Reality Check on Office 365
In case you haven’t heard, Microsoft is “all in” on the cloud. What that means to you and to most companies, especially as a SharePoint customer, is a good question. It just depends. As with all-thing SharePoint-related, cutting through the marketing hype is much easier when you have a clear idea of your business needs, which will then allow you to better map your requirements against the limited capabilities in a hosted SharePoint platform.
Will Office 365 (formerly known as BPOS-S, or Business Productivity Online Services-Standard) deliver what your business needs? Or should you wait, and stick with your on-premises platform? Again, it depends. In a recent NetworkWorld article, Jon Brodkin spoke with one customer who, I believe, best captures the enterprise response to the Microsoft launch of this program:
Tom Boxrud, director of enterprise infrastructure at Underwriters Laboratories in Illinois, is moving a 7,200-person user base to Exchange Online after Office 365 goes live. For now, he says, the company is keeping SharePoint in-house but will keep an eye on the growth of SharePoint Online to see if moving to the cloud-based version makes sense in the future. SharePoint Online seems to be good for use as a document repository, portal and collaboration service, but Underwriters Laboratories needs something more robust for launching applications, Boxrud says.
Gilbert thinks more third-party tools can close the gap, but says it won’t be easy.
"If they’re going to build out a real app store on SharePoint, it’s not about simple widgets," Gilbert says. "It’s about real applications. People want repeatability, and a lower cost of implementing these solutions and getting to functionality."
Tom nailed it. Hosted Exchange? Fantastic. In fact, my company (Axceler) is already using the platform. But Exchange is a much more straight-forward hosted solution. My own participation in the private beta of Office 365 confirmed my thoughts on enterprises using the SharePoint platform – it’s a good extranet option (which could be improved with replication options to an on-premises install), but cannot yet replace the full-featured platform many enterprises look at SharePoint to provide. You simply can’t do all of the compelling things in Office 365 that convinced you to move to SharePoint in the first place.
Having said that, keep an eye on the service. Microsoft’s partners have shown time after time their ability to out-innovate Redmond and add amazing capability to this and other platforms, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see viable enterprise solutions available over the next couple years. Until then, my advice is that you are safe to continue building out rich, complex solutions for your on-premises SharePoint.
Microsoft’s goal is to get to feature parity within the next couple releases, but its not the feature-by-feature comparison you need to be concerned about, but the limitations of the APIs and the complete rearchitecture of your favorite tools and solutions to work in the hosted model. If all you need is vanilla, hosted is a great option. If you want to add complex customizations and integrations, then do your homework. To get even some basic applications to work can take some jumping through hoops. Microsoft will improve on this rapidly, but again – know what you’re trying to accomplish (not just reduce costs), and realize that the hosted model is not a good fit for everyone.
I completely agree–it makes sense to dip your toes into something v. simple, with less chance of hellfire if something goes haywire. Hosted SP does appeal to me, but I’d need to to be as functional as on-premise, and I’d need to know it was extremely well backed up.