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.  


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:

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.


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!!