This New Microsoft Technology Will Make Your Web Applications Much Faster


With Project Nucleus, Microsoft aims to improve the performance and reliability of intranet-centric web applications, starting with lists.

Image: Microsoft

Despite all the improvements Microsoft has made to it over the years, most people still think of Sharepoint as a rather heavy content storage system – a more formal managed version of OneDrive with a workflow engine, so to speak. But as Jeff Teper, Microsoft 365 CVP likes to point out, SharePoint is both an app and a platform: organizations can build apps on SharePoint that include workflow and approvals, and they can use the SharePoint framework (SPFx, JavaScript controls that work with any JavaScript framework like React or Angular) to create intranet sites.

OneDrive is now powered by SharePoint and the new Lists the application actually uses the SharePoint Chart API under. Microsoft Teams is in many ways a user-friendly way to access SharePoint resources: Files shared in Teams live in SharePoint, and private chats are implemented as site collections in SharePoint. And the Fluid frame that Microsoft open source earlier this year for building collaborative distributed applications on what Microsoft 365 CEO Seth Patton calls “a super-fast, high-performance cloud platform that integrates AI” is actually based on ” Fairly significant progress made in turbocharged SharePoint file storage “.

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Teper suggested considering Fluid as a breakthrough over REST APIs. “It’s a layer that we think will help unlock the creation of all kinds of backends for applications, with different frontends. [user experiences]. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of business apps that today aren’t realtime become realtime, enjoyable, interactive – and expose components against their storage system, which is their own process backend. job.”

Microsoft’s first implementation of a back-end for Fluid is SharePoint in the new consumer service OneDrive, although it is open-source the Fluid protocol and data structure, as well as collaboration components that developers can connect to their own back-end services, not just SharePoint.

“Fluid started out by knowing how we could go beyond anything that had been done around document collaboration and we specifically put a new storage system in SharePoint on top of Azure Blob Storage running in kernel mode to natively map data structures. Fluid in the protocol at at [storage] disk and SharePoint to be blazingly fast, ”Teper said.

Patton told TechRepublic last year that behind the scenes, SharePoint Online uses Azure SQL and Azure Blob Storage. In fact, SharePoint Online is Azure Storage’s biggest customer, and the Windows and SharePoint teams worked together on a new file I / O stack to optimize the performance of the SharePoint access models. This includes a native kernel mode vdisk client in Azure that performs read and write operations directly on the server where the blob is stored rather than going through multiple layers of load balancers and servers (a similar storage service called Direct Drive powers the Azure Ultra Disk Storage service designed to I / O intensive workloads like SAP Hana). Instead of sending requests to blob storage for part of a file at a time, the requests are deserialized and sent in parallel. So when multiple people collaborate in a Fluid document, the changes don’t wait in a storage queue.

Fluid is a new data layer, and in Microsoft’s implementation, it uses this new SharePoint storage layer to get the data to disks in Azure fast enough for what Teper calls “near zero latency co-creation.” “.

Taking PWAs Beyond the Basics

If Fluid is the future of the web application back-end, Core of the project is Microsoft’s bet to improve the performance and reliability of these web applications, in particular by using them to browse or modify data when you are not connected (or you are on a very slow network).

Progressive web apps (PWA) are a very lightweight way to distribute apps: they can be placed in an app store and can be installed as a native app, or they can be something the user pins from their web browser as a bookmark. A PWA does not launch an entirely different copy of the browser engine the same way a PWA does Electron app like Teams done (which also needs to be updated separately). And depending on the device, PWAs get the same operating system integrations as native apps, like notifications and shortcut lists.

But for something like SharePoint, PWAs aren’t a great experience for working with very large and complex data sets because performance isn’t always fast, especially over a slow network connection.

When looking at performance, the SharePoint team measures both how quickly important content is visible on screen (“significant first paint”) and how quickly the web application can respond to input. user (“first has no more tasks and can reliably respond to user input). The goal is to get these two times as similar as possible, so that you can interact with the content as soon as you can see it on screen. For most users, the SharePoint team currently aims to get content to the screen in two to three seconds (depending on the dynamics of the page and the number of web parts it has); for people on a slow network, the goal is four to six seconds.

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Nucleus relies on the synchronization performed by OneDrive, including differential synchronization – where only changes to one file are transferred, rather than the entire file each time – and uses it as a cache for a PWA to improve performance and allow offline use. The cache isn’t limited to files like in OneDrive; it uses a standard set of APIs to synchronize the PWA with the cloud backend, so that it can cache all the data that the app needs. Any changes you make offline will be downloaded when you are back online. The cache is encrypted for security reasons and is only available for the PWA. It’s currently only available for Windows and Chromium browsers like Edge, but it will be cross-platform and across all modern browsers when it’s generally available.

The next generation of OneDrive and SharePoint web apps will use Nucleus, but it will debut on Microsoft lists, Microsoft chief product officer Dan Holme told TechRepublic.

“The first place this will come to life is with Microsoft Lists, which is the evolution of SharePoint Lists into a standalone hero list experience,” said Holme. “Project Nucleus will allow you to work with lists offline: it will take care of all the merging and synchronization of changes. Behind the scenes, it uses some of the capabilities and technologies we developed when scaling OneDrive. OneDrive does a really great job for clients syncing work on files, which in many ways is even more complicated because these are unstructured, Project Nucleus will make it easier to access lists offline, on mobile , as well as on desktop.

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The Nucleus powered version of the lists adds a small sync icon, but looks different.

Image: Microsoft

High performance lists

Lists are a good place to start because caching means that even on a slow connection sorting or grouping columns and filtering, even in very large lists, will be extremely fast. Microsoft has demonstrated it with lists containing 100,000 items, has already tested 1,000,000 item lists internally and expects to support even larger lists. Sorting a column does not invoke the Lists Web service; it works with data from the Project Nucleus cache, so sorting or filtering a list of one hundred thousand items will take about two milliseconds, making it look instantaneous.

The Project Nucleus version of Microsoft Lists is currently in private preview.

But Project Nucleus is built on an extensible framework, so other web applications will be able to take advantage of it, and it will cover more data types than just lists. Eventually, it will be available in SPFx and open to third party creators of components.

“This will spread over time to a very large number of applications,” said Holme. “We announced the Home site app in Microsoft Teams [at Ignite], which brings the best of the intranet to teams so people don’t have to leave the context of their work to find resources across the organization or to keep up with the latest news. And Project Nucleus will really speed up intranet performance within teams. This will allow more interesting file experiences on mobile over time. Right now, you can download a file for mobile use, but it doesn’t use true sync yet, and Project Nucleus will activate it over time as well. ”

“We’ve had great success with the sync and offline technologies we’ve built as part of OneDrive on the client, we’ve got the Fluid framework on the service, and we’ve got progressive web apps as a way to experience our web apps. Holme added. “Now when those three things come together, you have this technology that will be in the background allowing new scenarios like offline access. ”

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