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Planning for Hybrid Search with Your Office 365 and SharePoint On-premise Environments

As businesses conduct standard infrastructure workload reviews, moving to the cloud has become a major opportunity to look at for migration choices these days. This includes both Platform as a service (PaaS), as well as Software as a service (SaaS) options. With the latest hybrid capability releases in On-Premises SharePoint and Office 365, we need to keep these feature sets in mind, especially when it comes to Search as our users may be working in one or both environments.

A SharePoint hybrid search environment lets your users search for files and documents in a single Search Center but display results from both the On-Premises SharePoint and SharePoint Online search indexes. Depending on how hybrid search is enabled, you can have only On-Premises users search for content stored in Office 365, only online users search for content stored in SharePoint Server, or both user groups search for content stored in either environment.

There are two available hybrid search solutions, cloud hybrid search (inbound) or hybrid federated search (outbound). Deciding on which hybrid scenario to implement can be determined by looking at which deployment users are primarily working in, what content they will need, how secured that content needs to be, and where that content is stored. The biggest decision driver you should keep in mind, outside of regulatory or legal or geopolitical constraints, is your user's experience in viewing the results.

What are my choices?

Cloud hybrid search is our first option where you setup Office 365 to index all your SharePoint Online content, as well as information and documents in your On-Premises SharePoint together. When users enter a query in either search center, they receive results from the Office 365 search index which contains results both from Office 365 content and the On-Premises SharePoint, ranked together.

Hybrid federated search for On-Premises SharePoint is our other choice and is where our platforms combine results from the search index in SharePoint Server 2013 and the search index in Office 365. When users enter a query in either search center, they receive results from the Office 365 search index and from the SharePoint Server 2013 search index, getting results from both On-Premises SharePoint documents and Office 365 content but separately.

What's the difference?

While both options ensure you see the latest Search results of your indexed content, they vary on where the index data is stored, but most importantly, on how it is presented to your users.

Utilizing cloud hybrid search allows the results to come back from the Office 365 search index which displays and ranks results in one single result block allowing it to calculate relevance ranking and refiners for all results together, regardless of whether the results come from On-Premises or Office 365 content.

When using hybrid federated search, a search center query in either platform returns results from both the On-Premises and Office 365 indexes separately, resulting in displaying and ranking results in two separate result blocks, with order and ranking determined by their original source.

So what's the best choice for me?

While a decision on which hybrid choice to make may be driven by security or regulations, you’ll want to ensure you deliver the best end user experience that meets their needs. For the convenience of users, it may be best to set up hybrid search in the deployment where most users are working so they possibly don’t have to go to the remote deployment to search for content that may have longer query latency, or wait longer than normal for documents to open that are stored remotely.

Taking all this into account, for the best user experience in viewing search results a cloud hybrid search implementation would usually be the best option for most organizations. This gives your end users unified search results, search relevance ranking, and refiners all together as well as enabling cloud capabilities such as Office Delve across your On-Premises content. Finally, the best reason your IT will like is that none of your existing installations of SharePoint have to be upgraded to have enterprise search in the cloud.


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About The Author

Business Productivity Managing Consultant
Craig is a Managing Consultant for Cardinal Solutions Charlotte office.  He leads client initiatives on Microsoft platforms to help solve business problems by envisioning and architecting Office 365, SharePoint, .NET, and JavaScript/jQuery solutions. Craig has worked with Microsoft development and server technology's for the last 15 years, including integrating SharePoint since it was a beta product.