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TechnologySep 25, 2013

Upgrading to SharePoint 2013: Should You Move to SharePoint Online or Stay On-Premise

Will Stokes

In the past year Microsoft released SharePoint 2013 and has updated SharePoint Online / Office 365 to run this version.  This upgrade has brought dozens of new features to SharePoint Online and truly makes running SharePoint in the cloud a viable option.

This means you now have to decide whether you run SharePoint in the traditional “On-Premise” mode where you build a SharePoint farm using your own infrastructure and team members on your network, or move your SharePoint implementation to the cloud.  The best option available today for hosting SharePoint in the cloud is SharePoint Online / Office 365 provided by Microsoft.

A majority of companies using SharePoint only utilize out-of-the-box functionality on underpowered, overworked hardware and do not have any custom solutions deployed.  This means moving to SharePoint Online / Office 365 should be a simple decision.  For those companies that have very large data stores and have developed custom solutions and features moving to the cloud is a more difficult decision.

This blog post will walk through some of the pros and cons associated with moving to SharePoint Online.

SharePoint Online Pros

  • Updated and patched automatically: Upgrading and patching your on-premise SharePoint farm is a complex process that requires planning, testing, and potential downtime.  When you move to SharePoint Online you no longer have to worry about this.  Microsoft manages the entire process and ensures it’s hassle-free.  Also, Microsoft is rolling out new features and functionality to SharePoint Online every 90 days.  This means you always have the latest and greatest features.

  • Invite external users for free without counting against your license seats: If you share data with external third parties (and who doesn’t?), SharePoint Online allows you to invite people outside your company to collaborate on your SharePoint site.  With just a few clicks you can invite anyone to view or edit information on a specific site or document.  Even better, these external users do not count against your license seats.  There are limitations but they are minor.  If you’d like more information read this great blog post from Joshua Grear.

  • No infrastructure costs and very high uptime: Running a SharePoint farm is a labor and infrastructure intensive process.  There are a lot of moving parts that can cause a lot of headaches.  Setting up, securing and maintaining the entire system requires very knowledgeable staff with a wide range of skills.  When you move to the cloud on SharePoint Online / Office 365 you remove most of these requirements.  The system is set up with speed and security in mind and can easily grow with your company.  There is a very high guarantee of uptime that very few in-house IT departments can match.  You can integrate your existing Active Directory implementation to utilize single sign-on and prevent you from having to keep multiple usernames and passwords.

SharePoint Online Cons

  • No direct “upgrade” from on-premise, must use third party tools to upgrade: If you have a very large on-premise SharePoint farm (multiple terabytes) then upgrading or migrating from SharePoint 2007 or 2010 to SharePoint Online will be a challenge.  To upgrade your on-premise SharePoint 2010 farm to SharePoint 2013 you have to utilize the database attach method.  Unfortunately this option if not available in SharePoint Online as you do not have access to the underlying SQL Servers.  This means that you will need to utilize a third party upgrade utility.  There are many of these available for a wide range of prices.  Most have very good options to re-architect your data and keep security settings.  All of this means that moving your data to SharePoint Online can be a time consuming task requiring a detailed change management plan.

  • Lose direct control of your data: You can’t read the news today without reading about the various spy scandals.  Some of these issues have been around Microsoft, Google, and others having to hand over data to the government with a gag order attached.  That means these companies have had to hand over data to the government and can’t tell the customer.  Until this debacle gets cleared up any cloud service you host your data on could mean losing control of your data.  For many companies this alone will be a deal breaker for online services.  The risk associated with data leakage is too great to hand over system management to any third party company.

  • No farm level applications and features: The application development paradigm for SharePoint has changed completely with SharePoint 2013.  There are multiple levels where a feature or app can be deployed but SharePoint Online limits those that are available.  If your company has developed farm level customizations then you will have to re-architect those to fit the new app model.  This could mean hundreds of hours of development for some companies. For more information about the new SharePoint development model read this blog post by Mike Breske.

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SharePoint On-Premise Pros

  • You have direct control of your data: When you host your own SharePoint farm you have complete control over your data.  This means you can ensure no third parties are accessing your data.

  • Custom farm level features and applications: You have complete freedom to create SharePoint applications and features that interact with SharePoint at any level.  There are no limitations on what you can develop and deploy.

  • You can tailor your hardware infrastructure specifically to your needs: SharePoint has a wide range of service applications, some of which are very hardware intensive.  When you host your own SharePoint farm you can architect your infrastructure to meet your exact needs.

SharePoint On-Premise Cons

  • Upgrades and patching: As stated above, SharePoint upgrades and patches are labor intensive and require testing and planning.  To remain secure and up-to-date you will need to have a detailed testing and outage plan.

  • High infrastructure and labor costs: SharePoint relies on a wide range of systems to function.  These systems are expensive to purchase and even more expensive to staff effectively.  Each piece of a SharePoint farm requires very specific skills and tools.  If you set any of these pieces up incorrectly or take shortcuts you will be left with an insecure inefficient system that leaves data vulnerable and at risk of complete loss.

So where does all of this leave us?  Should you move to SharePoint Online or stay On-Premise?  Unfortunately that’s an answer I can’t give in a blog post.  There are a lot of great reasons to move to the cloud and just as many to stay on-premise.  The good news is we can help you answer these questions.  If you are struggling with your SharePoint implementation and need assistance please contact us.  We have SharePoint experts who have worked with companies of all sizes and would love to help you get your SharePoint implementation where it needs to be.  If you have questions, please use the comment section below or send us a tweet to @CrederaMSFT.