Saturday, October 25, 2014

SharePoint Nirvana Part II: The Cloud Challenge!

This is the second installment of a larger blog series called ‘SharePoint Nirvana’ (other posts available - Part I and Part III) addressing how to make the most of your investment with SharePoint.

At this point, you should feel pretty solid about your decision to implement SharePoint for your business and you might even have a good vision as to what you're trying to achieve with it. But just as you're about to roll up your sleeves and get busy building your business requirements, Microsoft comes along and has "clouded" this effort by throwing a new offering of SharePoint into the mix - Office 365 or SharePoint Online? Now you are tasked with deciding which product you should go with before purchasing your licensing - is it SharePoint On-Premise or SharePoint Online? Hmm. Sounds like you might need to do some research. Luckily, I think this article might be just the right thing to help!

SharePoint Nirvana Part II: Finding the right home for SharePoint

To start with a little background, in early 2010 Microsoft provided an offering of something they called Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). It included Exchange online, SharePoint online, and a combination of Office Communications and Live Meeting. BPOS never did as well as Microsoft first projected because it didn't have a clear vision and in June 2011, they revamped the offering with a new product name called "Office 365" which included Office Web Apps, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Lync. Today the plan integrates OneDrive (formerly called SkyDrive) storage and Yammer social features into the mix and slices and dices this offering into many different ways depending on business size and features needed. Additionally, the company has declared that the new vision is about Cloud 1st and Mobile 2nd and will try to move away eventually from client-only applications. At the latest SharePoint conference in 2014 Microsoft announced they are forecasting one final On-Premise offering of SharePoint and all future offerings will then go to the cloud.

So, pretty cut and dry - huh? No, nothing is ever that cut and dry.

The first challenge to contend with is whether or not Office 365 is the right move to make. If it's not, we'll contend with what the future of On-Premise looks like toward the end of this article. So what does Office 365 offer that On-Premise doesn't?

Here's the #1 thing to consider:

  • Managed Infrastructure - That's right - Microsoft is going to manage this for you!

This covers all of the following areas:

    • Reliability
    • Disaster Recovery
    • Maintenance (SharePoint/SQL/Windows Server Updates)
    • Anywhere Access

That's the main differentiator - managed infrastructure. You don't have to worry any longer about standing up more servers, spreading them across different data centers, and ensuring redundancy for high availability, nor will you ever have to plan out maintenance windows with your change management people to do updates to your servers. Done, done, and done!

This all seems like probably a slam dunk in favor of Office 365 except with one caveat - the downside:

  • No full trust solutions (that includes 3rd party) - you can still do client side code or scripted code but anything that touches the file system is off the table
  • Limited business connectivity services features - No profile pages and no rich client integration (Outlook and Excel built in hooks)
  • Limited WCM (Web Content Management) features - (Cross site publishing or catalogue, faceted navigation, image renditions among a few others)
  • No PerformancePoint services for BI dashboards
  • No extensible Search services - independent crawl schedules, separate content sources, limited managed properties
  • No defining managed paths - you get 'teams' or 'sites' and that's it

There's 3 items in that mix that personally are a little hard for me to swallow and I'd like to take a little time to point out to you: Full trust solutions, WCM, and search.

Full Trust Code

If you have no developer team doing full trust (server-side C#) solutions in your company today, then this may not seem like much of an issue. But be forewarned - this includes purchasing a 3rd party web part or solution or even having a consultant such as myself come in do the work for you - none of this is possible in the cloud! Sometimes that's perfectly ok, but when looking at new ways to improve or redesign the platform, this always becomes somewhat of a sticking point because this option is now off the table entirely.

WCM

With the coming of SharePoint 2013, a new feature was born that made many Microsoft customers extremely happy and jumping for joy. That is cross site publishing. Until 2013, many customers had separated content by site collections but were looking at custom solutions in order to integrate that data and also leverage the idea of one source of record but multiple areas where you can use it. With WCM's cross site publishing features and even cataloging, and faceted navigation - a whole new world of organizing and distributing information had come to fruition. Unfortunately, those areas of WCM are still not available in the cloud offering so this puzzle continues to live on if you decide to go with Office 365.

Search

Many parts of the architecture with 2013 all reside using search features. However, outputting this information or even creating new solutions becomes a little challenging in the cloud by the sheer fact you cannot control the crawler. You are at the mercy of when Microsoft decides to crawl your information. So, if you have new data you wish to display or even test out - you might have to wait a bit for whenever that data finally gets crawled. Additionally, a lot of people who use search like to separate crawl data by site and then place the important sites at the top of the crawl schedule and sites that don't change all that much, further down at the bottom. Unfortunately this flexibility is not possible without being on premise.

Those are the big ones to consider. But don't just look at the pros and cons of Office 365 vs. On-Premise. Sit down with your stakeholders including your business analyst and start looking at your requirements and make sure that the priorities of your business and the future of your SharePoint intranet/extranet/public site match up to what the features hold for you with the cloud offering.

What if On-Premise makes more sense?

If after you've gone through all of your requirements and Office 365 seems too limiting to you right now, you may be thinking "Oh no! Didn't he say Microsoft was only supporting one more release of SharePoint On-Premise"? Well, yes I did. Let's look at it in terms of investment before getting too scared of the future. While Microsoft might be planning on one last major release of SharePoint Server On-Premise, to be released sometime in 2015, this is all still in the future. And upon that major release, Microsoft most certainly will undergo several minor releases of service packs for the next 3 years.

So now we're talking 2018, right?

And even after that point, Microsoft will probably support their last minor release for another 5-10 years after that.

So that brings us to potentially 2023 or beyond. That's 11 years away!

Now, with the way technology advances nowadays, how many of you ever sit on the same product for even 10 years? Exactly - enough said. So don't panic…there is plenty of time to decide. And by that time, Microsoft may have well (one would hope) advanced the product well beyond your requirement needs or even your wildest imaginations. Who knows what collaboration and publishing technology will be like then? But my bets are, you'll have had a good long run with the existing product and made very good use of it before needing to upgrade again to the cloud or wherever.

To the stratosphere?