Hybrid vs Coexistence vs Replication

shutterstock_169047944A couple months back, I was having a conversation with Microsoft’s Bill Baer (@williambaer), who most of you know as a technical product marketing manager on the SharePoint team, and for many years now has been the go-to guy for all things upgrade and migration-related (with Sean Livingston a close second). We were talking about the state of the upgrade and migration space, and specifically, about the nuances of the hybrid conversations. You see — there are many flavors of "hybrid" out there, depending on who you are talking with. A point we both agreed on is that it (hybrid) is no longer really a discussion about upgrade or migration, or the process of making changes to the hardware and components of your platform, or moving from old to new version of SharePoint.

Yes, there are still upgrades happening (on prem platforms getting updated hardware, or maybe a new version of SQL Server) and migrations (moving from 2007 to 2013). But as more organizations are seriously looking at their cloud strategies, and many starting to make the transition, there are hybrid strategies being used to bridge the gaps opening up due to a variety of things, such as a lack of parity in some features in Office 365, security concerns of moving some data types to the cloud, or latency/performance issues.

In our conversation, I commented that the language being used to discuss "hybrid" was confusing to many customers, and how it was important to delineate between the various strategies available to companies wanting to plan their move to the cloud. Bill agreed, saying that there needed to be greater clarity in messaging and strategies between hybrid, coexistence, and replication strategies for SharePoint (Bill, please correct me if I misrepresent anything you said).

Now, how I define and differentiate between hybrid, coexistence, and replication strategies might be very different from what Bill would articulate, but this being my blog, he’ll have to chime in using the comments below just like everyone else…

What is hybrid?

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer. Microsoft has a few definitions, 3rd party hosting companies have an answer, pure cloud solution providers another. Essentially, I define hybrid has a solution with both on premises and cloud components, with some level of integration between them. In most cases, when people are asking about hybrid SharePoint solutions, it’s about maintaining aspects of their existing on premises SharePoint platform while leveraging Office 365 in part or in its entirety with solutions that bridge the two systems, such as an integrated search experience, or pulling online and offline data for reporting and dashboards, and so forth. Hybrid might also include the use of Azure, or even Yammer, alongside your on prem components. You can find more on Microsoft’s definitions and guidance on TechNet.

Of course, hosting partners like Rackspace and Fpweb and others would argue that they also provide hybrid solutions, and they’re right. Private cloud is, by definition, cloud.

While 12 to 18 months back Microsoft was a reluctant source on hybrid guidance, the push by customers large and small has helped them see the light that moving toward the cloud is not a simple one or two-step process, but will take transition time. I’ll give them credit, however, that once they had the data and realized the importance of the hybrid story, they jumped onboard with both feet and have developed content and solutions to help the hybrid customer. The last SharePoint Conference contained a good amount of hybrid content, and I expect to see more at this year’s Ignite event in Chicago.

What is coexistence?

This is more about the side-by-side experience. I know many customers who have spent a good deal of time and money on their on prem SharePoint environment, with extensive line of business integrations, and they’re just not ready to make the move to the cloud just yet — or even incur the costs of a hybrid solution (which has additional overhead). Coexistence is having both on prem and cloud components, but without any level of integration.

A good example is Yammer, which is a purely cloud experience. There are many customers who want to use this platform for employee and partner community development, but do not have immediate plans to either integrate Yammer into their on prem environment (maybe they’re using the native SharePoint social capabilities and don’t want to lose that data) or make any other cloud decisions.

The coexistence story is not that uncommon, actually. While working with some Lotus Notes customers back in the early days of BPOS/Office 365, we ran into major technical difficulties in convincing people to move away from their database-driven applications and templates in Lotus Notes, and so proposed a coexistence strategy whereby any new project would be reviewed and a decision made: did this project need to be hosted in the old system due to its reliance on these apps and business processes, or could it be deployed within SharePoint? What happened over time was that users slowly adopted the SharePoint platform, displacing Lotus Notes in an organic, rather than forced, way. Teams could take the time that they needed to make the transition, saving on migration costs and push back.

What is replication?

For this one, Bill may have another definition. In my mind, this is more about duplication of a system or data, such as when setting up separate development or staging environments. Increasingly, organizations or using the cloud to provision and host these non-production environments. Most people don’t consider the use of cloud-based dev or staging environments as "hybrid," scenarios, although technically they are part of a larger hybrid platform.

Of course, the biggest question of all: which is the right strategy for your own organization? And that’s where the most common answer for all-things-SharePoint comes into play — it depends. What is your goal? What skills do you have in place? What are your short-term and long-term requirements?

The beauty of these cloud options is that we now have more choices than ever before, and that’s a good thing. The hard part is understanding the costs and impacts (overhead, governance, training, performance) of the choices you make. Good luck with that.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.