SharePoint Server 2016 has been released to manufacturing and will be generally available in the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center in early May. The key question on many people’s minds right now is, “should I upgrade to SharePoint 2016?”

Well, Microsoft has provided a “reviewer’s guide” to help you think through this question, and there is some good food for thought in their guide.  But, of course, it’s by Microsoft, and Microsoft as we all know is keenly biased towards two end goals: the first, and most important, is to get you on SharePoint Online and, therefore, Office 365; and the second is to get you to upgrade any on-premise farms to SharePoint Server 2016. So I thought it would be helpful to provide my take on SharePoint 2016 and whether you should upgrade.

What’s New?

First, though, let’s briefly list what’s new in SharePoint 2016.

  • Administration & Development
    • MinRole
    • No downtime patching
    • Hybrid configuration options with Office 365
    • Enhanced logging via SharePoint Insights
    • New app dev options
    • A number of limits and boundaries have been increased
  • Governance
    • Compliance center and DLP
  • User Experience
    • Durable links
    • Support for uploading larger files (up to 10 gigabytes)
    • Automatic handling of the list view threshold
    • Mobile experience improvements

There’s much more than that, of course, but these are the big ticket items in my opinion. (For more of my thoughts on SharePoint, check out my webinars here and here.)

In a later post, I will get into these new features in more detail, but for now I want to make the point that most of the important improvements in SharePoint 2016 are focused on administering SharePoint–MinRole, patching, hybrid configuration, SharePoint Insights–and there are very few major user interface, collaboration, or productivity enhancements. Durable links is one, the new-ish mobile views are another, and the app launcher from Office 365 is now in SharePoint Server, but other than that, on the collaboration and UX side, the SharePoint Server you know from 2013 is more or less the SharePoint Server you’ll get with 2016.

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?

So, who should upgrade to SharePoint Server 2016?

If you are on SharePoint Server 2010 or MOSS 2007 (or earlier!)…

Let’s get the easy one out of the way first! If you are running an older version of SharePoint Server–2010 or earlier–and you are not interested in going 100% cloud with SharePoint Online, this is an easy recommendation to make. Upgrade to SharePoint Server 2016!

2016’s improvements to the underlying architecture and administrative tasks makes 2016 a no-brainer if you are looking to upgrade. Zero downtime patching alone will save your admins hours or even days–literally–of time. If it works out as well as Microsoft is promising, not only will patching be much faster–for those who don’t know, patching SharePoint 2013 can take 3-4 hours for a medium-sized farm and even longer for large farms–but you will not have to schedule outages either. We will see how well this plays out as Microsoft releases the first patches for 2016, but for now the optimist in me is very excited about this.

While patching alone makes 2016 much superior to all older versions, the other improvements in 2016 are also great, especially when you are comparing it to the ancient interfaces in 2007 and 2010. You will get so many improvements in so many places. Just do it!

If you are on SharePoint Server 2013…

This one is a little harder. While there are some improvements in 2016 from an end user perspective, and while 2016 is certainly the better product, is it better enough to justify another upgrade project? I’m afraid I must fall back on the tiredest of consultant cliches: it depends!

If you have an Office 365 presence as well as an on-premise presence, and are keen on taking advantage of 2016’s hybrid capabilities, then upgrading will be a good idea. However, keep in mind that as of today, the hybrid capabilities available for SharePoint 2016 are also available for SharePoint 2013… The only difference is that they are easier to configure in 2016 and future hybrid capabilities are only guaranteed to work in 2016. (Personally, I’m still hoping for hybrid Managed Metadata and hybrid Office Online.)

If you regularly patch SharePoint Server and have found scheduling outages and late nights to be a pain, then 2016’s patching improvements may be worth a good look.

If you don’t patch SharePoint much (tsk, tsk), you don’t subscribe to any online services, and you don’t have a compelling need for any of the other capabilities, then you should probably consider waiting for the next version or until your stakeholders’ needs change.

If you are on SharePoint Online…

Well, for completeness’s sake, I have to include this one as well. If you are 100% in the cloud (like we at TCSC are internally), you obviously don’t need SharePoint Server 2016. Some of you may have a small on-premise environment that perhaps runs some business critical application, or perhaps that hosts a couple recalcitrant departments who refuse to migrate to the cloud with everyone else, but I would never advise going through an upgrade cycle for such a scenario. Far better (and less expensive) to simply complete your migration to the cloud.

Summary

So there you have it. Previous versions of SharePoint have been easy to recommend due to their massive improvements in the end user’s experience, but SharePoint 2016’s improvements are mostly under the hood when compared to SharePoint 2013. So if you have a 2013 environment that is running pretty well for you, and you don’t have a compelling need for anything on the small list of UX improvements, then I wouldn’t say there’s a need to immediately rush out and upgrade. You can wait a year or two and wait for more features to be added to the product or for conditions in your business to change.

However, it is objectively true that there has never been a better version of SharePoint, so for those of you who are on older versions of SharePoint or who do find the admin and/or UX improvements compelling, it’s a great time to upgrade!