SharePoint, The Cloud, and You

Earlier in the week I wrote an article for SPTechWeb for the good folks at SDTimes called “Demystifying SharePoint in the Cloud” — you can read the original here: http://www.sptechweb.com/Demystifying_SharePoint_in_the_cloud/By_By_John_Ross/About_cloud/39481

I thought I’d repost over here on my blog with a short intro.  Just to clarify, yes I work for Rackspace.  Yes we have a ton of cloud products but this isn’t a marketing post! One thing I’ve found in my discussions throughout the SharePoint community is that cloud means different things to different people. In many cases, people think cloud refers to only one type of thing. But in reality there’s different flavors of cloud.  There’s tons of benefit to the cloud and all flavors — but each flavor of cloud has different pros and cons.  You can even mix and match types of cloud into hybrid scenarios to do even more great things.

Take a look, I hope this serves as a good conversation starter. Feel free to reach out on twitter (@johnrossjr) or leave comments below if there’s other SharePoint and cloud topics you’d be interested to hear more about.

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One of the more common discussions that I keep hearing over and over is around SharePoint in the cloud. This is a great topic but there seems to still be a lot of confusion and misconceptions about what it means for SharePoint to be in the cloud. In this blog post I’m going to try to clarify some of these more common issues.

Let’s take a step back, a number of very large companies (including Microsoft) have used the term “Cloud” and “Cloud Computing” frequently these days. But what does it mean? Here’s a basic definition I found on Wikipedia that sums it up succinctly:

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).

To simplify that even more, by this definition cloud computing would include anything where your hardware and software is not hosted in your own data center and instead made available by a service provider. This definition is a bit more broad than most of the ones that I’ve heard from organizations that are considering moving SharePoint to the cloud.

There are actually a few different types of clouds. As companies are looking to move to the cloud it is important to be aware of the various options to make sure that they are choosing the option that is right for them:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): A provider manages the hardware. Very similar options and flexibility to hosting SharePoint on-premises but the provider takes over the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the hardware. Remote access and ability to develop and create custom solutions against this type of farm are typically the same as on-premises. Examples of IaaS would include Rackspace, Peer1, and other managed hosting providers.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): In this case, all an organization needs to do is sign up and they are provided access to the application. All hardware and software is managed by the provider. From a SharePoint perspective SaaS would include Microsoft’s O365 and any other vendors who’d provide SharePoint in a Multi-Tenant configuration. This option tends to be less expensive, but also has less flexibility for customizations.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Platform refers to the cloud platform itself. There are several options for this including Rackspace’s OpenStack, Amazon’s AWS, and Microsoft’s Azure. With this option an organization would pay for the amount of the cloud platform they’d consume. For example instead of installing Windows, SQL, and SharePoint on physical servers, it’d be installed on virtualized infrastructure running in the cloud. Typically, companies would still manage their own environment and the provider would just provide and manage the cloud platform itself.

Which option is the right fit for your organization? The answer is the dreaded “It depends.” There’s significant value in leveraging the cloud, but it important to remember that cloud comes in a number of different flavors and in some cases combinations of cloud options make the most sense. These are referred to as Hybrid Cloud.

If someone were to ask me “Should we be looking to move our SharePoint to the cloud?” my answer would be a very enthusiastic “Yes!” While I think all organizations should be exploring how moving their SharePoint to the cloud, I also recognize that the cloud isn’t going to be a great fit for everyone. Certain organizations have security or regulatory constraints that make going to the cloud impossible.

Bottom Line

All organizations should be evaluating the cloud as a way to get more value from SharePoint. But SharePoint in the cloud comes in several different flavors, each with its own pros and cons as well as costs.  It is important to weigh all of the various cloud options and consider the security, flexibility, total cost, and functionality you get from each option. My advice is to take your time and do your homework. Happy SharePointing!!

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