Jun 05, 2013

Hybrid SharePoint Search – The Story Just Got Good

Joshua Grear

Joshua Grear

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If you’re running Microsoft’s SharePoint in a hybrid online and on-premises set up, search has never worked well. Until now. In this blog post we will look at what the hybrid search story looked like in the past, how it has improved, and implementation considerations.

The Situation

With the release of SharePoint Online, many companies have taken advantage of Microsoft’s cloud-based offering. The benefits of a hosted platform were great, but many companies also didn’t want to completely throw away their investment in their on-premises solution. Therefore, many companies decided to continue using their existing platform for some, if not all, of their existing functionality, opting to implement only some of the Cloud’s functionality. This part on-premises and part online model is what is known as a hybrid solution. By extension, hybrid search is searching for content across both on-premises and online environments.

Until recently, the story for hybrid search has not been a good one. Implementing enterprise search in a hybrid environment required custom development and was neither quick nor easy. Maintaining search also became more difficult overtime as content types were added and modified. However, with the release of SharePoint Server 2013 and the newest update to SharePoint Online, hybrid search is now ready for primetime.


Old Plot Lines

While it was possible to search SharePoint Online content from a SharePoint 2010 on-premises environment, content repository isolation made it very difficult. The reason for this difficulty is that indexes between online and on-premises could not be shared. Therefore, custom search connectors were required that would allow the on-premises search engine to crawl the online content. External content types also had to be defined in code for each of the online content types. This made it a difficult solution to maintain as content type additions or modifications required code changes and deployments. Likewise, content that was being crawled with this type of solution would have to be downloaded to the on-premises environment to be indexed. Obviously this made crawling online content very slow and required heavy bandwidth consumption.

The story was even worse when trying to search SharePoint on-premises content from SharePoint Online. It simply wasn’t possible!


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The Story Just Took a Positive Turn

The hybrid search story got a whole lot better with the release of SharePoint Server 2013 and the newest version of SharePoint Online. Companies now have the ability to search in both directions. Users can see search results from both environments in a single page on either environment (as illustrated below). This new functionality uses run-time query federation and does not crawl or index the other system. For that reason, it eliminates the need for custom code to be developed or maintained. It also completely alleviates the performance issues of remote crawling.


Spoiler Alert

While this new functionality is a huge leap forward, there are still a few things that need to be considered:

  1. First of all, search results are still listed separately on the same page and not mixed (as illustrated earlier).  This may not be a big issue, but it does impact the end-user and should be considered.

  2. Next, both online and on-premises environments must have the latest versions of the product.  This means that the on-premise environment must be running SharePoint Server 2013 and SharePoint Online must have been upgraded to the 2013 version.  SharePoint Online upgrades are scheduled by Microsoft in a rolling schedule and cannot be expedited.

  3. Finally, Active Directory synchronization and reverse proxy services need to be configured appropriately for search to perform correctly.

If you are considering implementing a hybrid search solution, we would love to help you achieve a great search experience. If you are interested in learning how Credera can help, please contact Credera at or send a tweet to @CrederaMSFT.

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