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To Share or not to Share, what is the Point?

Office 365 SharePoint offers organisations plenty of opportunities for flexibility and productivity, but many organisations are unsure as to whether it is best to keep it on-premises, go online, or use a hybrid solution.

SharePoint Online, part of the Office 365 offering, is a cloud-based service that offers a wide range of features for businesses of all sizes. According to a recent Forrsights Services Survey commissioned by Forrester Research, 72 per cent of respondents were interested in adopting software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology for collaboration. This simple statistic shows how ready the business world is for online collaboration tools and increased infrastructure held in the Cloud, but many organisations are still unsure as to whether or not they should undertake a full migration, work with a hybrid, or stick with an on-premises SharePoint 2010 solution. In this guide we ask the experts what considerations a business needs to take into account as it approaches this decision.

"Microsoft Office 365 is a definitive online business productivity suite and, as prices drop to accommodate businesses, it is becoming increasingly attractive to businesses who are new to collaboration software or who have traditionally used on-premises products and services," says Shyam Oza, product manager at AvePoint, "With SharePoint available on both premises and the cloud, it really is down to the individual business to decide which benefits would suit their business goals the most."

Shyam works directly with global organisations on crafting new deployment strategies using hybrid and cloud environments with Microsoft technologies and he believes that SharePoint Online is a true multi-tenant system.

"Although on-premise versions of SharePoint still offer a richer feature set," he adds, "Many businesses are looking to take a hybrid approach to SharePoint in the cloud. Businesses must make certain considerations to optimise SharePoint, whether that be online, on-premise or as a hybrid mix of the two. As a multi-tenant model, businesses will find that the custom coding for SharePoint Online is limited by security restrictions and governed by the farm infrastructure, whereas on-premises solutions have no limitations in terms of functionality, scope or security access."

The primary architectural decisions that need to be made should focus on: capabilities, workloads, authentication, permissions, creation of a cohesive end user experience, information architecture, on-boarding and off-boarding of data, system requirements and architectural approaches (Source 1).

Answering these questions will soon lead a business to understand how it will best function with SharePoint 2010, be it online, hybrid or on-premises. The AvePoint white paper "Office 365 SharePoint Online Architectural considerations" by Jeremy Thake and Danny Burlage offers businesses a clear breakdown of these architectural considerations and how best to approach them.

A hybrid SharePoint 2010 solution offers businesses a measure of flexibility as they adapt to life in the clouds, so to speak. A well implemented model will deliver the control, customisation and management of data of the on-premises system alongside the benefits of the Cloud such as usage on demand, InfoPath, and remote access.

According to Paul Robinson, Microsoft Services (Source 2), "Hybrid environments can be helpful when it is not possible for an organisation to migrate into the cloud immediately or in full, due to business, technical or other reasons. Office 365 offers many features which can aid an organisation in deploying a robust hybrid environment."

Certainly the decision to take a hybrid approach can be affected by several factors including: a phased approach to overall migration, compliance and data sovereignty issues, or supplementing cloud solutions with additional features that are only available on-premises. SharePoint online doesn't include some features that are built into SharePoint Server such as FAST Search, some .NET SharePoint web services, and some InfoPath Forms. From this perspective it makes sense for an organisation that fully utilises the capabilities of the on-premise solution to opt for a hybrid option or simply continue as it is.

"We are seeing a lot of momentum towards a hybrid model leveraging both online and on-premise," says Russell Zack, managing director, enterprise video, Kaltura, "The SharePoint application is local, but the rich media, video, images and PDFs are stored in the cloud. This provides localised IT control for application management while leveraging centralised cloud resources for files, especially large media ones. Having a SharePoint location installed locally allows for easy access control of whom can access what information on a regional, project-based or departmental level. However, the core services for rich media creation, transformation and consumption such as images, large PDFs and videos, all require scale and should leverage shared resources in the Cloud."

However, as with any technical solution there are some issues that arise when implementing a hybrid option and many require third-party solutions for hybrid management. "There are challenges in the flow of data between both platforms," explains Orza, "Without proper planning, businesses can easily find themselves storing unnecessary data in the Cloud and SharePoint Online is bound by specific limits in terms of storage."

For many companies, purely Cloud-based SharePoint services have everything they need for a comprehensive solution, but how do you know if that is right for your business? Perhaps your business wants to work with intranet-based documents and resources that can be accessed remotely without excessive cost and you want the benefits of an intranet and public-facing website without the cost and time of managing the hardware and software yourself? If, in addition, you would like to offer external partners and sources access to specific information on a regular basis without them accessing the network itself, then SharePoint Online ticks all of these boxes.

There are several other benefits to the SharePoint Online option and operating exclusively in the Cloud. Your organisation doesn't have to worry about upgrades or maintenance of the software, this is all handled by Microsoft. Users gain access to a plethora of features that are intuitive, productive and user-friendly. And let's not forget about the guaranteed uptime, fault tolerance, service levels and cost management benefits of using a dedicated SaaS solution like Office 365.

"The scalability of the Cloud platform, coupled with low start up costs and quick set-up, mean that SharePoint Online is perfectly suited for SharePoint development and proof of concept," says Oza, "By using SharePoint Online as a development and testing platform, businesses can experiment and evaluate applications before opening them up to the organisation and incorporating new tools into their SharePoint environments."

As with any software solution, the final implementation is entirely dependent on how it will impact a business' infrastructure, workflow, and bottom line. SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server 2010 both have strengths and weaknesses that can be customised and adapted to suit an organisation's needs. As more and more third party tools supporting online, hybrid and on-premises deployments appear, it is becoming easier for SharePoint environments to be managed effectively. More choices are thus being offered to the business in terms of final implementation.

Additional Sources:

Source 1: Office 365 SharePoint Online Architectural considerations, Jeremy Thake and Danny Burlage.

Source 2: Hybrid SharePoint Environments with Office 365

3. SharePoint Online Planning Guide

4. Microsoft SharePoint

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