Sharepoint 2013: Head in the Clouds

As one of the top buzzwords in 2012, “the cloud” quickly changed from a mythical place in the sky where your data and information went to live, to the likely solution for businesses and organisations looking for the next best way to...

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As one of the top buzzwords in 2012, “the cloud” quickly changed from a mythical place in the sky where your data and information went to live, to the likely solution for businesses and organisations looking for the next best way to manage their SharePoint deployments and company data in 2013 and onward.

Gartner Research predicts that 50% of Global 1000 companies will store customer-sensitive data in the public cloud by 2016, so it’s a sure bet that IT teams everywhere are already planning for a move from their on-premise SharePoint environments to some sort of cloud model. The only question that still remains is whether to run a hybrid environment, utilising both on-premise and cloud resources, or to go all-in and move fully to the cloud, removing all of your company’s data from within its own walls.

The benefits of incorporating the cloud into your SharePoint deployment are well known - decreased management responsibilities for your IT team, increased flexibility in terms of scalability, infrastructure disaster recovery, and more cost effective licensing models are some of the many positives to be incurred through such a move. But which combination of on-premise and cloud environments will allow your organisation to see the most value?

The options for bringing your SharePoint to the cloud are many, including Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Managed Services. How you decide to optimise SharePoint will depend on your current needs, and whether it is on-premise, online, or a hybrid combination of the two, there are plenty of options to consider.

Software as a Service

The SaaS model is ideal for any organisation that would like to hand over the monitoring of SharePoint operations to an outside source, while continuing to look over and maintain their own content. The SaaS provider will handle things like SharePoint server updates, server crashes, and rebuilds, removing this responsibility from your organisation’s IT team, freeing them up to focus on other necessary tasks. Your IT team will continue to monitor and maintain your site collections, but the mundane, time consuming tasks related to server upkeep fall to the SaaS provider.

Another benefit of moving to SaaS is the ability to access the newest features more quickly than those strictly on-premise. These service updates can come in 90-day release cycles, as detailed by Microsoft's Jared Spataro during the keynote at SharePoint Conference 2012, starting at the 9:50 mark. Since the SaaS is hosted centrally, customers can access the updates faster than those on-premise, with no new software to install. This will ensure your SharePoint is always up to date with the newest releases and patches as soon as they are available.

There are some detractors when it comes to SaaS, most notably when it comes to customisation. Customisations that use Full Trust Solutions are not able to be deployed in a multi-tenant environment, so they must be kept on-premise, resulting in some sort of hybrid setup. It is possible to use Sandboxed Solutions, or the new App Model to customise SharePoint 2013 in Microsoft Office 365, but features in these will be limited in comparison. Some decisions will have to be made based on the level of customisations you hope to maintain.

Those utilising SaaS will also run into an issue when it comes time to test any applications before actually implementing them into their SharePoint, as there is no true pre-production environment. Without this QA setting, it’s difficult to predict system performance and readiness when implementing new applications into SharePoint. Using either a “pre-production” site collection in a production tenancy or having a pre-production tenancy is required.

Infrastructure as a Service

For those still wanting full control over their servers, but don’t want to manage the hardware, storage and networking, IaaS may be your SharePoint solution. Like SaaS, you are responsible for administrating all of your SharePoint content, but IaaS offerings like Amazon Web Services and Windows Azure also allow for full control of your servers, as if they were on-premise within your walls, rather than being run through virtual machines.

The advantages of deploying SharePoint in the cloud as IaaS are countless. Without infrastructure to look after, IT teams can focus more on innovation in applications and solutions to their SharePoint. IaaS also follows a utility service model, or pay-per-use, enabling greater flexibility and enhanced scalability. On the budget side, IaaS will decrease your total cost of ownership of SharePoint, because you aren’t buying the large pieces of equipment to maintain it. You will go from a capital expense to an operational expense, with a reduction in other costs relating to maintenance and support.

Just because your infrastructure is now out of house does not mean that your IT team is free and clear, however. IaaS still leaves you with the responsibility for maintaining and monitoring your own SharePoint operations, meaning your IT team is tasked with patching from the operating system all the way up to SharePoint. The responsibility for upkeep of hardware is gone, but all SharePoint related tasks will remain in-house.

Managed Service

Managed Service offerings, like Office 365 Dedicated and Rackspace, will take care of everything involved in your SharePoint deployment, but you are still responsible for your own content. With Managed Services, the provider will build and maintain your data center, the network, and the operating system, while also providing recovery services in the event something happens to your SharePoint. This is a great option for organisations looking to outsource the entirety of their SharePoint and infrastructure management, while maintaining control over the content.

Like SaaS, Managed Service can also have restrictions involving Full Trust Solutions, so full customisation of SharePoint can be difficult. Some offerings also are multi-tenant, which can provide a lower cost, but also brings negatives like lack of flexibility regarding customisations and a risk of data leaks due to the shared nature of the service.

So what’s right for you?

With all of the options available for SharePoint deployment into the cloud, the decision most organisations face is based off of which responsibilities they want to keep, and which they want to outsource. Each option will take away some of the IT resource time needed to focus on things like managing the network, hardware, installs, and patching, but no matter what route you take, SharePoint administration and management of site collections will always remain an in-house responsibility.

While there are pros and cons for each model, and plenty of discussions to be had, the question to be answered about your SharePoint environment moving to the cloud shouldn’t be so much of an “if” as a “when”. SharePoint and the cloud will be growing together in 2013, and you don’t want to get left on the ground.

Posted by Jeremy Thake, Chief Architect, AvePoint

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SharePoint 2013: Preparing for the future

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