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What You Need to Know About Hybrid Search Using SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365

What You Need to Know About Hybrid Search Using SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365

SharePoint Server 2013 can integrate with cloud-based solutions such as Office 365 and SharePoint Online in a secure and federated manner that will allow a user with proper permissions to search both on-premises in SharePoint Server 2013 as well as in Office 365 in the cloud. In Figure 1 you can see an example of results of a user searching both SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365.

Figure 1

Hybrid Cloud (SharePoint 2013 & Office 365) Architecture Summary Overview

Hybrid cloud architecture is something you must plan for in your organization's long-term SharePoint or Office 365 roadmap. The following is a summary of a hybrid SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365 search integration and the related components:

  • The remote SharePoint Index allows for the search to be federated between the on-premises SharePoint Server 2013 environment and the cloud-based Office 365 environment for a hybrid cloud environment architecture.
  • This sample configuration provides query capability, and additional configurations can be implemented to support crawl.

The hybrid cloud architecture requires the following:

  • Configuration of an OAuth trust between your on-premises SharePoint 2013 farm and your Office 365 tenancy
  • The creation of a result source for the remote farm
  • An externally addressable endpoint for the on-premises farm (reverse proxy) that can be reached via the Office 365 sites

This sample configuration allows you to query the result source directly or create a query rule to also allow for user queries to the cloud-based Office 365 or remote farm when needed. 

A token is created for the user and security-trimmed results are returned, which requires two-way Active Directory (AD) synchronization between the SharePoint Server 2013 on-premises environment and Office 365. By using a query rule you can integrate the results from both farms into a single display for users and tailor the UI as desired.

Now let’s take a quick look at the search features in SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 SharePoint Online.

Search Web Parts in SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 SharePoint Online

Several new web parts for search in SharePoint 2013 offer users an entirely new experience. The following is a list of the core search-related web parts in SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 SharePoint Online.

Content Search Web Part (CSWP): The content search web part utilizes various capabilities to display dynamic content within SharePoint pages. Each content search web part within a page is directly associated to a search query and displays the results for that search query while providing options to easily tailor the way the results reflect within the web part.

• Exposes results as JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) on page

• Customize search results rendering

• Easier to customize than content by query web part styles

• Client-side solution using returned results as JSON

• Server side via custom Display Templates

• Content is only editable at the source

Refinement Web Part: The refinement web part allows users to filters the search results from a search results web part into additional categories to allow for more intelligent decision-making on the result set.

Search Box Web Part: The search box web part is typically utilized on the home page of the Search Center (default.aspx).

Search Navigation Web Part: The search navigation web part displays links to the different major search verticals such as Everything, People, Conversations, and Videos.

Search Results Web Part: The search results web part displays the results of a search query entered in a search box web part. The search results web part, out of box (e.g., natively)  is used on all search vertical pages and displays the actual search results returned. The web part also relays search results to the refinement web part.

You can add refiners to a page to narrow the items that are shown in a content search web part and help users quickly browse to specific content. Refiners are based on managed properties from the search index. To display refiners on a page, you must first enable the managed property that you want to use as a refiner, and then add a refinement web part to the page where you want the refiners to appear. 

Note: You must have the relevant publishing features enabled to include the cross-site publishing feature in order to utilize web parts such as the refinement web part.

Search UI of SharePoint 2013 and/or Office 365

The search UI itself has specific characteristics for which you can tailor or configure as a “one off” branding initiative or to simply offer a set of specific and tailored search result-type pages to meet a department or specific user’s needs. When updating the UI of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 SharePoint Online, it should be performed in a governed manner that follows the branding and UI standards of the organization.

SharePoint’s search UI configuration elements mainly consist of these:

• Result types

• Display templates

• Query suggestions

• Thumbnail preview features

These new search UI related features can now be administered by site and site collection administrators but must follow the organization’s overall governance strategy in relation to permissions and specific user capabilities.

Result Types: Result types in SharePoint 2013 are similar in nature to query rules as they allow you to define rules for when a specific search result can trigger a specified display template. A display template contains the list of managed properties that can be utilized in the results and also can control how the results themselves should be rendered.

There are a wide range of options that can be utilize around defining the specific rules for when a result type should perform a specific action.

The underlying framework allows you to create custom comparisons based on equality, greater than or less than well as logical operators. For example, “Equality(= or !=), comparison (< or >), or logical (AND or OR or NOT).”

Multiple rules can also be combined for a specific condition while also giving you the option to use managed properties in a rule. Figure 2 shows how to provide custom metrics for a result type.

Figure 2

Display Templates in SharePoint 2013 & Office 365's Search: Display templates provide the actual rendering of an individual search result and offer a dynamic array of options to create very visual and interactive search results, fully compatible with HTML.

With the new focus of allowing HTML, you are not limited to a specific HTML editor. Depending on your organization’s governance strategy you may be able to utilize not only SharePoint Designer 2013 but Visual Studio, notepad, Dreamweaver, or other tools

When the HTML is created for which you would drive the resulting specific search result, underlying placeholder tags are used to indicate where you should specify the output to a managed property (result title, author, etc.).

For example, Figure 3 below shows a SharePoint 2013 search that was run using a sample custom result type and corresponding display template for .TXT file stored in SharePoint Server 2013.

Figure 3

Search Display Templates: SharePoint 2013 natively contains a number of display templates which you can review and copy to a new file name to begin modifying and quickly start to learn and test to perfect this new capability. Display templates contain the following characteristics:

• They define the visual layout of a Result Type

• A template is really just HTML

• You can edit it with any HTML designer including Dreamweaver, SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio, Notepad, etc.

• You add placeholders to your HTML file where managed properties should be emitted

• It gives you a real WYSIWIG experience when designing templates

• A set of display templates is included OOB; you can find them in the Master Pages/Display Templates/Search folder

• Site collection admins can upload new display templates

After you have spent some time developing and testing this features to “get your feet wet” you can then upload the display template to a site, site collection or at a farm level for which it can then be added to a search service application.

Query Suggestions: Query suggestions allow you to take advantage of the suggestions that SharePoint 2013 provides via a personal query log that is stored of all the queries you execute. This personal query log is utilized to provide query suggestions by SharePoint 2013 by remembering the search queries that you have executed before as well as search results that you’ve selected and clicked on in the past. 

SharePoint 2013’s search also pulls in frequent queries from all users within the organization to include relevant results to your query for which others also found to be useful and accurate.

This builds on a foundation of SharePoint’s search learning with you and your organization to provide query suggestions as another option to find relevant content in addition to the standard browse and “findability” experience that you would get with just a standard raw search.

SharePoint 2013 also allows additional configuration to add custom inclusions and exclusions for query suggestions to users via the search service application administration pages.

SharePoint 2013 provides for two variants of query suggestions which occur at different times during the search process. There are query suggestions that appear as you are typing in the search box as well as suggestions that appears after your query is executed.

In the first query suggestion variant, as you’re typing in the search box you will see a list of queries for which you have previously executed which you can click on as well as a list of other queries from users across the farm whose queries have led to two or more successful searches, which Figure 4 shows below.

Figure 4

In the second query suggestion variant, once your search is executed, SharePoint will provide you with a list of additional choices based on search results that you have personally clicked on when you had executed the same query at a previous time within the platform.

This feature enables you to quickly execute a search for content that you may routinely search for via the utilization of the same query to find specific documents or list or library items. To summaries, this features allows for the following:

• Your personal SharePoint activity factors into the query suggestions

• It includes weighting based on sites that you have previously visited

• It uses the most frequent queries across all users that “match” the search terms

• The behavior of the query suggestions turns into more of a “browse and find” kind of experience

• You can also add inclusion and exclusion lists for suggestions via the search service application admin pages

Thumbnail Preview in SharePoint 2013 & Office 365 | SharePoint Online: SharePoint 2013 utilizes Office Online (the rebranded Office Web Apps) to provide the ability to be able to view a thumbnail preview, which Figure 5 shows, of a document or piece of content without actually having to open the specified content.

Figure 5

Similar to YouTube or Bing Videos, you can also hover your pointer over presentations to view a short animations as well as zoom in and out to ensure the selection if the correct content for which you are trying to retrieve.

There is no delay if the content that you hovered over to view the thumbnail preview is not the content for which you are requiring as you can simply view the other search results and click on the other items to also preview them before making your ultimate selection.

This feature has been a resounding hit for our clients at EPC Group as it reduces time by ensuring the document users are previewing is correct by quickly looking for things like formatting, logos, color schemes and other easily identifiable markings.

Note: SharePoint 2013’s default authentication is clams-based authentication and most organizations that have upgraded or migrated from a previous version of SharePoint have more than likely converted any classic-mode web applications to claims-based authentication or opted to create a new claims-based web application in SharePoint 2013.

It is important to be aware that if you organization still has any classic-mode web applications, the thumbnail preview feature will have issues and won’t properly function, which can cause confusion for your user base.

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