Running in tandem with the release of SharePoint 2010, there are two other elements that, along with SharePoint, point to a more efficient and agile future for management of content. Those two elements are the proliferation of cloud computing possibilities and, combining these two other elements, the development of hybrid online/on premise computing environments.
SharePoint deployments are hitting up to 70%, according to the State of the ECM Industry report from AIIM earlier, while an October report -- also from AIIM -- suggested that half of companies will be using it as their principal enterprise CMS.
Why Cloud Computing
There are many reasons why companies are looking at cloud deployments, or some kind of combined cloud deployments. Last week, we noted that there were at least five business reasons why enterprises are heading to the cloud. These include:
- Cost reductions
- Operational efficiencies
Cloud computing is defined by Gartner as:
…a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies… cloud computing applications must be service-based, scalable and elastic, shared, metered by use, and utilizing Internet technologies.”
The immediate draw to cloud computing is clear -- total cost of ownership is vastly reduced, as there is no need for capital expenses for physical servers and other hardware.
Where large companies have not shown the inclination to move their applications to the cloud, other companies have shown themselves willing to do so.
In the case of Microsoft Exchange, for example, Rackspace and Fpweb. Net started offering hosted versions of it when Microsoft didn’t show itself willing to do so immediately. With SharePoint, the problem was the same.
Microsoft had to react, even if it did so only slowly, and started offering SharePoint Online as part of BPOS and then as a cornerstone of the Office 365 release, which went on general release last June. Microsoft now also offers its own cloud storage through Azure for Windows Server and SQL Server.
Cloud Computing Concerns
Since the release, we have seen that, while many companies are willing to embrace SharePoint Online, there are still concerns around issues such as whether it will work with legacy applications, security, agility and reliability.
We have also seen that one of the ways enterprises are overcoming this is by starting their own hybrid deployments by combining on-premise and cloud deployments.
In a recent white paper by AvePoint, which provides infrastructure management solutions for Microsoft SharePoint products, entitled Embracing the Cloud: Strategies for Hybrid Microsoft SharePoint Deployments, the company takes a look at some of the issues around these kinds of deployments.
Why SharePoint Online?
SharePoint was originally a collaboration application, if its use has changed somewhat by now. It offers workers across an enterprise the possibility of sharing information around a centralized document repository
There are two online versions of SharePoint:
- Standard: The version that Microsoft recommends for most companies, this is a multi-tenant model, meaning that several companies will share the same server.
- Dedicated: This means that it will be installed on one installation with a separate or dedicated server for a particular company.
But should an enterprise shift its SharePoint assets into the cloud? While this may work in the future, for the moment, AvePoint says, it is not really to be recommended; not least of all because there are some features that Microsoft intends to keep uniquely on its on-premise deployments, or dedicated deployments for the moment.
There are also companies that may not be specifically interested in SharePoint Online, but are interested in cloud storage to deal with the growing amount of enterprise information.
There are many advantages to this, including:
- Reduced IT costs by accessing a lower-cost tier of storage
- Storage becomes an operational cost, rather than capital cost, as you pay as you go
- Frees expensive IT human resources to focus on business problems
- Off-site copies of information kept in the cloud
- Easy disaster recovery, as copies of the information are kept away from the cloud
- Separate storage infrastructure no longer needed
- Pay only for what you use
However, like any other piece of technology, there are caveats, and enterprises need to ask themselves some questions before they make a decision to move data to the cloud. Questions include:
- How available is your data going to be, given the inevitable downtimes -- is it 99%; or 99.9%?
- Does the cloud storage vendor have redundant data centers?
- What security guarantees are you being offered?
- What about retention polices?
- Where is are the data centers for data compliance purposes?
Why Hybrid Management?
Enterprises also need to consider, before they throw their entire SharePoint assets into the SharePoint cloud, whether the functionality they require exists on the cloud, remembering that there are things that are going to stay firmly in the cloud. The exclusively on-premise functionality includes:
- Ability to integrate with Microsoft Information Rights Management
- Staging and development possibilities for content
- Configure Information Management
- Site Variations
- FAST Search
- Business data search through indexing and federated query
- Business Data Catalog crawling
- Relevance features like “Did you mean?” and “Query”
- Configure crawled file type
- Authoritative pages
- Performance Point Services
- Business data web parts
- Business data actions
There are many more and worth looking into before making the decision to move to the cloud especially if your enterprise is one that needs the full SharePoint experience.
Hybrid Management Possibilities
If you decide, though, to combine the flexibility of the Online experience with the muscle of the On-Premise edition, there are two possibilities:
- Manage SharePoint Online through Office 365 or other hosting companies, keeping SharePoint Portal Server in-house
- Keep SharePoint itself in-house and keep storage in the cloud
It may be, then, looking at the added functionality of SharePoint on-premise, that an enterprise finds that it is useful to go the hybrid route, and deploy both kinds of SharePoint.
There are two possible usage scenarios here:
- Keep the on-premise staging farm for developing content and making changes to content and user lists, before deploying to the cloud-based production environment for enhanced scalability.
- Host some of the sites from production environments on-premise and some in the cloud; content that requires managed metadata or requires infopath forms might be kept on-premise.
For sites that will be used for basic functions such as document repositories or project sites, it might be easier to move them online.
And then there is the problem of how to migrate the content once you have made the decision. There are many third-party tools on the market now that can help with this, but they are not the only possibility, even if all possibilities are time-consuming.
Those possibilities include:
- Consolidating existing content through manual migrations, or third-party tools into an on-premise SharePoint farm and then send the databases to Microsoft, which will incorporate them into your Online environment
- Allow specific power users slowly migrate the content they own across, which needs to be planned carefully
- Use third-party tools to complete the migration; as it is possible that hybrid deployments will include multiple farms, enterprises are advised to apply strict governance policies to keep the environment well-managed
Issues around this should include questions such as:
- Who can create or delete sites?
- What are the main content types and what metadata do they need?
- Who will manage Term Stores and Content Type Hubs?
- Who can add content and what does the review process entail?
Ultimately, like everything else around SharePoint, everything is to do with planning. Before launching a hybrid environment, enterprises need to ask what they hope to accomplish with SharePoint they weren’t achieving before.
Business goals need to be identified and site structure and taxonomy developed after those goals are clear. Enterprises also need to decide whether the lesser functionalities of SharePoint Online will work for them.