You have decided Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 is the best option for your business’ document and content management platform—great. But now you are left with another decision: host SharePoint in the cloud through Office 365 or host it on premises? In this blog post, we will answer this common question by providing you with nothing but the straight facts so you can make an educated decision for your business.
Let’s face it, every business is different. So why shouldn’t their content and document management system be as well? With SharePoint 2013, almost everything is customizable, starting with the hosting options. We are now given the option to host SharePoint in Office 365 through SharePoint Online, which has its perks and downsides just like anything else.
There are many benefits to using SharePoint Online, but there are also plenty of drawbacks to be aware of as well. Having Microsoft host SharePoint for you can seem like a pro or a con, depending on many factors, including your business’ IT policies. By choosing to use SharePoint Online, your data will be stored in one of Microsoft’s data centers. This means you do not have access to the physical server, nor can you use remote desktop connection (RDC) to connect to it. Microsoft handles all of the server related duties for you, such as, applying patches and updates, disaster recovery, network latencies, etc. This is great for most users, but can be a deal breaker for others and is something to be mindful of.
Additionally, the features included with SharePoint on Office 365 can seem rather limited. First, Microsoft handles the installation of SharePoint so you don’t have to worry about service accounts and databases. As for Central Administration, many options have been eliminated. For instance, additional web applications are not available, as well as analytics, timer jobs, and many other configurations. With SharePoint 2013, a powerful feature called eDiscovery facilitates the process of discovering content throughout the farm. This feature, along with many others, is not available in the online version of SharePoint.
As for development, this is where things can start to get frustrating. Remember those good ol’ farm solutions? Well, there’s no need for them in the cloud; using Office 365 prevents users from installing farm solutions. There are still plenty of other ways to develop custom solutions for SharePoint, including the new app model and an improved client side object model. Most functionality can be fulfilled using these frameworks; however, if your business has already invested in SharePoint and has many farm solutions on the current environment, there is no easy way to upgrade them to apps.
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The major disadvantage any SharePoint power user will notice with SharePoint Online is not having access to the SharePoint Management Shell. This powerful tool can accomplish almost any task relating to your SharePoint farm; unfortunately, this program cannot be used without access to the servers. The same goes for managing any files in the file system or the “hive.” This may seem like a major drawback, but again there are workarounds for most actions. Furthermore, the necessity of having access to these types of things is a good indicator that you need to customize or heavily tailor your SharePoint implementation. Generally, these things are better done on-premises than in SharePoint Online.
So when does SharePoint on Office 365 make sense?
It is very apparent that there are plenty of scenarios where SharePoint on Office 365 will not work. But this should not discourage you from wanting to use it, as there are plenty of situations where it is the best option. For instance, small businesses that need an easily manageable document collaboration environment. Document management has always been core to SharePoint, and those features work great in the cloud. It’s a snap to set up, requires very little maintenance, and won’t break the bank. Managing permissions is easy, and working with documents is fun and flexible. If you plan on only using the basic out-of-the-box features of SharePoint, using Office 365 is the right thing for you.
Additionally, Office 365 facilitates the use of SharePoint as a public site. Microsoft has included some really great features for public sites with the release of Office 365, including, Design Manager. Design Manager is a powerful tool for non-web designers to build their own site by creating and managing themes. Office 365 also offers a few great features to improve your search engine optimization through built-in management of site maps and canonical URL filtering. With the Publishing feature of SharePoint, changing content on your site is a snap and gives you the power to make that content visible to external users with the click of a button. The primary caveat here is that if you are planning on using SharePoint Online to host a very high-volume, high-transaction, or highly-functional site (e.g., eCommerce) this may not be the best platform for you. It would be best to have someone experienced think through what you are trying to accomplish and help determine your best option there.
In a nutshell, SharePoint on Office 365 is a fantastic offering from Microsoft, if used correctly. If you are a large corporation, you will want to think carefully about what elements of SharePoint Online make sense for your business and what elements you would be better served by hosting internally. SharePoint Online is great for smaller businesses wanting the power of SharePoint without the hassle and expense of hosting it internally.