SharePoint On-Premises vs. SharePoint Online (Office 365 Cloud)

By Jeff Lanham| February 23, 2015

Some time ago, I wrote blog called Microsoft SharePoint: On-Premises or in the Cloud. It attempted to describe the basics of “what is the cloud” and “what the implications of hosting SharePoint in the cloud are.” Since then, the world has continued to evolve and Microsoft has continued to improve its cloud service offerings to include Office 365 (O365) and Azure. Read my blog to learn more about the benefits of hosting Microsoft SharePoint on-premises vs. online with Office 365.

The Benefits of Office 365

We are now seeing many organizations are moving to Office 365, often starting with a migration to Exchange Online, usually accompanied by an implementation of Active Directory Federation Services in Azure. This offers a great value proposition for many different sizes and types of organizations:

  • Top-of-the-line email services
  • Much less management
  • High availability
  • Disaster recovery
  • Overall lower total-cost-of-ownership
  • Familiar end-user experience of Microsoft Outlook

As a result, we see a lot of organizations investing in Enterprise-level licensing for Office 365 (perhaps along with Azure). That means they also have full access to SharePoint Online, which is SharePoint 2013 hosted in Microsoft's Office 365 cloud infrastructure.

Naturally, those organizations want to take advantage of the services they are paying for, but it isn't clear how best to do that without major effort and/or risk. Most of these organizations already have some sort of internal (or on-premises) implementation of SharePoint, often an earlier version of the product rather than the current 2013 version. How can they leverage SharePoint Online without throwing away the investment they've made in the existing environment and, more importantly, without losing the content and information it contains? Well, there are only a couple answers. Since you can't do an “upgrade” (more technically, a “database attach upgrade”) when moving to the SharePoint Online (O365) environment, that leaves “migration” and “hybridization.”

Option 1: Migration

Migration refers to the notion of moving or copying (migrating) content from the existing on-premises SharePoint server(s) into your SharePoint Online environment. This can be done manually with out-of-the-box tools that SharePoint provides, including the “Explorer View” feature… but it can be a time-consuming and effort-intensive endeavor. Alternatively, content migration can be automated, either via scripting or any number of commercially available “migration tool” products. Tools can help do the job faster, potentially while preserving or even remapping the logical structure of the environment, but an additional investment in the right tool is needed.

Option 2: Hybridization

Hybridization is scientific term, which in the context of SharePoint and is intended to mean “implementing a hybrid on-premises AND in-the-cloud environment.” In simple terms, we're referring to the idea of using Microsoft SharePoint Online alongside of, or in addition to, the existing in-house SharePoint deployment. There are multiple ways to organize a hybrid environment and different “workloads” (or usage scenarios) that can be distributed across the on-premises and in-the-cloud environments. In some cases, you might leave the existing intranet, team collaboration, and document management sites in place on the old on-premises server while using SharePoint Online for any new use cases (sites, processes, communities, etc.) that arise. You might decide to move as much of the existing site structure and content to SharePoint Online as possible, while continuing to leverage the in-house server for integration scenarios that may not be available in SharePoint Online due to some limitations in the current Office 365 hosting model. You could choose to migrate your site collections from on-premises to in-the-cloud over a period of days, weeks, or even months, eventually decommissioning the on-premises servers once all the relevant content has been moved. You will then have completed a full migration to “in-the-cloud,” but you'll be in a hybrid state throughout the process.

Whether you already own SharePoint Online (stand-alone or as part of an Office 365 bundle) or are considering investing in Microsoft's software-as-a-service offering of SharePoint 2013, there are a number of significant things to consider and decisions to make. Hopefully, this article has helped explain some of the options and their implications, at least at a higher level. Of course, BDO Digital's experienced SharePoint architects and engineers are available to help you understand the details and make the best business and financial choices for your own organizations.

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