With a product which such a commercial profile as Microsoft SharePoint, there is a lot of information out there—some of it is even true! I would like to do my part to help clear up some persistent myths about SharePoint.

Myth #1: Microsoft SharePoint is only for collaboration and sharing

This is a myth that has stuck around, despite the fact it was really only true for the first couple of versions of the product. Old habits die hard, I suppose. Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2001 and Microsoft SharePoint 2003 were exactly what the name of the product says on the tin—a place on the network where files and projects could be shared and teams could come together to collaborate on tasks. It took out trading long threads of e-mails with files attached, removed worries about multiple versions of a document floating around in various peoples’ inboxes, and in general, made collaborative work more organized. But Microsoft SharePoint 2007 introduced a lot of support for building business applications on top of SharePoint, including a rich set of runtimes and APIs and support for hosting complex dynamic web pages within a site collection. These capabilities were later refined in the SharePoint 2010 release. Microsoft SharePoint 2013 even introduces an App Store where both internal and third-party developers at a company looking to release for-profit applications can write code to publish to SharePoint sites that will run right there on the site itself—the very definition of a platform. Microsoft SharePoint has evolved into a place where business applications can run, be built, and be customized. To relegate the product to just a document sharing solution is to vastly underestimate it.

Myth #2: Microsoft SharePoint is robust enough that I can run everything on it – internal applications, my public website, extranet portals, whatever

While it would certainly be nice to have the software equivalent of a Swiss army knife, let us not let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction. It is true that Microsoft has added the ability for public websites to be hosted on SharePoint 2010 and 2013. It is true that Microsoft SharePoint can act as a serviceable content management system, and this is attractive to a lot of businesses, because they can use the tools they already know (Office and SharePoint document libraries) to create and store the content. They can then build workflow approval systems with multiple approvers and expiration dates to ensure content is always kept fresh and accurate. These are critical features for many content management systems. But Microsoft SharePoint is an awfully complex product to deploy just for a front facing website, especially a website that does not hook into other back-end systems and integrate with them. If you are considering hosting the website on SharePoint in the cloud, you are left with implementing and managing a hybrid SharePoint deployment, which is no easy feat. Microsoft SharePoint is great for internal use, but there are far better solutions for hosting public websites.

Myth #3: The cloud is ready for Microsoft SharePoint, or Microsoft SharePoint is ready for the cloud

The simple truth of the matter is, Microsoft SharePoint is in the process of maturing as a cloud-ready solution, but at this point in time, it is not there yet.  There are too many issues to solve. For instance, consider the following:

  • How do you manage identities? If you expect your users to use Microsoft SharePoint deployed in the cloud, you will have to find a way to make their credentials work and synchronize between security boundaries. Identity management and federation are two of the most complex administrative scenarios IT pros face today, so this too is no easy feat.
  • The features and functionality supported when you host Microsoft SharePoint in the cloud are more limited than when you run SharePoint in an on-premises deployment. For instance, it is nearly impossible to connect SharePoint to other enterprise systems when you employ a hosted SharePoint scenario. Microsoft’s own SharePoint Online service, part of their overall Office 365 offering, has limited support for some naming scenarios, workflows, and application programming. Microsoft SharePoint behaves differently in the cloud than it does elsewhere, unlike an application like Exchange, which is essentially identical no matter where it’s deployed.

And that’s just a sample. There are other niggles to solve, and depending on your usage profile, you may uncover many others—even undocumented ones. The bottom line—Microsoft SharePoint’s getting there, but I wouldn’t call it ready for the cloud.

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