Microsoft's First SharePoint Server 2016 Feature Pack To Arrive Next Month

Feature Pack 1 for SharePoint Server 2016 is scheduled to arrive in November, Microsoft announced.

IT pros may recall that Microsoft promised at its May 4 SharePoint Server 2016 launch event that it would deliver some SharePoint Online capabilities to SharePoint Server environments in a faster way than the old service pack method, which had releases every two or three years. SharePoint Server 2016 Feature Packs would be this new vehicle, Microsoft promised back then, and now they are starting to arrive. It's not exactly clear when these Feature Packs will get released, but delivery could be as fast as on a monthly basis.

Microsoft's announcement this week described a few Feature Pack 1 capabilities that will be arriving in November. However, some capabilities will still be at the preview stage when the pack arrives.

One nuance about the use of the new Feature Packs has to do with its somewhat nebulous requirement to have Software Assurance (SA) in place in some cases. Some new features are only unlocked with the Feature Packs if an organization has SA in place. SA is an optional annuity charge on top of software licensing costs. It mostly just confers upgrade rights to the next major software release within a contract period, but it typically costs an additional 27 percent to 29 percent on top of the software license. It turns out that some of the features available with the Feature Packs won't be available unless an organization has its SA terms current.

Microsoft is promising that Feature Pack 1 for SharePoint Server 2016 will be adding "granular logging" of administrative actions. It will show actions made via Windows PowerShell or the Central Administration portal.

There also will be some administrative perks for organizations running so-called "hybrid" infrastructures. A hybrid infrastructure combines the use of Office 365 services with the use of SharePoint Server 2016 infrastructure on premises. Microsoft is promising that Feature Pack 1 will enable so-called "unified auditing" via the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center. IT pros will get a common portal for accessing SharePoint Server 2016 audit logs and Office 365 audit logs. It's enabled through the "SharePoint Insights" service in the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center. Right now, there seems to be little info available about SharePoint Insights, which will still be at the preview stage when Feature Pack 1 gets released.

Another perk for organizations running hybrid infrastructure concerns the ability to have a "unified taxonomy across a SharePoint Server 2016 farm and Office 365." This metadata management feature will be at the preview stage with the release of Feature Pack 1.

Feature Pack 1 also gives organizations some additional MinRole deployment options in SharePoint Server 2016 farms. MinRole promises to simplify SharePoint farm deployments and reduce testing requirements somewhat for organizations. However, setting up MinRole could require the use of eight servers, at minimum, for farms having high-availability requirements. Feature Pack 1 adds the ability to use some new shared server roles. Using the shared server roles can reduce this server count for MinRole down to two servers, or four servers when high availability is required. The new shared server roles are called "Front-end with Distributed Cache" and "Application with Search."

Another capability enabled by Feature Pack 1 for SharePoint Server 2016 is the enhanced OneDrive for Business experience for end users. Microsoft calls this enhanced experience the "modern" experience. For instance, it enables the SharePoint App Launcher. The SharePoint App Launcher is a screen that shows the available Office 365 apps and SharePoint apps located on premises in a tile-like interface for end users. A newly added capability with Feature Pack 1 will be the ability to add custom tiles, which can "point to other SharePoint sites, external sites, legacy apps and more," according to Microsoft's announcement. However, Microsoft will be requiring SA in order for organizations to unlock these enhanced OneDrive for Business capabilities.

Developers will be getting access to the OneDrive API 2.0 with the release of Feature Pack 1. It provides a common application programming interface for accessing files, both on premises and in Microsoft's Office 365 datacenters. Developers can use the API to "target user data stored in OneDrive for Business and SharePoint document libraries," Microsoft's announcement explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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