start over with SharePoint, begin with the mindset, cloud first, cloud only. You’ll get far more out of SharePoint this way, including all of the latest enhancements Microsoft continues to roll out in the cloud.  
A hybrid approach is recommended when on-prem is still required, or an organization has troublesome legacy content or content that is needed but not worth migration. If you have an existing on-premise SharePoint tenant and you have O365 within your organization, consider a hybrid approach. You can start by moving new SharePoint projects to the cloud, surfacing existing SharePoint assets found on-prem as needed.  
On-Prem Only 
On-prem only is primarily for organizations that have an existing SharePoint environment. You may also consider this option for projects: 

  • where you must maintain the update cycle 
  • that require you maintain complete control of the data without using a 3rd party solution 
  • where data must entirely live behind a firewall 
  • when customization requirements negate SharePoint Online limitations 
What are the main differences between SharePoint 2013, SharePoint 2016, and SharePoint 2019? 

SharePoint 2016 introduces modern experiences such as modern lists and libraries and the SharePoint Framework to SharePoint on-prem. SharePoint 2016 also updated the backend based more closely to SharePoint Online, including the ability for zero downtime. In fact, the changes with the most impact from previous version of SharePoint to SharePoint 2016 are found in these backend upgrades. 
SharePoint 2019 extends SharePoint 2016 with modern team sites, communication sites, and a more recent version of the SharePoint Framework. Further, SharePoint 2019 provides additional hybrid scenarios including better integration with Office 365 and an improved Office 365-ready user experience. 
What are the main differences between SharePoint on-prem and SharePoint Online? 
SharePoint Online is evergreen, meaning it’s constantly evolving to meet your needs. SharePoint Online promises more modern experiences, modern team sites, and communication sites. It’s got the current SharePoint Framework with many new features and much tighter integration with the rest of the Office 365 suite. And of course SharePoint Online is in the cloud, meaning Microsoft maintains all of the hardware and primary software packages for including Windows Server, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, and more. 

 Modern vs. Classic Experiences 

Classic experiences are site templates found in SharePoint 2013 that include publishing sites, classic team sites (as compared to Office 365 group-connected (modern) team sites), blog sites, etc. 
Modern experiences are particularly those found in SharePoint Online, and some are found in SharePoint 2019 including communication sites, hub sites, and Office 365 group-connected team sites. 

Left: Classic | Right: Modern

What is your recommendation when it comes to Modern vs. Classic experiences on SharePoint Online (SPO)?  

Modern first. Modern experiences are far more powerful, look much better out of the box, are inherently responsive, provide a better authoring experience, and are more extendable with the SharePoint Framework. 
You should only consider classic experiences when modern doesn’t provide what you need. Further, you should utilize out-of-the-box (OOTB) features of modern pages whenever possible and only extend with the SharePoint framework with native webparts when features (Flow/PowerApps/PowerBI) are unable to deliver what your project requires.  

Some people say that the modern experience has too many gaps for production projects, what do you say to that? 

Modern experiences provide rich authoring and consuming environments. There will always be room for improvements, which I welcome, and some features are certainly top of mind such as custom page layouts. There are limitations yet what is available is overall far better OOTB than classic experiences. 
We’re seeing large production intranets and extranets based 100% on modern experiences using communication sites and team sites. With the recent updates to the SharePoint Framework in version 1.6 and recently 1.7, our customization options continue to improve. 
To learn more about Microsoft’s teamwork offerings and what’s coming in updates and features check out:  

Is the immediate solution to modern vs. classic a hybrid approach and if so why? 

It can be, although you do not need on-prem to use classic SharePoint. Publishing sites and classic team sites continue to be fully supported within SharePoint Online and they have not been deprecated in any way. If you have classic full-trust solutions built for on-prem that you want to slowly upgrade to modern, hybrid is a good candidate. 

What limitations do you see from Modern Experiences? 

Full customization of a page is not yet possible, such as custom page layouts (but they’re coming soon we have been publicly told). 

What is flat site architecture?  

“Hub before you sub” — Mark Kashman, Microsoft 
Organizations used to create a minimal amount of site collections, while within each site collection, many sub sites, sub sub sites, sub sub sub sites, etc., were created. This provided a fixed hierarchy of content within a given SharePoint tenant. 
The concept of a flat architecture is that each site is ideally its own site collection, and groupings of sites are created with the use of Hub Sites, available in SharePoint Online. 
The concept of hub before you sub is to create a group of site collections via a hub site before you decide to create subsites within a given site collection.  

Why did Microsoft go with flat architecture?  

A flat architecture is much more flexible than a ridged sub-site architecture. Within SharePoint, it is extremely difficult to migrate sub sites as an organization’s structure evolves. Site collections and hub sites may be managed quickly and easily without the migration of content. 

If I already have my portal set up on classic experience what is your recommendation on switching to Modern Experiences? 

Migrate your portal homepage first, pointing back to your classic sites. Then begin migrating over primary landing pages/zones. You do not need to move everything at once, although we do consider that a best practice when possible for user adoption. 

What about Search in a fully Modern Experience? Finding content is a common element of any portal, how does the modern experiences make this easier?  

SharePoint Online provides a much richer search experience with a more thorough recommended results section. Microsoft Search, shipping to our Office 365 tenants soon, appears to be very beneficial to organizations. 

Why do you believe modern is the way to go? 

Microsoft is investing in modern. Modern SharePoint is getting of the new features. It provides much more for authors, is cleaner for consumers, and it’s mobile ready. 

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