You've been thinking about it -- moving to Microsoft’s hosted version of SharePoint. Before you make that final decision, make sure you know about these five things.

1. Office 365 or Plain SharePoint Online?

Yes, there is a difference. If you choose Office 365, you get a whole bundle of Microsoft online solutions: Office, Lync, Office Web Apps, Office Mobile Apps, Exchange, SharePoint Online, etc (of course depending on the Office 365 plan you select, you may not get all of these services). With SharePoint Online, you get just that -- SharePoint.

With different editions of Office 365 and SharePoint Online, there may be different features available for developers, IT professionals, and for functionality related to content, insights, search and more. So it’s really important to have your list of requirements (both now and in the near future) so you can select the right edition of Office 365/SharePoint.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on SharePoint (via Office 365 or SharePoint Online) considerations, but know that even with the other available services, features/functionality can be different across editions.

Here’s a good example -- Managed metadata. You don't get Managed Metadata in the Small Business versions of Office 365. You also don't get Metadata driven Navigation or e-Discovery features.

2. There’s no Remote Blob Storage

SharePoint Online does not support Remote Blob Storage (RBS). RBS is a way to move all those large files you store in SharePoint out of the database and into another storage location, usually less expensive and less resource extensive. When you expect that your data storage is going to be really high, RBS is typically an option you’ll look at. However, RBS is an add-on to SQL Server, and you don't have direct access to work with the database where your SharePoint implementation is stored.

What are your options? Well first of all, migrate only what you need to SharePoint, and either delete or archive the rest, depending on your compliance and governance processes. I know I harp on the planning aspects of content migrations to SharePoint, but it really is an important step that you can't ignore. Take a look at my article on content migration planning to help you get started.

If you do run over the allotted space limit for your selected SharePoint Online version, you can buy extra storage from Microsoft, or you can look at alternative ways to move content off the hosted site that is no longer required (either because a project is over, or a process is completed).

Planning your data strategy doesn't stop once you move all your data over to SharePoint. It’s an ongoing process that you have to plan and manage policies and processes for.

3. Improved Permissions Management

SharePoint 2013 has an improved permissions management model. You can manage permissions at the site, library/list, folder or item level. Depending on how you apply your permissions you can give Site owners the ability to manage the permissions within their site or not. Think about that carefully. In many cases, that may be something you need to do because of the sensitive nature of the content within certain libraries or even individual folders. I would recommend setting permissions at the item level unless there is a very good reason not to.

The challenge is, that when you allow permissions to be managed outside an administrator level, things can get lost. You can easily lose track of who has permissions to see what and do what. So make sure you plan for that by regularly checking how permissions are being applied.

Aside from getting permission happy, some Site Owners may take it upon themselves to create subsites within their own sites, creating structures that fall outside of the governance guidelines you set. Take that permission away and you can manage site sprawl better, and ensure that your content does not fall into a chaotic mess.

Permissions management is critical whether you are using SharePoint in the hosted model or on premises, but you may find you have the ability to apply tighter controls within Office 365.

Learning Opportunities

4. SkyDrive Pro Integration

SkyDrive is Microsoft’s version of DropBox. It enables you to sync your documents located in your SharePoint libraries to your desktop, so you can access them on the go. It’s a business version of Skydrive that’s available through your Office 365 or SharePoint Online account.

Depending on how your organization has set up SkyDrive Pro, individuals may be able to share a document or a folder of documents with others in the organization. They may also be able to share a document or folder with people outside the organization.

To get the SkyDrive Pro client app you need to have an Office 2013 license, otherwise you are using it the browser-based version of it. And there are limitations on how it’s used. Some might think it’s a good way to migrate a ton of documents into SharePoint -- it’s not.Liken it to the old SharePoint Workspace or the My Site storage feature -- it's just a place to manage your personal, frequently used documents.

5. More Frequent Feature Updates

One of the best reasons to go SharePoint Online is the frequency of updates. Microsoft commits to regular updates, something it cannot easily do with the on premises version. So you can expect to see fixes to issues faster and some new features faster.

Due to the nature of the online version, you shouldn't have to be worried about updates breaking your current implementation -- you are more restricted with the online version in what customizations you can do.

And we'll add to this that you don't have to worry about maintaining the infrastructure necessary to support SharePoint -- definitely a key sell for many.

Are You Ready to Go to SharePoint in the Cloud?

A lot of organizations are seriously considering moving to hosted versions of their productivity and collaboration solutions. Microsoft has put a great deal of effort into Office 365 (including SharePoint) to ensure a great user experience.

Beyond Office 365 or SharePoint Online there are also several other hosted SharePoint options from companies such as, AppRiver or SherWeb which include additional features and services.It is important to remember that there are differences between hosted versions (and providers) and what you get on premises. Know what you need and what you want, and look at the options carefully. You'll find a hosted version of SharePoint can be very nice to have.

Title Image courtesy of James Horning (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Steven knows his SharePoint. To get more of his thoughts on SharePoint in the Cloud, see 4 Considerations for Migrating to Office 365 and SharePoint Online