By Anthony Baratta
Your company’s needed level of control and available IT resources are just parts of the equation in selection a SharePoint installation option
Last week we defined the differences between the 3 configurations of SharePoint. Today we are looking at a few more of the differences between the installations options to help you make a decision for your company. For a lengthy list of reasons, the hosting and support factors for SharePoint will probably play a big role in deciding which SharePoint environment you choose. The biggest differences between SharePoint Online and On-Premise—the two chief environments for SharePoint—are hosting-related. Naturally, issues not only of customer support, but also cost, ease of use, and scalability, tend to grow out of the hosting differences between these different platforms.
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Core Differences in Hosting: What to Expect from SharePoint’s Different Environments
In the simplest of terms, the hosting discrepancies between SharePoint environments boil down to an argument between convenience and control. SharePoint Online is a cloud-based environment, which means that Microsoft is hosting all your documents and data for you. There is no need for your enterprise to maintain or manage its own data servers because Microsoft is already handling the hosting requirements for you.
SharePoint On-Premise, meanwhile, is more or less the exact opposite. On-Premise is the “self-hosted” SharePoint environment. If you choose to go the On-Premise route, you must host your own data on your own servers, either on-site or off-site. The ongoing requirements of self-hosted sites, then, apply to any SharePoint intranet built using the On-Premise environment. In other words, you will need to have space to put servers, extra space to add extra servers if necessary, and IT professionals to manage and maintain your server farm. (Virtualization does make the allocation of new servers to account for increased demand / load easier, but it’s just cost shifting towards support of the new virtualization environment needs which has its own hardware and software overhead.)
Ongoing Support: What “Customer Support” Means for SharePoint’s Online and On-Premise Environments
The basic descriptions above make it sound like SharePoint Online is the clear choice between these two environments. After all, if you can have Microsoft host your data for you, you can avoid paying for the space to house your servers. You can also get by with a smaller IT team since there aren’t so many hosting and server management tasks. On top of it all, your data remains easily accessible at all times. Why choose the more immediately expensive and less convenient On-Premise hosting environment if the Online version is an option?
For years, the playing field between SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-Premise was more or less leveled by the customer support side of the argument. Sure, SharePoint Online was always more convenient—at least in theory. However, it also had some technical support weaknesses.
In our previous blog post about the different SharePoint hosting environments, we talked about the famous case of SharePoint 2010. Sites that were using SharePoint On-Premise could install the update immediately upon release, albeit with a need for scheduled downtime to apply the patches. Sites using SharePoint Online, on the other hand, had to wait months (or longer) to get the same updates. This was because SharePoint Online was new to the multi-tenant design and the same fixes had to be crafted and tested specially for this new environment.
Today, Microsoft provides faster updates for SharePoint Online, making the technical support issue less of a problem. In addition, SharePoint Online users get all updates installed automatically via Microsoft’s internal rolling tenant upgrade process, whereas 2013 On-Premise environments have to be manually updated (another job for the IT team). Add the latest features and functionality of Office 365, which are now readily available to SharePoint Online users, and it’s not difficult to see why more and more companies are eyeing the cloud-based environment.
And with the release of SharePoint 2016, the pendulum swings back; with 2016 On-Premise will be able to be configured to poll and install available updates from Microsoft automatically, greatly reducing the need for off-hours technical support by your IT Team.
Remaining Concerns about SharePoint Online
With all of that said, there are still some concerns about SharePoint Online support—particularly if you are thinking about upgrading from On-Premise to the cloud. First off, Full Trust & Sandboxed custom coding is not an option with SharePoint Online. If you have Farm Solutions that are not following the new SharePointFX or Add-in coding model you should stick with On-Premise until you can convert the Farm Solutions. Additionally, site creation support tools like feature stapling are not supported with SharePoint Online. You will have to look at asynchronous site creation queues and custom site collection templates in order to create custom configurations, branding, and other site creation requirements your company requires for new site collections and sub-sites. Obviously, any type of incompatibility between your On-Premise environment and what’s possible or allowed in the Online environment could be a deal breaker.
The other concern with SharePoint Online is whether it will support your security and document retention standards. Perhaps the biggest benefit to hosting your own SharePoint intranet is that you have complete control. That level of control allows you to customize security and document retention policies to match either with compliance requirements for your industry or with your own comfort levels. You don’t have the same flexibility with SharePoint Online, so you will need to consider whether you can stay comfortable and compliant with the security and retention options that SharePoint Online does offer.
A Note on SharePoint Hybrid
Developers drawn to the convenience and support benefits of SharePoint Online (automatic updates, Office 365 features, etc.) but concerned about incompatibility or non-compliance might consider a Hybrid environment. With SharePoint Hybrid, you host some of your data on the cloud and some of it on your own servers. You retain control and flexibility where necessary, but reap the benefits and cost savings of cloud hosting elsewhere.
For many enterprises considering a migration from On-Premise to Online, starting with a Hybrid environment to test functionality is a good way to go. That way, you can get a sense for how SharePoint’s cloud hosting and support work before you go for a full upgrade. If you are considering a migration and want to know more about the hosting and support differences between SharePoint Online, On-Premise, and Hybrid, tell us about it here and we'll be in touch or call today at 510-652-7700.