The cloud is all the rage these days in IT, and for good reason: it brings access to powerful technology at scale for very little money. The conversation naturally turns in many organizations to what workloads can be shifted to the cloud, and SharePoint comes up often. In fact, Office 365 already offers SharePoint in the cloud as its most basic: for a few dollars per month per user, you have SharePoint.

However, if using a multitenant architecture like SharePoint Online and Office 365 is not for you, then there are some alternative ways to get collaboration goodness in the cloud. Read on for more.

Running Microsoft SharePoint in the Amazon Web Services cloud

The Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, from Amazon Web Services is essentially an infrastructure as a service offering that lets you spin up virtual machines of various configurations, network them and make them publicly addressable, and then manage them all from a central console while you pay usage charges that run from pennies to a couple of dollars per hour. You are generally also assessed a charge on your use of storage, for the virtual hard drives, backups, and other data you leave up on the Amazon system. Depending on your solution, you may also be charged for egress bandwidth as well, but most of the plans available include generous allowances for bandwidth so your charges would be minimal for all but the largest deployments on EC2.

Running Microsoft SharePoint in the EC2 cloud allows you to pay for your usage as you go, like all cloud models. What is the big downside to this model? EC2 does not cover your Microsoft SharePoint licenses. If you have a volume licensing agreement under which you acquired your SharePoint licenses, and have added the Software Assurance program to those licenses, you can use the “license mobility” feature to transfer those licenses to virtual machines running in the Amazon EC2 cloud at no additional cost, but at the cost of not running those same licenses in your on premises network.

Running Microsoft SharePoint in the Windows Azure cloud

Windows Azure is Microsoft’s answer to Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud. It offers an array of services from web hosting to virtual machines to full blown network interconnectivity between your datacenter and a Windows Azure datacenter of choice, making it a true extension of your own network. You might suspect that Microsoft would have a pretty good story for running its flagship collaboration platform on its flagship cloud platform, and as of earlier this year, you would be right. SharePoint is a first class citizen on Windows Azure.

Microsoft has even made available pre-built virtual machine templates that contain an already set up version of SharePoint 2013 that make it super simple to deploy a farm of SharePoint virtual machines in the Azure cloud. Simply click through a couple of wizards, agree to pay, and then after several minutes a farm of virtual machines (the number varies based on your selections of small, medium, or large) is ready to go for you to begin working with. You can also simply spin up Windows Server virtual machines and install your own copy of SharePoint if you would rather customize the deployment and use certain options that are not preconfigured in the Microsoft virtual machine library templates in the Azure cloud.

Since you are paying for the Windows Server license while running the virtual machine, the only incremental cost to runningSharePoint in the cloud is the SharePoint license itself. Again, you can use license mobility if you have software assurance via a volume licensing program like Open License, Open Value, or Enterprise Agreement, and to get started you get a four to six month trial without needing to pay any license fees whatsoever.

In particular, Windows Azure is a good way to get a virtual SharePoint implementation set up for development and testing purposes at an extremely low cost and without using your existing hardware investment.

Running Microsoft SharePoint in other clouds

There are, of course, other providers who serve customers with infrastructure as a service needs like Rackspace, Peak 10, and others. However, be wary of these options. Do your research into these providers. What sort of financial war chest do they have to continue making investments into their cloud infrastructure? How is their pricing when compared to the giants (Amazon and Microsoft in this space)? What support options are there? How easy and quick is it to provision new services or to spin down unused services so that you are not charged for them? What licensing cost or support is built into these providers’ offerings?

Or consider the fact that you may want a cloud collaboration service, but are you sure it has to be SharePoint in the cloud? Other cloud services like Huddle bring the benefits of always on collaboration with no IT management responsibility without the complexity of SharePoint.

See how Huddle works in this quick 2-minute demo. It’s free.

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