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Q&A: The Case for Running SharePoint Server in Azure IaaS

One of the most important new products from Microsoft this year was the release of SharePoint Server 2016. In addition to coming closer into sync with Office 365, it's the best-suited version of SharePoint to run as an instance in an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud. Dan Usher, lead associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, believes Microsoft Azure is the most logical IaaS for SharePoint, though he said customers can certainly run it in cloud infrastructure environment that meets their needs and budgets.

Usher, who has helped his clients deploy SharePoint Server in Microsoft Azure, will be joined by Scott Hoag, an Office 365 solutions architect at Crowley Maritime at next week's SharePoint Live! Conference in Orlando, where he'll demonstrate how to deploy SharePoint in Azure. Both presenters last month spoke with my colleague Lafe Low, but unbeknownst to him, I also recently met up with Usher where we discussed specifically why he recommends running SharePoint in Azure either entirely or in a hybrid architecture.

Are you seeing customers looking to provision or move SharePoint Server farms into Azure?
It goes back to what your use case is. If you've got a mission-critical system and you don't have a datacenter already, the question is, why not? Cloud services, at least from a procurement perspective, will be a lot easier because you don't have to find space in a co-lo [collocation facility] and pay for electricity.

Is there a case to use SharePoint in Azure these days rather than using SharePoint Online in Office 365?
I'd say there is. A lot of organizations still want to be able to deploy applications onto the server and interact directly with the server.

And of course, the newest release, SharePoint 2016, lends itself to do that more than any previous version.
Tremendously. You have things like the cloud search service application to act as that conduit to let Office 365 go in and actually do your crawl across the enterprise and work through your index effectively. That helps out tremendously to find that information. But if you have that specific thing that needs to sit in SharePoint server and don't want in Office 365, for whatever reason -- whether you're afraid or have security compliance requirements or if you've got some specific application code you need to put directly on the server, that's one of the main core reasons to stay on-premises.

If they're going to take that on-premises version, does it make sense to put in Azure versus AWS, or some other third-party cloud provider?
If they don't want to do it in their own datacenter, or if they want to have it out there in a more available, and in some cases more secure infrastructure and need multiple 9s of availability -- which can be pretty difficult as an IT pro -- I don't think there's a reason not to use Azure. I know for some systems, depending on how they want to architect it out, they might run into some limitations where they go. Some can't deploy something that requires them to join it to Azure Active Directory and, while even the Azure team has made it possible to put out Azure AD domain services so you can connect servers into Azure Active Directory, you're still kind of hitting some areas, where if you have things that need to be integrated into your home network, using Azure still works pretty well.

Where do you hit those limitations?
A capability that was put out in preview awhile back, Azure Active Directory Domain Services, doesn't let you extend the schema. If there's something where you have a customization back in your own Active Directory that extends schema, you might run into a limitation there.

Does that impact SharePoint itself?
I believe there is only one spot that actually touches this sort of schema for a connection point to just identity itself.

So it's not a showstopper?
No, not by any means.

What about the cost of running your SharePoint Server farms in the public cloud versus your own datacenter? Are you going to save money? Will it cost more but perhaps have other benefits?
I hate saying the depends line, but the problem you run into is everyone says cloud is going to be cheaper for you. And say if you're running 24x7x365, you may actually be better off looking at software as a service [like Office 365] instead of going with infrastructure as a service. Because you're paying for a usage license instead of compute, storage, network and everything.

How many clients that you're working with are looking at or running, SharePoint in Azure?
It's mixed. Some are still staying on-premises; some are taking advantage of Azure just because they don't want to have to run something internally. It's a mixed crowd. I'd say one of the more interesting things is the folks that are looking at keeping things on-premises but also setting up hybrid. And now that they're seeing things like cloud service applications, they're basically buying in and saying let's move those workloads that aren't critical up in Office 365 because it just makes more sense because then you don't have as much to back up and keep operational. And then we can make it more accessible. One of the cooler things that pushes that story even further forward is OneDrive for Business with the commitments they have made around the synchronization engine supportability.

How would you characterize the improvements to synchronization?
It's working better and better.

Given the latest developments, what will you be talking about during your SharePoint Live! session?
We will be running demos about how to set SharePoint up in Azure, and how to configure it. A lot of folks will step in and say, 'oh, I see this template that's already here for me -- I'll just use that.' You can definitely go down that path, and Bill Baer [senior technical product manager and Microsoft Certified Master for SharePoint] and that team has put a lot of effort into having an environment that you can automatically spin up. But those are the use cases where you kind of step in and say, 'hey it's great but I'd still like to be able to go in and customize this or customize the way SharePoint interacts with those other components.' So we're going to be walking though some of the ARM [Azure Resource Manager] templates -- how to use them to build out a SharePoint environment. If you don't want to use that, if you just want to use the auto SP installer tool to build out your installation for you, I'll be showing off some of that as well, and showing some of the more complex use cases you might have with getting things connected back to your own network.

Overall how much interest are you seeing in this?
There's a lot of interest by customers who want to get out of their own datacenter. I would say, a lot of organizations have a SharePoint guy and that SharePoint guys may have five other roles, and probably started off doing something completely different, such as Windows Server administration or Exchange administration. And when he steps into SharePoint, he freaks out. So we're hoping this can at least give them information and knowledge to go back and get their job done more effectively.

Find out more about Live! 360 2016 in Orlando here.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 11/30/2016 at 12:33 PM


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