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Syntex Repository Services are a Special Form of SharePoint Online
Last March, I wrote about the preview of the much-awaited Loop app, and noted that the objects generated by the Loop app “are stored in hidden SharePoint Online containers with names like https://office365itpros.sharepoint.com/contentstorage/CSP_GUID.” By comparison, the content of Loop components created in apps like Teams chat and Outlook are stored in .loop files in the author’s OneDrive for Business account.
At the time, Microsoft pointed to the support SharePoint Online gave to the Loop app but were non-specific about any detail. Microsoft revealed more information at the BUILD conference, where they said that the Loop app uses Syntex repository services, described as “the fastest way for developers to build and manage file and document centric apps that leverage the rich content platform services of Microsoft 365.” Syntex repository services are in private preview at present.
Powered by SharePoint
The developer blog post on the topic gives more information. It seems like Syntex repository services (“powered by SharePoint”) is a document management services Microsoft sells to app developers. Apps developed on the platform store their files in “repository containers,” a SharePoint Online storage partition within a customer tenant (you could think of OneDrive for Business as a SharePoint partition). Repository containers created by apps remain under the control of the app that create containers and cannot be accessed through regular Microsoft 365 interfaces, including administrative interfaces like the SharePoint Online admin center. Apps access their files through Microsoft Graph APIs and present the information through their own GUIs.
The big advantage put forward by Microsoft is that by managing their files through Syntex, app developers get access to Microsoft 365 capabilities like sensitivity labels and eDiscovery in addition to the scalability of the Microsoft cloud platform. In other words, don’t worry about storing files, compliance, and all that stuff because Syntex will do that for you – focus on delivering app functionality to end users. It’s a good example of creating new capabilities off a proven platform.
Loop and Syntex Repository Services
Coming back to Loop, Microsoft asserts that the Loop app is “100% powered by Syntex repository services.” What I thought were hidden SharePoint containers are repository containers that the Loop app accesses to store and manage its workspaces and pages. Microsoft noted that the Designer app also uses Syntex repository services (Figure 1).
We’re still in the early days and everything doesn’t work as promised. Loop is in preview and Microsoft 365 content searches cannot find its content, nor can retention policies target app repository containers. The Loop app doesn’t support assignment of sensitivity labels to workspaces or pages, and data loss prevention policies don’t intervene of someone shares a Loop page link outside the organization. All of this is expected when apps and underlying services are evolving.
Interesting Choice for App Developers
If Microsoft delivers what it says will happen, app developers have an interesting choice to make. Should they create everything from scratch and have total control over a solution or use Syntex repository services and get a lot of off-the-shelf functionality. Cost will obviously be part of the equation. There’s no information available about who pays for Syntex repository services when it’s used to host app content.
Backup is another aspect to consider. Microsoft 365 tenants are accustomed to backing up documents and other elements stored in SharePoint Online. How will they backup documents and lists stored in app repository containers? Will backup vendors be able to read a list of app containers in a tenant and stream their contents out to a backup target? This is an example of an issue that needs better understanding before a new service becomes 100% operations-ready.
In passing, I note that the Syntex backup solutions for SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and OneDrive for Business announced in November 2022 still haven’t made an appearance. Developing and bringing new cloud services into production is hard, even for Microsoft.
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