SharePoint Server vs. SharePoint Online Decision Considerations

SharePoint deployment decisions depend on the business case, and there are lots of factors to weigh.

The business objective should take center stage when deciding between server and hosted SharePoint deployment options, according to a Gartner Catalyst presentation this week.

That main point was highlighted by Kyle Davis, a research director for technical professionals at Gartner Inc. He spoke at the San Diego event on Wednesday in a session titled, "How to Choose Between SharePoint Server, SharePoint Online and SharePoint on IaaS."

Which SharePoint deployment model to use is a complex question for organizations. Gartner publishes decision frameworks, decision factors, and lists of strengths and weaknesses to help.

Davis recommended keeping a focus on the business objective with SharePoint. What that means is that an organization typically wants to have an intranet or an extranet that will get used by business users and that has some business content when deploying SharePoint, he explained.

Decision Frameworks
Gartner includes SharePoint Server in its decision frameworks as an assumption. About 70 percent of Gartner clients have SharePoint Server on premises today. Many organizations are heavily invested in SharePoint Server, Davis explained. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been putting its innovations in SharePoint Online, so that's a consideration, too.

Previously, organizations were just faced with a SharePoint Server upgrade questions. Today it's a more complex situation. Organizations face deployment questions such as "if, when and where," Davis said.

In following Gartner's decision frameworks, organizations likely won't end up with a single decision list. The frameworks typically result in the production of two to three lists, Davis said.

Decision Factors
Gartner has 29 deciding factors to consider in making a SharePoint deployment decision. Davis presented just a few of them.

Compliance and privacy. This decision factor is the No. 1 show stopper when moving SharePoint Server to the cloud, Davis said. If you can get these factors met, then there's still a question about trusting Microsoft as a vendor. Things such as National Security Agency spying and leaked metadata have put fear into organizations, he added. About 25 percent of respondents in a Gartner survey indicated that they weren't planning to move to the cloud, and a third of those respondents said it was because of legal constraints.

Data sovereignty. Data sovereignty is a common concern in moving to the cloud, especially for companies in regions outside the United States, Davis said. There's less control over this factor with SharePoint Online and SharePoint IaaS.

Sites with poor wide area network (WAN) connections. Remote sites sometimes have poor uplinks. In such cases, they usually get their own local SharePoint deployments. Moving these sites to SharePoint Online can be a problem because you have to be online to use the service. Organizations can face getting more trouble tickets if there's a poor user experience accessing SharePoint Online. In contrast to SharePoint Online, organizations get a bit more control with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) SharePoint deployments, such as using Amazon Web Services infrastructure to host SharePoint, Davis said. He noted that Riverbed has WAN optimizers to compress the content going over the wire that could help.

Scalability and capacity management. Davis highlighted the SharePoint search role as a potential scalability concern. He said that SharePoint Online is part of a multitenant environment and that fact could affect search performance. He recommended avoiding SharePoint Online if an organization is experiencing scalability and capacity management issues. This factor isn't a problem so much with premises-based and IaaS-based SharePoint deployments.

Requirements for a recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO). Microsoft doesn't publish RTOs and RPOs for its Office 365 services. That means organizations can't accurately determine downtime with SharePoint Online, according to a slide presented by Davis, although Microsoft does provide a service level agreements.

Customizations. Unfortunately, customized solutions aren't supported on SharePoint Online. Also, if business solutions require a full-trust solution, it isn't supported on SharePoint Online. However, it's possible that a third-party integration solution can provide such support. Organizations can try SharePoint Server and SharePoint IaaS to support customizations.

Strengths and Weaknesses
Premises-based deployments. The strengths of SharePoint Server deployments include having full control and close proximity to other systems of record. In addition, server deployments involve a familiar IT skill set. Weaknesses include SharePoint Server costs for high availability and disaster recovery, extranet complexity, and the requirement to have a dedicated team for support and maintenance.

IaaS deployments. The strengths of SharePoint for IaaS include having full control (same as SharePoint Server product), simplified solutions for extranets (can use UIs), and it works great for seasonal solutions and dev test. Weaknesses include SharePoint IaaS costs for high availability and disaster recovery, corporate network connectivity costs (public Internet connections may not be adequate and may require something like a Microsoft ExpressRoute connection), and the need to add new cloud skills to the premises team.

SharePoint Online. The strengths of SharePoint Online include reduced support and maintenance requirements, great external sharing, and Microsoft's innovation (such as Delve, Sway, and Office Graph) are happening in the cloud first. The weaknesses of SharePoint Online include a lack of feature parity with SharePoint Server, a lack of support for many existing solutions and a reliance on Microsoft's service level agreements.

Gartner recommends that organizations evaluate their business solutions independently. SharePoint deployment decisions should be approached with a business-solutions mindset.

Organizations should determine early on the compliance restrictions for a business solution. Determine if they can be met with a particular SharePoint solution.

Organizations should look at the customization solutions they have today. They should determine if those customization solutions are portable to the cloud and, if not, is the organization willing to rewrite them (Gartner advises against doing that).

Lastly, Gartner recommends only moving the regional sites to SharePoint Online that have reliable and fast Internet connections. In that respect, during the Q&A portion, Davis noted that latency can be a problem with these regional sites. He added that Metalogix has some solutions that replicate content between libraries that has worked well for some organizations.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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