Hosting a variety of workloads in the cloud continues to be an industry-wide trend that is accelerating, and if you’re like mostSharePoint users, you’re probably beginning to think about how to run SharePoint in the cloud. Some services seem like they’re simply built to run hosted, but SharePoint is a different story. Here are some considerations and things to understand about planning to run hosted SharePoint.

The problem with identity

Identity is going to be the main issue facing your users as they begin to interact with hosted SharePoint instances. Do you remember that old Gartner study about how password resets cost your helpdesk personnel $67 for every call? That study led to the creating and marketing of numerous tools that synchronize passwords among systems. It led to removing barriers like signing on across a bunch of applications (a phenomenon known as single sign-on, or SSO), making it easier to deal with the lifecycle of a user’s identity. From first date of hire or engagement through the various permissions a user has as his role within the organization changes, it made everything easier. Even for when users separate from a company and their identity needs to be removed or disabled.

This issue is also applicable to hosted SharePoint. Because of the nature of hosted software, you’re running within an environment that is not your own. And thus, by design, the provider’s Active Directory structure and configuration will be different than your on-premises deployment; your users will have two identities: one to log on to local resources and the other to access information stored on your hosted SharePoint instance. If your users are like mine, they will complain about this. “Which password is this for again?” “Wait, when do I use this?” “I’ve forgotten this one!” And your help desk will, in turn, complain as well, having to manage two different databases of users and passwords.

Here are some great solutions:

  • Choose a hosted SharePoint provider that will assist in federating identities, so that your hosted SharePoint instance uses a synchronized copy of your on-premises database
  • Choose a password management tool that at least synchronizes usernames and passwords, so that while there are two separate accounts, they at least are set up the same.

Control over configuration

The biggest problem that IT professionals have with moving anything to the cloud is that they give up control. IT pros are used to having “God mode” powers over their systems. They can check boxes, install drivers, redeploy services, virtualize, and generally tinker about to their heart’s content because they control everything, from the hardware to the operating system to the software workloads that run on top of the OS.

This is simply not the case with the cloud. While there are a ton of benefits that come with running services in the cloud—you basically offload all of the core administrative responsibility to a provider and simply pay a monthly fee to get a service that should be always on and work like clockwork—you lose the control in that exchange. As part of the provider’s commitment to delivering a reliable service, they control the machines. They control the software. They control when patches deploy. They control how maintenance windows are set up and when they’re scheduled. They control how certain parts of software are installed. And with a complex product like SharePoint, where there are a ton of moving parts that could be configured a zillion different ways based on how your business plans to use the software, you get no say in how this is rolled out. Some providers are more willing to work with organizations than others. Make sure this is part of your research and vendor selection process.

In the move to hosted SharePoint, you also lose control of which services are offered. For instance some SharePoint services, like the Business Connectivity Services, work almost exclusively with on-premises hardware. This simply is not feasible to run in the cloud, since the software talks directly to ERP and other systems that are in your own server closet. So either you have to deploy some SharePoint on-premises in order to run BCS, which means you need a hybrid deployment and have to integrate the two SharePoints together, or you forego BCS entirely—because you don’t have the control to deploy it the way you need to. The cloud is all about tradeoffs, and this is certainly most pronounced with complex software like SharePoint.

The moral of this story:

  • Understand what parts of SharePoint absolutely depend on connectivity to on-premises servers and know that they may block your move to hosted SharePoint
  • Select a provider carefully and ensure that provider is willing to work with you as much as possible on your configuration and maintenance needs
  • Check out some SharePoint alternatives like Huddle

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