At the recent WPC conference it was clear from the various keynote speakers that Microsoft is now fully behind a "software and services" philosophy. This really means that Microsoft is embracing the cloud across the board, across all of its product divisions and teams. This shift includes SharePoint, in the guise of Office 365. SharePoint 2013, the latest release, is now very much a "cloud first" product with Microsoft fully behind the new Office 365 subscription model.
SharePoint Users Have Options
This is fantastic news for customers, as Office 365 is a very capable mature product. Whilst few would disagree that BPOS ("Business Productivity Online Suite," the precursor to Office 365) had its limitations, Office 365 (incorporating SharePoint 2013, Exchange, Lync, SkyDrive Pro and Office Web Apps) is very powerful. Indeed more and more of the customers we speak to want to talk about SharePoint Online and how they can move to the cloud.
But let us not forget that SharePoint 2013 is also available as a good old fashioned local server product. System admins and IT staff can download the ISO, as they always could, and install the platform on local hardware. This use case, for all the enthusiasm we see about the cloud, will remain a valid one for many users in the foreseeable future. Local governments, those with regulatory restrictions or those nervous of data privacy and security still need this alternative to SharePoint Online and Office 365.
Hybrid: Combining the Best of Both Worlds
Which brings us to "hybrid" environments, a natural evolution of both SharePoint "On Premises" and "Online" deployments. A hybrid environment can fuse together the very best elements of both systems, with several touch points:
- Hybrid search: Users can search from each system and results include content from either.
- Hybrid Business Connectivity Services -- For example, a Business Intelligence portal pulling data from an internal line of business application. For hybrid BCS, we can add connections to on-premies data sources in our on-premises environment, and leverage these in SharePoint Online.
- Single sign on: Users need only login to one system, to login to both.
- Active Directory sync: User accounts from the on premises system sync to SharePoint Online.
A typical hybrid environment might combine a standard SharePoint 2013 On Premises Intranet (containing documents that need to remain onsite for example) with an Office 365 collaboration solution.
This type of setup can be perfect for remote teams or external partners. In this way SharePoint 2013 can offer the best of both worlds and end users need never really know the difference. SharePoint and the technologies that support it and Office 365 just work in the background to make the relevant content available to the relevant people. SharePoint offers the same seamless "Modern UI" inspired interface across deployments, blurring the lines of separation. The best of both worlds!
It is also worth mentioning SkyDrive Pro in a little more detail. When used as part of SharePoint Online, this feature provides cloud syncing of user documents (from document libraries and MySites). When used as part of SharePoint On Premises it provides the same functionality, but stores content locally. When organizations are considering hybrid systems they need to carefully consider where their SkyDrive Pro is located.
As the evolution of SharePoint (and how organizations use it) continues, it will be fascinating to see how the use of hybrid deployments develops. Those wanting purely local systems can still benefit from all SharePoint 2013 offers. Those happy in the cloud can reap the benefits of that environment and increasingly the extra features Microsoft is pushing out to it -- like full Yammer integration. Hybrid environments give users the flexibility to sit partly in both camps and get the best of both worlds.
Title image courtesy of Liveshot (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: For a different opinion, see Andrew Connell's The Value & Future of SharePoint On Premises