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SharePoint In The Cloud

One of the most common discussions that I’ve heard recently is around SharePoint in the cloud – specifically what it is, what it does and how it can be used. This is a great topic, but there seems to still be a lot of confusion and misconceptions about what it means for SharePoint to be in the cloud. In this blog post, I’ll clarify some of the more common issues.

First, let’s take a step back; a number of very large companies (including Microsoft) have frequently used the term “cloud” and “cloud computing” these days. But what does it mean?

The basic definition for cloud computing is: the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).

To simplify that even more, cloud computing includes anything where your hardware and software is not hosted in your own data center and instead made available by a service provider. This definition is a bit more broad than most of the ones that I’ve heard from organizations considering moving SharePoint to the cloud.

As companies look to move SharePoint to the cloud, it is important to be aware of the various options to make sure that they are choosing what’s right for them:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): A provider manages the hardware. Very similar options and flexibility to hosting SharePoint on-premises but the provider takes over the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the hardware. Remote access and ability to develop and create custom solutions against this type of farm are typically the same as on-premises. Examples of IaaS would include Rackspace and other managed hosting providers.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): In this case, all an organization needs to do is sign up and they are provided access to the application. All hardware and software is managed by the provider. From a SharePoint perspective, a great example of SaaS would be our Rackspace SharePoint 2013 trial environment. Other examples include Microsoft’s Office 365 and any other vendors who provide SharePoint in a multi-tenant configuration. This option tends to be less expensive, but also has less flexibility for customizations.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Platform refers to the cloud platform itself. There are several options for this including Rackspace’s OpenStack, Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure. With this option, an organization would pay for the amount of the cloud platform they’d consume. For example, instead of installing Windows, SQL and SharePoint on physical servers, it’d be installed on virtualized infrastructure running in the cloud. Typically, companies would still manage their own environment and the provider would just provide and manage the cloud platform itself.

Which option is the right fit for your organization? The answer is the dreaded “it depends.”

There’s significant value in leveraging the cloud, but it’s important to remember that cloud comes in a number of different flavors and in some cases combinations of cloud options make the most sense. These are referred to as hybrid cloud. In a recent GigaOm article called “Forecast for the cloud: it will come in a million varieties,” Rackspace President Lew Moorman explained that there isn’t going to be “one cloud to rule them all” and that most companies will rely on hybrid clouds to meet their unique requirements.

“Users will turn to hybrid-cloud architectures – using the right cloud for the right job – and as a result lower costs while improving reliability and performance,” Moorman wrote.

If someone were to ask me “Hey John, should we be looking to move our SharePoint to the cloud?” my answer would be a very enthusiastic “Yes!

That being said, while I think all organizations should explore moving their SharePoint to the cloud, I also recognize that the cloud isn’t going to be a great fit for everyone. Certain organizations have security or regulatory constraints that make going to the cloud impossible. They know who they are.

The Bottom Line:

All organizations should evaluate the cloud as a way to get more value from SharePoint. But SharePoint in the cloud comes in several different flavors, each with its own pros and cons as well as costs. It is important to weigh all of the various cloud options and consider the security, flexibility, total cost and functionality you get from each option. My advice is to take your time and do your homework.

If you need help with that homework, feel free to contact us – we’re glad to assist with navigating the wild and wonderful world of SharePoint in the cloud!

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About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by John Ross.

John has more than eight years of experience implementing solutions for clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies as well as government organizations. He has worked with all project phases from analysis to implementation and has been involved with a wide range of SharePoint solutions that include public facing Internet sites, corporate intranets and extranets. In 2009, John was awarded Microsoft’s MVP award for SharePoint Server and is one of 190 people worldwide with this distinction. John is co-author of the books, “Professional SharePoint 2010 Branding and User Interface Design” and “Real World SharePoint 2010: Indispensable Experiences from 23 SharePoint MVPs” from Wrox. Visit his blog at http://johnrossjr.wordpress.com or follow his SharePoint adventures on Twitter at @johnrossjr.


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