How To Determine if Microsoft SharePoint Online Is For Me?

February 2, 2014

We hear the story time and time again: business likes SharePoint; company does not have adequate IT infrastructure to host it themselves; business looks to the cloud to alleviate cost of ownership, internal infrastructure growth, and updates/upgrades that typically come with an on-premise installation. The business is correct in making these assumptions and moving in this direction. Here are some points that may help you decide whether the cloud is for you:

Are you building a public website?
If you are looking to build a public website, then the cloud is a great choice. Whether you decide to do a hosted solution with a provider, or Microsoft’s SharePoint Online, there really is no difference. Your organization will still save at least $10,000.00 on infrastructure costs, and a whole of headaches that come from maintaining the infrastructure. But if you really think about it, if your organization wants to build a simple public website, or what we call a brochure site, with no portal login, no tools; just neatly arranged graphics and content, then SharePoint Online is definitely the cheapest way to go.

However, if you are planning to build a portal, a self-service tool, or any integration whatsoever, then SharePoint Online is certainly \BF{not} a good choice, as this platform does not support third-party integrations very well.

Are you building an intranet?
Intranets are fairly complicated beasts. The cloud is an option, but now we need to look at the difference between a hosted platform (such as the service offered by RefineCo) vs. Microsoft SharePoint Online. A hosted platform supports Site-to-Site VPN, and therefore, any integration you need with any internal system you may already be running at your office. Popular ones are Maximo and Dynamics, and some less popular ones are PPDM systems that energy companies use to manage and sync well information. Microsoft SharePoint Online will not integrate with this system, and at the time of the publishing of this document, will not support a Site-To-Site VPN. So, integrations are out. A hosted platform will support all integration scenarios. Another scenario to consider is the data footprint. If you have huge images that are constantly uploaded, or a massive volume of documents that are constantly being changed, then an off-premise option is likely a bad idea: not only will it be slow, you will pay huge costs for bandwidth and data transfer. In those scenarios the only viable option today is your very own shiny SharePoint installation in your office.

Are you building a portal?
More and more organizations will simply add portal features to their intranet project to gain both solutions in one installation. This is actually what we recommend. But if you are an organization that likes to keep things separate, or simply have different business needs for the portal solution than your intranet, then you face the same considerations as the intranet users. You see, a portal is kind of like an intranet for external users, so the same business functions will apply: will your users need access to data that comes from other systems? Will your users be using a lot of data (i.e. watching videos, downloading composite drawings or images, etc…). If you have even a remote yes then Microsoft SharePoint Online is out, and likely a hosted solution is not a good fit either.

Now that we have looked at some business-level considerations for choosing the cloud, you have a better idea what questions to ask your IT department, or depending on your size, your IT guy.

There is one last cloud-scenario that we did not discuss: what if you are already using SharePoint Online or a hosted solution, and you want to add third-party integrations or start offering video to your users? In most cases you may want a SharePoint vendor to come in and look at your installation to inform you what can be done and what the cost impact is. After all it is possible to perform a batch-import of external data into SharePoint Online! But the technical complexities and security considerations often outweigh the benefit of keeping the off-premise option. In such cases, if the solution was built using Microsoft-recommended deployment practices, then you can simply migrate the entire thing to your own on-premise installation in under a week!