Running services in the cloud offers a lot of benefits—someone else takes care of your network, someone else takes care of patching, and services are almost always available. But running SharePoint in the cloud is a bit different. In what ways, you ask? Here are a few:

  • Search is a problem.Since on premises software was all the rage until 2009 or so, and since hosting services and workloads on the Internet was relatively expensive, there is a lot of knowledge and institutional memory locked up inside databases and sites within companies. Search has been the golden ticket, along with decreasing storage costs, to mining that information—when in doubt, users generally hold on to e-mail messages, documents, spreadsheets, and other files in case they will need to refer back to them at a later time; search makes it possible to go through that haystack and find the needle. Users expect their content to be there.But what happens when you migrate SharePoint to the cloud? When new sites and document libraries are generated in a cloud tenant of SharePoint, by default they are not indexed by your on premises portals, and vice versa. Now you have content siloed in two locations, and you have a problem to solve if you do not want users hollering at you. How do document repositories stay in sync? How do users know where to turn in order to execute a search? What happens if users save documents in both locations? How are updated synchronized among both locations so that modifications in the on premises location are not lost when another user changes the document copy in the cloud or vice versa?
  • SharePoint versions before 2013 were not really designed to be run in multitenant – or cloud – environments. I call this the “square peg in round hole” dilemma, because by attempting to run SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010 in a hosted environment away from your corporate network, you are really asking the product to do something for which it was not designed. There are issues surrounding signing into the cloud with your corporate credentials; your users may be asked to sign in more than once, or they may have to use a different set of usernames and passwords for SharePoint cloud sites than they would for on premises SharePoint sites or their own corporate e-mail. Features like workflows that send mails or perform other actions that require lookups in your company’s global address list, or GAL, may not work because the SharePoint cloud instance cannot access your GAL. You may experience performance problems because other companies are hosting SharePoint sites on the same server yours is and previous versions of SharePoint were not really designed for this type of multitenant deployment. Your mileage may very well vary. SharePoint 2013 solves some of these problems, but…
  • Within SharePoint 2013, you lose a lot of functionality between the on premises versions and the Office 365 tenant.Note that for SharePoint 2013 hosted by other providers, these limitations may not be exactly the same given the different products and versions available to hosters as well as how those hosters have configured their shared environments. But you are likely thinking about Office 365 as an alternative platform for SharePoint, and it is important to understand that far less functionality is available from the subscription service than from the on premises version. Business Connectivity Services, or BCS, is very limited in SharePoint Online as compared with the on premises version. Custom applications and scripts you have written to ride on top of SharePoint are likely to not work when moved to SharePoint Online unless you significantly rewrite or otherwise modify them. Integration with other on premises systems like your human resources system or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is really lacking. You also give up control over what gets patched on what schedule. You cede control of testing updates to Microsoft, whose main concern is keeping the SharePoint tenant system running but necessarily is not as concerned over whether your application works with the latest update. You do not get access to all updates (major ones like service packs you would be able to get through on premises channels but not necessarily hotfixes and special updates) before they are deployed which really limits your ability to test for incompatibilities. Giving up functionality and control is part of the bargain—you don’t have to worry about these administrative responsibilities, but then again, you do not even get the ability to control those responsibilities and their effects, either.

The cloud brings a lot of great benefits to IT, but don’t leap blindly into running SharePoint off premises. You may bite off more than you can chew. Have a look how Huddle works in the cloud, check out our interactive demo.

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James Matthews


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