SharePoint On-Premises Or In The Cloud? Why not both?

Last summer I wrote an article discussing SharePoint in the cloud and what it actually means.  If you wanted to check it out you can find it here:  The article was a response to the common question I hear all the time around what it means to put “SharePoint in the cloud.”  The basic summary is that cloud comes in different flavors and each one presents different pros and cons.  If you’re still exploring the decision of going to the cloud that article is a good starting point.  But there’s another side to the discussion, you’ll often hear the idea of SharePoint in the cloud compared to keeping SharePoint on-prem which is short for on-premises.  What exactly does on-prem mean these days?  You might be surprised to learn that it doesn’t always refer to a location – in other words you can have “on-prem” SharePoint that lives “off-prem” which includes the cloud. cake

What is SharePoint on-prem?

For the longest time when we all thought of SharePoint we assumed it’d be installed in a data center – whether that was your own or a hosting provider.  As SharePoint evolved, Microsoft’s SharePoint Online (SPO) in Office 365 has grown in popularity.  This cloud-based (SaaS) version of SharePoint is managed by Microsoft and has some features that are different from the version that gets installed on a server.  To make a distinction between the two variants of SharePoint, the traditional version is commonly referred to as “on-prem.”  Basically anything that isn’t the SharePoint Online version of the software is referred to as “on-prem.”

The topic can get very confusing because as businesses evaluate SharePoint in the cloud they’re often trying to make a decision between putting SharePoint on-prem (in their local data center) or moving to the cloud.  This is precisely the topic of my previous article.  The reality is that if your company makes the decision to move SharePoint to another data center you still might need SharePoint on-prem.

If that last sentence is confusing, stick with me.  I’m about to explain.

How can my SharePoint be both in the cloud and on-prem?

Unless you’re using SharePoint Online in Office 365, then you’re using the “on-prem” version of SharePoint.  I’m going to avoid the temptation to borrow from Jeff Foxworthy to go on a “you might be on-prem” discussion.  Instead here’s a list of a few common scenarios that would utilize the on-prem version of SharePoint.  Pay close attention, you’ll notice there’s plenty of cloud options here:

  • SharePoint is installed on servers in your data center.
  • SharePoint is installed on servers as at a hosting provider.
  • SharePoint is installed on virtual servers in a cloud such as Amazon.  Even SharePoint installed in Microsoft’s Azure uses the on-prem build! 

As you can see, it is absolutely possible to have SharePoint in the cloud and use the “on-prem” version of the product.

 Let’s try to simplify

When you’re evaluating the decision of whether to move to move the cloud there’s a number of different decisions you need to make and the purpose of this article isn’t to discuss all of them.  But at a high level there’s two big questions:

  • Do you want someone else to host your SharePoint environment?  (Where should your SharePoint environment physically live?)
  • If the answer to the previous question is that you would like someone else to host and your SharePoint environment (ie. You chose to move to the cloud) will you use SharePoint Online or a different option?

The moral of the story is that you’re using the on-prem version of SharePoint in all cases, even cloud scenarios unless you’re using SharePoint Online.

Why does this even matter?

This is an important distinction because as we get closer to Microsoft’s SharePoint Conference 2014 you’ll begin to hear about things like the “roadmap for on-prem” or other topics that make reference to “on-prem.”  The terminology is very confusing and it is possible that depending on the context of the conversation or presentation the meaning could be different.

Bottom Line

Moving SharePoint to the cloud is something that I think every customer should be investigating.  The terminology can be very confusing, the terms “cloud” and “on-prem” get thrown around a lot and can make you dizzy if you’re not careful.  But at the end of the day the decision comes down to whether you want to host SharePoint locally or with another provider.  Once you figure that out, just remember that even if you decide to move SharePoint to the cloud you might still be using the “on-prem” version of SharePoint.  


One Response to SharePoint On-Premises Or In The Cloud? Why not both?

  1. My apologies for what is more or less a rant posted as a comment to your blog, John. Something about what you wrote inspired me to get this out there. 🙂

    You’re spot on John. Cloud and “on-premise” are a poor choice of words (by Microsoft) and they’re terrible for trying to parse out the actual implementation. At the same time they are trying to define both the location of the installation and the underlying technologies.

    As you demonstrate, it’s a very possible option to build an “on-premise” SharePoint farm installed in Microsoft’s Azure “cloud” servers. We used to call this arrangement “co-location” or “managed hosting.” I suppose calling it “SharePoint in a co-location facility” doesn’t have the same marketing ring as “SharePoint in the Cloud.” A modern take of the co-lo line I’ve heard is “on-prem cloud-hosted SharePoint.” Rolls off the tongue with ease though it is clear what you’re getting even if it is confusing.

    Contrast this configuration with the SharePoint Online or other vendor’s multitenancy offerings. It’s a fundamentally different solution for the customer and the users of the solution certainly don’t have the same types of control or responsibility as with SharePoint Server. We can easily consider an “on-premise” farm installed in the data centre of an organization using multitenancy for separate different departments and company divisions. I don’t believe anyone would consider this the cloud even though architecturally it’s the same as SPO.

    And maybe that’s the point. I’m just thinking out loud here… Maybe instead of “on-prem” and cloud we should be calling it “SharePoint Server” and “SharePoint Online,” which indeed are the names of the products 😉

    Maybe a better word still to define the end-customer experience is multitenancy as this is the functional difference between what most customers see between installing SharePoint Server on their own servers (also co-located, managed, and cloud servers) and using a solution like SharePoint Online.

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