When it comes to hosting SharePoint on premises or moving it into the cloud, there is never one right answer. Companies need to understand every hosting option available to them and find the one that best fits their available resources and technical needs. In this article, we’re going to take a look at the available platforms and who might benefit most from each.

On Premises vs. The Cloud

Some businesses feel justified in keeping SharePoint on premises. Maximum control, unlimited customization and integration with internal line of business applications are the top reasons cited. However, the difficulties of maintaining qualified internal IT Staff, bearing upfront costs, planning for deployment arcs and scaling have made on premises hosting less attractive in the age of the cloud.

Multi-Tenant Cloud (Office 365, Other Per User/Per Site Offers)

A multi-tenant hosted model is like taking a train to work. The passengers share the cost of the train’s maintenance and the driver’s salary and receive the same service. With multi-tenant hosting, one SharePoint application is installed on a server farm, and all businesses share this SharePoint instance via a dedicated site.

The drawbacks? You can’t develop and integrate tailored, full-trust solutions that increase SharePoint capabilities and ROI by adding customized features that have been developed for your specific business, vertical or use case because this would affect all the other sites.

However, for SMBs that have a good view of their strategic orientation and project roadmap, and for whom basic, out of the box SharePoint features are good enough, a multi-tenant model is likely the most cost effective choice.

The problem is that these requirements rarely show up in the assessment of a SharePoint upgrade or migration to SharePoint 2013 (SP2013) because there are so many new features and possibilities to evaluate and stakeholders involved. Here are a few scenarios I’ve seen play out with clients who started out on a multi-tenant model without fully understanding its limitations:

  • Project management wants to keep things as simple as possible
  • Cost is a major driver for decisions and some desired features ultimately get cut
  • Businesses incorrectly assume the new App fabric in SP2013 will always facilitate developing tailored solutions if needed after initial deployment
  • Once SP2013 is deployed and widely adopted, another company wide and strategic project emerges where, for example, SharePoint needs to play a big role in Search or BI capabilities

IaaS (Azure, AWS and Others)

Infrastructure-as-a-Service is a cloud service model exclusive to one organization and which, consequently, is far more capable in terms of features and integration. For organizations that have the internal expertise and resources to manage this platform, this is usually the best option.

The flipside is that the resource time required to maintain a SharePoint server is almost universally underestimated and involves a time investment that goes far beyond initial deployment. System administrators tend to spend too much time maintaining their SharePoint’s performance, availability and security, leaving no time for strategic improvements that would really drive ROI. Some solutions -- such as Cloud Share, AWS and Azure -- have started to offer automation deployment scripts, but these tools only pertain to development environments. Sizing, and therefore performance, is not adapted for production environments.

Highly qualified IT consulting firms typically host and manage their client’s SharePoint environment in an IaaS model. Cost savings are mostly on hardware capital expenditures as businesses still require dedicated people to maintain the environment and must purchase server and CAL licenses upfront.

Private Cloud-as-a-Service

For many businesses, the private cloud model (SaaS or PaaS) offers a good compromise between an on premises and multi-tenant environment. Businesses not only retain full control over the SharePoint application itself, but also gain agility on their IT infrastructure and staff resources. Performance levels and reliability are usually guaranteed with the SLA, and overall cost is optimized while minimizing risk, which is transferred to the provider.

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Private Cloud - What’s in the Fine Print?

Assuming a private cloud option for SharePoint meets your needs, what now? Not all private clouds are created equal – due diligence is required to maximize the reliability of your SharePoint implementation. Here are some things to consider before entering into any agreements:

  • Read the SLA, inside and out. Most hosting providers claim to offer financially backed 99.99 percent or 99.999 percent uptime guarantees. That’s where things get tricky. One question you should ask is how and when does the provider start measuring the downtime that applies to this guarantee? Does downtime get counted within minutes or within hours?
  • Find out what your guarantee really protects. It’s important to distinguish whether uptime is guaranteed on the infrastructure or on the availability of the SharePoint application itself. Guaranteeing application availability will cost extra, but may be worth it if your business collaboration and communication is mission critical.
  • Evaluate quality of service. Every cloud provider claims to offer the best service, whether it’s migration or ongoing technical support. Making the decision to move to SharePoint in a private cloud isn’t easy, and the relationship your company has with its cloud provider is typically a long term one. For peace of mind, be sure to vet these claims before signing on the dotted line. Ask for references and most importantly, ask for proof. One easy way to do this is to find out what their Net Promoter score is and benchmark it.
  • Evaluate your provider’s flexibility of management options. Private cloud models can vary significantly in cost and features. Selecting the right plan can potentially give your businesses even more control over costs. First, evaluate if you require managed or unmanaged services. If you don’t need full control over your SQL server, consider opting for a private SharePoint instance on your own dedicated environment and asking your provider to only share the SQL server.
  • Availability of complementary Cloud services. You’ve chosen your SharePoint hosting provider, but do you have future plans to outsource Exchange, Lync, CRM? Ensure your service provider can support your growth and expansion plans.