Search in SharePoint 2013 – Part 1: The difference between search within on-premise SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online
Cloud or on-premise? Findwise offers implementation and consulting services for both scenarios. This post is the first in a series of four articles providing several best practices on how to implement and customise search in SharePoint. The focus of this first post is introducing the difference between the cloud and on-premise SharePoint 2013 in terms of search features. If you need more information than you find in this blogpost, just stop by our website or contact us.
“The cloud is on fire”
That is a quote from the Microsoft Office General Manager Jared Spataro during his keynote at the SharePoint conference in Las Vegas last month. At this conference, Microsoft revealed that 60% of the Fortune top 500 adopted Office 365 in the previous 12 months. While new versions of on-premise SharePoint and Exchange Server are promised to still come next year, Microsoft is adding more and more capabilities to the cloud version.
In addition to the numbers above, a market analysis report done by The Radicati Group on the adoption of Microsoft SharePoint reveals that almost a quarter of the worldwide users accessing deployments of SharePoint made during the year 2013 are using the cloud based SharePoint.
When deciding whether to go for the on-premise or cloud solution, a go-to resource for your IT team is the TechNet article describing the availability of features across the solutions. That article not only divides the features between on-premise and cloud, but also between the different Office 365 and SharePoint Online plans. What is the difference? SharePoint Online is the cloud version of the SharePoint Server, but it can be deployed as a standalone service or as part of the Office 365 suite, so different plans are usually listed for these different scenarios. There are also the Office 365 Dedicated plans, but these are out of the scope for this article. The Microsoft Office site has a more business oriented comparison of the different plans, including pricing. If not decided for one or the other, there is also the possibility of a hybrid solution!
|Availability||Search feature||Office 365 Small BusinessOffice 365 Small Business Premium||Office 365 Midsize BusinessOffice 365 Enterprise E1 or K1Office 365 Education A2Office 365 Government G1 or K1||Office 365 Enterprise E3 or E4Office 365 Education A3 or A4Office 365 Government G3 or G4||SharePoint Online Plan 1||SharePoint Online Plan 2||SharePoint Foundation 2013||SharePoint Server 2013 Standard CAL||SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise CAL|
Available within all plans
|Phonetic name matching||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|RESTful Query API/Query OM||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Search results sorting||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Query spelling correction||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Manage search schema||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Available in all Office365 and SharePoint Online plans
|Search vertical: “Conversations”||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Search vertical: “People”||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|“This List” searches||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Query rules—Add promoted results||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Avail. in Office365||Advanced Content Processing||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Query rules—advanced actions||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Search vertical: “Video”||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||Yes|
Not available in any of the Office 365, SharePoint Online plans
|Search connector framework||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Custom entity extraction||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes|
|Extensible content processing||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||Yes|
— Simplified view of the TechNet article, focusing on the search features availability across SharePoint solutions
Limitations in Office 365 and SharePoint Online plans
Is the cloud version good enough for your organisation when it comes to search features? The table above illustrates some of the things that you might be missing in terms of search, and in what follows we will discuss those whose availability varies amongst the Office 365 or SharePoint Online plans.
Query rules – advanced actions
In order to adapt the relevance of the search results to the user intent, SharePoint 2013 adds a new feature called query rules. A query rule is defined by a condition and a corresponding action to be taken when the condition is met. Within some SharePoint Online licenses, this functionality is limited to the possibility of adding promoted results, while more advanced actions are left out. The promoted results are similar to what was in previous SharePoint versions known as search keywords, or best bets, letting you promote specific results on top of the ranked search results. The more advanced actions could consist of for example changing the query or changing the ranking of the search results by promoting a certain group of results. You can read more about various usages of query rules in one of our previous blog post.
Search Connector Framework and Hybrid Search
Administrators of SharePoint Online will miss the feature of managing the different search connectors to content sources, since the search connector framework is not available. Only SharePoint content that is stored online is going to be indexed. Search results can only be retrieved from that content, or can be set up to retrieve from an Exchange Server, from a remote SharePoint, or from a search engine that uses the OpenSearch protocol. As an alternative approach to making content from other sources searchable, you can set up hybrid search. This feature is available in almost all Office 365 and SharePoint Online scenarios. It allows users to show search results from content available in the cloud and on-premise. So if you would like to index a content source that is not supported in SharePoint Online, you should be able to index it on the on-premise.
Custom Entity Extraction
The TechNet article describing features across solutions actually shows that this feature is only available with the enterprise licensing of SharePoint Server. This feature allows the extraction of custom-defined terms from your content and making them usable as search refiners. Say for example that you would like to extract all of your current product names from the content of your documents and then be able to refine your search results on the product name.
Content Processing Extensibility
The other search feature that is only available with the enterprise licensing of SharePoint Server is the content processing extensibility. In practice, this means there is an API that can be used to transform the data before it is stored in the index. For example, more advanced entity extraction can be made at this step. While the custom entity extraction discussed previously is able to identify names in the content based on a pre-defined list of names, through this API you can use a trained model to do entity extraction for example. Additional use cases could be cleaning or normalising the data according to predefined rules (for example, lowercasing all values in a property), or automatically tagging items based on the content.
It should be noted that the TechNet article is not a comprehensive list, and rather gives an overview of the major differences between solutions. Here is for example one more feature whose availability is limited.
One of the missing features in SharePoint Online that is available in the on-premise solution is the possibility of defining synonyms. Since it’s too easy to communicate the same thing with different words, defining synonyms or abbreviations for search phrases can help aggregate the results for the multiple ways of expressing the same information need. We hope that Microsoft will integrate this feature in the future versions of SharePoint Online as well.
Find the right documentation
When searching for which functionality is available across solutions on the Microsoft Office.com website or TechNet, make sure to check that the discussed functionality applies to your version of SharePoint. Articles usually indicate for which versions the functionality applies to.
Please note that things might change, new updates in SharePoint online can add functionality that was missing before.