Microsoft SharePoint is a remarkable success, with more than 70% of all enterprises currently using some version of the product. Adoption rates for SharePoint 2010 are equally robust: According to Forrester Research, 57% of the companies surveyed had upgraded by the fourth quarter of 2011.1
Yet these numbers don’t tell the entire story. While many enterprises have upgraded to SharePoint 2010, a significant number still have not done so – a telling trend, given the performance enhancements, updated feature set, deeper application integration, and other obvious advantages to upgrading. These companies have found that the upgrade process is more complex and expensive than expected; IT departments, faced with what Forrester describes as a “tension between fast delivery of abundant applications and maintenance of shared stable environments,” lack the time and resources to implement these complex migrations and upgrades.
With another major SharePoint upgrade coming soon, even companies that have already upgraded to SharePoint 2010 will be forced, yet again, to deal with this problem in the not-too-distant future. These companies have already discovered that a properly implemented SharePoint solution can given them a powerful competitive advantage, and they are eager to maintain that advantage. Yet they are also wary of the cost and complexity associated with a major SharePoint upgrade project.
There’s another important point to consider: The need for a SharePoint environment that can accommodate future growth. Today, basic SharePoint capabilities such as shared workspaces, intranets and company portals are still far more common than cutting-edge applications for web content management, records management and business intelligence.2 Many enterprises are eager to explore these enhanced features, yet their IT organizations struggle with the resulting data storage, custom-app development, third-party product integration, and other requirements necessary to make the next version work.
Migrating a SharePoint environment by leveraging a service provider model could offer a solution to these challenges by shifting some of the infrastructure management and administrative burden to a trusted third party provider. While many enterprises have considered this option, they often reject it due to common misconceptions over security, availability, lack of customization options or other issues.
These are valid concerns, and they represent real obstacles to many SharePoint migration efforts. Given the right hosting provider, however, and a proven migration methodology, enterprises can adopt hosted SharePoint solutions that actually give them greater flexibility and scalability than ever before – while minimizing long-term costs and complexity.
The following white paper will take a closer look at why enterprises are so wary of SharePoint hosting solutions. It will also explain how IT organizations can identify hosting providers that can truly offer cost-effective alternatives to traditional on-premise environments.
Most enterprise IT organizations are already familiar with the basic arguments in favor of using a hosted model. They understand that leveraging a service provider allows them to minimize capital investments in hardware and IT infrastructure support, reaping the benefits of an OPEX expense model. A hosted model also reduces the burden on in-house IT staff, allowing the enterprise to align IT resources to strategic, game-changing projects or to carry a reduced headcount.
All of these advantages are applicable to SharePoint environments, whether or not an enterprise has completed the SharePoint 2010 upgrade process. A SharePoint hosting provider can assume responsibility for:
• Provisioning new physical servers and maintaining existing hardware;
• Installing and configuring software updates – whether these involve SharePoint updates or OS patches/service packs;
• Providing storage, networking and other supporting infrastructure.
The resulting total cost of ownership savings compared to an on-premises SharePoint environment can be significant. This is especially true given the ability to take the opportunity cost savings, in terms of an IT organization’s project-carrying capacity, and apply it to other, high-value internal initiatives. In fact, according to a Microsoft- sponsored whitepaper, staffing is the single largest cost component of an in-house SharePoint solution, accounting for 60% of TCO.3
Given these advantages, why doesn’t every enterprise move from its on-premises SharePoint environment to a hosted model? The answer to this question usually involves one or more of the following issues that increase business risk, add complexity and drive up the cost of a SharePoint migration or “migration migraines”:
1. Compliance requirements. A typical SharePoint environment holds a treasure trove of proprietary business data. In addition, public companies and those working in regulated industries have additional concerns related to regulatory compliance.
2. Customization concerns. Very few enterprises migrate an unmodified, out-of-the-box SharePoint environment. Even when a company uses SharePoint for basic applications such as team sites and intranets, it is likely to invest in a certain amount of custom code. The more an enterprise depends on such code, the more it stands to lose during a botched migration process.
3. Third-party application availability. SharePoint supports an immense software ecosystem that includes more than 700,000 developers and as many as 2,000 third-party solutions.4 As a result, many enterprises rely upon multiple third-party applications to augment their SharePoint environments. These products can complicate a migration process.
4. User adoption and enablement challenges. IT organizations dread the prospect of a migration project that forces them to reset user passwords or even to create new user accounts – problems that can kill user adoption rates. Migrating to a hosted SharePoint environment can also impact user support and training; in this area, as in others, an enterprise will rely more upon a service provider’s support resources rather than internal resources. In addition, some providers may lack the resources and expertise to properly support user-enablement initiatives such as custom dashboards and UI elements.
5. Availability and reliability woes. An internal IT organization may despise the term “one neck to choke” when it comes to assigning responsibility (or blame) for unplanned downtime. Nevertheless, enterprises that consider SharePoint an important business tool will expect a hosting provider to deliver industry leading uptime guarantees, outage response-time and related service level guarantees.
6. Lack of flexibility. As noted previously, enterprises that use a relatively small set of SharePoint features today may have far more ambitious plans for the future. They are thus concerned that a hosting provider will fail (or refuse) to support additional functionality or new feature rollouts. A SharePoint records-management initiative, for example, can offer important compliance and data governance benefits, but it can also involve a complex and demanding implementation process.
7. Fear of the unknown. Even a simple technology migration project involves expecting the unexpected. A SharePoint migration is anything but simple; an IT organization must anticipate problems, create contingency plans and prepare a detailed migration roadmap. Differences in data structures, storage types, formats, computer systems and other variables can all conspire to stop a SharePoint migration dead in its tracks. The IT team thus needs to consider the role a hosting provider can play in the actual migration process.
The risks that result from these seven issues will vary based upon the role that SharePoint currently plays in an enterprise’s IT infrastructure – is it of a high business importance, or does it serve a peripheral role? An IT organization must also assess its in-house capabilities, both present and future, before it can decide whether the costs of a SharePoint migration outweigh the benefits.
Nevertheless, it is clear that moving from an on-premise SharePoint environment to a hosted or managed model does involve business and technology risks considerations. The question, then, is whether a hosting provider can marshal the knowledge, skills and technology capabilities to address these objections.
In order to identify criteria, it is necessary to build a model of a SharePoint migration and Service Provider managed SharePoint solution. Such a solution, viewed from start to finish, will include the following major elements:
1. Client-appropriate security. Security is a complex topic; it involves physical security and virtual security, as well as protection against unplanned downtime and other threats. Today, top-tier hosting providers routinely offer a level of security that you find in a typical enterprise data center or colocation environment. For enterprises, though, SharePoint itself creates another set of unique, largely policy- based security challenges. SharePoint administration, including security-related tools, are notoriously complex, and basic administrative tools may not go far enough to satisfy security requirements.
With these challenges in mind, a SharePoint hosting provider can offer security features with the right mix of skills and dedicated resources – and help by applying the experience and lessons learned from building large numbers of SharePoint environments. They can also help enterprises create appropriate internal security policies for managing and accessing SharePoint data stores.
2. Uptime and SLA guarantees. Availability and service-level guarantees are another potential source of differentiation for hosting providers. Given the role that SharePoint plays in many enterprises, and the costs associated with unplanned downtime, it is reasonable for an enterprise to demand uptime (excluding scheduled maintenance) from a provider’s data center network, data center infrastructure and server hardware components.
3. A formal discovery process for a client’s SharePoint requirements. Hosting providers can’t just assume that a client’s existing SharePoint environment will fit an existing implementation model – and they certainly can’t always impose a one-size- fits-all approach.
The hosting provider’s discovery process should thus reflect three attributes. First, it should involve extensive, direct contact between the provider’s SharePoint migration team and the client’s enterprise IT team. Second, it should be collaborative process that gives the client IT organization the opportunity to explain their current SharePoint environment and their concerns about the migration process.
Finally, the discovery process should be forward-looking – that is, the provider’s migration team should assess future needs to extend and maximize an enterprise’s existing SharePoint environment.
4. A track record of designing and building complex SharePoint environments. Any enterprise that uses SharePoint as a custom-development platform will insist that a provider offer appropriate stand-up capabilities for its migrated and hosted SharePoint environment. This includes taking insights gleaned from the discovery process and turning them into specific, detailed technical requirements. It also includes a design and development staff with proven experience standing up complex enterprise SharePoint implementations.
5. An established SharePoint migration methodology. The actual process of migrating SharePoint data and other resources between an in-house and hosted environment is fraught with uncertainty. An enterprise IT organization is especially likely to express concern over three issues:
• Do we have the technical and human resources to carry out a migration?
• Does our team have the necessary mix of implementation and integration skills?
• Can we anticipate potential problems and develop appropriate contingency plans?
A hosting provider’s migration team, and the methodology it employs, should specifically address all three of these questions. As a result, it can provide the client’s IT organization with specific, dedicated resources necessary to migrate data, deploy the new SharePoint environment, and help with any problems that arise during the process. A provider’s migration team should also be capable of working with an enterprise on related legacy data migration initiatives, and if necessary, the provider should be able to consolidate and reorganize a SharePoint environment prior to beginning the migration process. It must also be able to deal with the technology-integration demands associated with a SharePoint environment, including Active Directory, Microsoft SQL, Exchange, and other products.
6. A forward-looking approach to SharePoint implementation. An on-premise SharePoint environment is usually a work in progress; users constantly request, and expect, new features and functionality. This may involve deploying additional, but currently unused, standard SharePoint components; developing new custom-coded features; or integration additional third-party applications.
A hosting provider’s in-house professional services staff can help with implementing new features using any or all of these approaches. The provider should also offer a standard methodology for testing and rolling out new SharePoint functionality or custom-coded components.
7. A strong focus on user adoption and enablement issues. It may sound like a stretch to expect a hosting provider to assume responsibility for motivating, educating and empowering a company’s SharePoint users. Yet this is an important part of an enterprise’s in-house SharePoint deployment strategy – and as a result, it must play an important role in a hosted or managed environment.
Some issues to consider here include:
• Can the hosting provider develop custom SharePoint dashboards and business intelligence solutions?
• Can the provider perform user interface enhancements and customizations?
• Can they provide training and ongoing support for both technical and business users?
• Does their training and support model include both onsite and remote options?
Technical support is an important concern here, and for many enterprises it will be the single most important post-implementation issue. Nevertheless, the more strategic an enterprise’s SharePoint deployment becomes, the more important it is to work with a hosting provider that can deliver a full suite of customized user education, training and empowerment solutions. This includes access to a real-world training curriculum based on established best practices – an absolute necessity for enterprises seeking to turn their SharePoint implementation into a source of competitive advantage.
Many enterprises have considered moving to a hosted SharePoint environment, and quite of few have explored their options with various hosting providers. Unfortunately, a good number of these companies are frustrated and disappointed with what they find – and they decide to stay with an on-premises SharePoint environment as the lesser of two evils.
The solution to this problem doesn’t involve lowering expectations or giving up SharePoint’s full potential. Hosting providers that have a solid track record of working with challenging enterprise IT environments do exist. Once an enterprise identifies such a provider, it can enjoy the full benefits of a hosted SharePoint environment – including the freedom to devote money and resources to more productive IT activities, without sacrificing the benefits associated with a traditional, on-premises SharePoint implementation.
3 http://download.microsoft.com/ download/1/9/2/192e73a4-7abb-4bad-b469-34632d54a8a6/IDC%20Whitepaper%20Demonstrating%20 Business%20Value.pdf
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