EPC Group.net Founder and CEO Errin O'Connor shares tips for a smooth cloud experience with SharePoint.
Q In what cases are users better off doing SharePoint on-premises versus the cloud?
A For organizations that require the ability to have total or near-total control over their SharePoint environment, an on-premises SharePoint environment is definitely the way they should go. I've been involved in more than 120 SharePoint 2010 implementations, and 85 percent of them have been on-premises in the organization's private cloud due to their requirements. Larger organizations -- Fortune 500 or 1000, or really even environments of approximately 500 users or more -- tend to go toward the on-site, on-premises private cloud to ensure they're able to connect to other external data sources, easily federate with their Active Directory security configurations and implement any custom solutions or configurations they require.
The SharePoint off-premises, hosted cloud environments work extremely well for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that are looking for a collaboration solution that involves little or no support from the organization's IT department and has a very straightforward set of requirements. The hosted off-premises cloud usually involves a set of quotas and a set catalog of Web Parts from which the organization can choose to keep governance requirements to a minimum.
The reason that larger organizations go toward their own private, on-premises environments is that it allows the IT department to quickly react and more easily meet the needs of their customers -- the users within the organization. There should still be a strict set of governance requirements, such as a SharePoint steering committee or a SharePoint code-review board, and power user leaders to ensure that governance is enforced. But there are other items -- such as Personal Health Information (PHI), Personal Identifiable Information (PII), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) information, tax data and other sensitive or proprietary data -- that organizations are just not comfortable storing outside of their environments.
Q SharePoint is all about collaboration, document sharing and social media, so is it better positioned for the cloud than other apps?
A The methodology approach to implementing SharePoint that will help answer this question is to implement SharePoint in a hybrid approach. Planning for the SharePoint information and system architecture as well as document sharing -- or document management -- and social media will allow this to be hosted on-premises or in the cloud.
Microsoft's recent [agreement to] purchase Yammer really throws a wrench in this area, as NewsGator has been the add-on of choice for those organizations that wanted to increase SharePoint My Site capabilities. Some organizations also go for a customized My Site platform in a build-versus-buy scenario, but Yammer is currently a cloud-based application. I have a feeling that in a year or two Yammer will be integrated within the next wave of SharePoint for either on-premises or for the cloud.
Yammer's functionality can easily be taken and integrated into the next SharePoint wave -- in about two years -- regardless of whether it's on-site or in the cloud. Yammer, I believe, was an attractive buy for Microsoft because it allows Yammer's customers -- who were possibly skeptical about the social and professional networking capabilities of SharePoint -- to gain added confidence. NewsGator customers were always all SharePoint all the way because the platform was built only for SharePoint. Combine an added customer base and supercharged SharePoint social networking features with the already industry-leading enterprise content management document management, intranet and mobile capabilities -- along with integration with Office, the amazing reporting capabilities of Microsoft PerformancePoint and features coming out in SQL Server 2012 as well as SharePoint 13 -- and you have a platform that can't be easily matched by Documentum, OpenText, Oracle or other companies' solutions.
Q What are the economics of SharePoint in the cloud?
A For the organizations -- those SMB clients -- who can stick with a more out-of-the-box implementation of SharePoint and want something configured, provisioned and stood up quickly, the economics of SharePoint in the cloud are extremely attractive. The cloud offers software and hardware costs all rolled into a per-user or monthly fee that can easily be budget-capped -- and that comes with business and functionality capping as well.
That may not be a bad thing for users who want to avoid the need for hardware, avoid managing a virtual machine (VM) environment, avoid worrying about disaster recovery and backup, or avoid accessing external data.
Q Many shops use SharePoint tactically. In fact, SharePoint instances often spring up without IT or corporate knowledge. How does the cloud support this?
A I've seen a large number of SharePoint "test beds" or sandboxes turn into production environments, due to either requirements that need to be quickly met or when the business and IT are not on the same page. This quickly becomes apparent to IT and corporate because users will start requesting sites and sending out links rather than attachments in e-mail, or make SharePoint a key topic in watercooler conversations, or request customizations.
The cloud can be a way for small departments or specific organizations within a larger organization -- or even project teams -- to quickly stand up a SharePoint environment in the cloud. Rather than going through a procurement process, it's possible for users to engage a SharePoint cloud provider and have a site up and running in about 72 hours.
Q How does the cloud bring discipline to this?
A The SharePoint off-premises cloud can ensure the site is configured properly, as the hosting company has a site-provisioning process that's very repeatable. A key item to take into consideration here is to ensure the cloud hosting provider allows for or has a process of migrating the hosted off-premises cloud into a possible future on-premises environment.
Rather than users setting up a quick internal sandbox that could go against company policy, software licensing or organizational governance, or give users the full features and functionality of SharePoint, a hosted, limited-functionality cloud could bring some discipline to this requirement.
Q Does the cloud allow IT to be more strategic when it comes to building SharePoint apps?
A I think the cloud actually stifles IT's building of SharePoint applications because hosted, off-premises cloud environments don't allow for minor or even major customizations organizations may require. The "14 hive" being completely blocked is not a bad thing, but being able to easily and quickly deploy features into SharePoint is key. In my personal experience, this is slowed, and can mean having another CIO or security department tell your company what you can and can't do. That's not always something an organization can deal with due to many different circumstances.
What if you have another search solution or want to implement FAST Search into your organization? Or design a custom .NET workflow using Windows Workflow Foundation, then package it up and deploy it? You'd need to first send it over to the cloud provider, determine their approval process, and wait for a determination on whether the solution could be deployed.
Q Can the cloud give IT the kind of control over SharePoint apps that IT may be used to?
A The cloud can give control over SharePoint applications in a similar way as on-premises, but it can also give a way for IT to have an additional control over the SharePoint Web Part or Solutions catalog. This is because the change-management process is more stringent when a third-party outside provider also must approve the application. It's critical to implement a change-management process in both on-site and hosted environments in not only the content and security, but in custom applications.
Q What should IT look for in a SharePoint hoster?
A There are a wide variety of hosting providers and any one that's selected really needs to match up with your organization's 24- to 36-month roadmap for how you envision SharePoint to evolve in the hybrid approach over time.
Q What else should IT consider?
A It's absolutely key to whiteboard and pull together all of your organization's requirements and match them to your IT roadmap. Take into consideration the current versions of not only SharePoint and SQL Server but elements like Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer, the next release of SharePoint coming up around the corner, the amazing increase in VM software platforms, and how it's possible to throttle performance to specific servers to meet your needs.
Mobile devices should be a key part of that strategy. Also take into account how your users, customers and external partners will require the ability to easily access data.