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Q&A with Richard Harbridge: SharePoint Servers to the Cloud

There are many options now for running SharePoint in the cloud, but the question is: Should you make the move? And if the answer is yes, then which alternative cloud offering should you choose? Office 365, Windows Azure or one of many third-party cloud providers?

Richard Harbridge, a senior SharePoint architect and upcoming sessions speaker at this year's Live! 360 event, will address the pitfalls of moving SharePoint to the cloud.

Q: SharePoint seems ideal for the cloud because many installs are tactical, must come up fast and may not stay up long. Also, some of these apps are used by small numbers of people, so they don't justify a lot of fixed IT expense. Is this also your analysis?
The challenge is around evaluating and planning for the cost versus the benefit of the solution or app. From a pure development perspective, it's possible to deploy an application or workload to Windows Azure for a short period of time, and then to remove it so that you're only paying for it when you're using it. This model really does enable less effort and concern about evaluating the initial or expected benefit of an application or solution, and promotes a more agile response.

For SharePoint, though, this model doesn't quite follow the same path. SharePoint is more of an always-on service. The value it provides is something that people must rely upon and which requires -- both at a technical level and a practical level -- active access. In other words, I believe there's tremendous cloud value for certain workloads, pilots and for organizations evaluating how best to invest and use SharePoint. From a solution or application side I think it's entirely possible for organizations to realize benefit from separating workloads, usage and associated costs to the cloud at times. But, typically, unless there are other reasons for the cost benefit, these are pilot or initial phases to longer-term dedicated solutions. An exception to this would be when the organization has a cloud-first or all-in strategy and is using the cloud for their primary SharePoint implementation.

Q: If I'm looking at SharePoint in the cloud, when does Office 365 make sense versus a dedicated service?
It's a numbers game and it's actually a pretty easy game. If you have a user count that wouldn't utilize the dedicated environment in full, then the cost for Office 365 will be much better. This makes sense, as environments that have spare capacity still require you to pay for that spare capacity, but this isn't true for most shared and multi-tenant models. Some workloads just aren't as viable or available in Office 365 as they are in a dedicated model. As an example, if you want Project Server, business intelligence or specific types of integration, then Office 365 might not be a viable candidate for evaluation.

Q: Because SharePoint is so document-intensive, isn't performance a concern?
Often there's a sacrifice of control, so there are both pros and cons. A pro could be that administrators can't change the default file size values from 50MB as the file size limitation, which results in less potential large-file performance challenges. The con here is that the cloud solution can't support those large-file scenarios. If you're in a dedicated farm scenario where you have complete control, then performance is not a greater concern than it would be on-premises. If you're in a shared environment, there are control concerns and potential limitations that potentially ensure better performance.

Q: How can I ensure performance will be satisfactory?
The best way is to verify it yourself. A pilot certainly would be the best method, or at a minimum run tests and measure performance over time. The last point of measuring it over time is critical.

Q: What questions should I ask a potential SharePoint provider?
It's critical to know how they treat SharePoint customizations; how they deal with SharePoint upgrades; what level of farm, Web application, services or site collection control you have; and other SharePoint-specific questions. Then there are broader questions to ask about reliability, support, performance, flexibility, storage, security, identity and access, costs and even offline access. To make it easier I've posted an online resource of 60-plus common SharePoint questions, as well as mentioned a few tools that can help verify the answers you receive.

If heading out to Orlando for this year's Live! 360 event in December, make sure to catch Richard's workshop, " SharePoint in the Cloud: Evaluating the Impact, Pros and Cons."

Posted by Doug Barney on 10/31/2012 at 1:19 PM


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