Choosing Between Cloud or On-Premises SharePoint Deployments

April 29, 2014 |

Recently, I presented SharePoint at the Microsoft Exchange Conference in Austin.  It was fascinating to hear how Exchange admins approach Office 365.  SharePoint teams almost always position Exchange as the first workload to move to Office 365 – but the Exchange folks I spoke to were interested in the business and technical issues about moving SharePoint first instead of Exchange.[1]

What a difference three years can make!  In April 2011, Microsoft launched Office 365 – a comprehensive set of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions that allow any organization to obtain hosted, cloud based access to Exchange, Lync, Office, Yammer – and SharePoint Online.  All offer guaranteed uptime, fault tolerance, contractual service levels and clear, predictable pricing.

At first, organization focused on what Office 365 didn’t offer – full trust code, business intelligence, enterprise social, etc.  Initially, this was less of an issue since so many companies focused initially on messaging – email – on Office 365.  For many, it’s a no-brainer to migrate existing mailboxes to a hosted version of Exchange because it simplifies the level of infrastructure support for fault tolerance, recovery, Web access, border security, archiving, etc.  The services and configuration used for Exchange service on premises are usually the same among different firms.  It’s email.

But it’s not 2011 anymore.  I had predicted several years ago that the cloud would move beyond on premises for functionality, sometime during 2013.

“What will make it really interesting comes after that — is when new features start showing up in the cloud before they are bundled into the next major SharePoint on premises release.  A cloud hosted SharePoint offering with better functions and simplified ease of operation will be a hard combination to deny for many current on-premises users.” – SharePoint Pro, February 2012

If anything, this year’s SharePoint Conference affirmed this.  Office 365 is the centerpiece of innovation now.  PowerBI, Yammer, 1TB site collections, OneDrive for Business and more are all “cloud first” – or cloud only – services.

The choices are only growing.  In addition to Office 365, some organizations use Microsoft Azure virtual servers to give them full access to cloud instances of SharePoint.  Amazon Web Services is also a strong option.  Additional cloud services companies offer a range of administrative control and hosting services (Rackspace, FPWeb et al.).

It’s not an all or nothing approach.  Hybrid technologies, better thought of as multi-cloud, allow you to select a mix of on premises and cloud solutions.  You might elect to only use Yammer and OneDrive in the cloud, and retain enterprise data in your data center.  Alternatively, you may prefer to use Amazon or Azure for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – renting cloud hosted systems that you maintain. Maybe a cloud hosted managed server from Rackspace?

You have options.  Let’s compare those three categories with some of the key factors that may influence on-premises, IaaS cloud, or pure cloud solutions.   This is highly subjective, and subject to considerable debate.  Here goes.

SharePoint Attributes

On Premises

IaaS Office 365
Custom coded full trust SharePoint solutions such as third party tools or in-house Visual Web Parts ? X
Cloud app model solutions ? ?
Subject to strict geographic control and accountability for your SharePoint content (e.g. not subject to HIPAA, SAS70, US FDA, Sarbanes Oxley or other regulations) ? ?
SharePoint engineers on staff ? ?
Limited IT capital budget but significant IT operating budgets ?
Mature, on-premises installation of SharePoint 2013 ? ?
Access to dedicated SharePoint developers[2] ? X
More users outside your corporate network than inside the firewall ?
Need to downsize or eliminate physical servers and data centers X
No on premises history with SharePoint ? ?

Rapid deploys of test or dev environments


500GB or more of content

SharePoint-hosted business intelligence solutions such as Performance Point


Enterprise deployments of Power BI


Using Yammer or One Drive for Business in cloud already

? ?

Comfortable with leading edge solutions, need early innovation

X ?

√ – Well serviced by this solution

? – Serviced with some qualifications

X – Not the best solution

Clearly, this is a complex decision.  The large number of question marks for IaaS don’t suggest those approaches are bad – just there’s some variability and a bit more work required.  For example, support for cloud OneDrive deploys is native to Office 365, but requires Service Pack 1 deploys for IaaS and on premises deployments.  Totally doable.

In the end, we know the cloud is the future.  At least, we did. Except there are many more choices.  So let’s make it plural – clouds ARE the future.  Here at HiSoftware, we can manage your data where it lives today – and tomorrow. Learn more about our solutions for SharePoint.

[1] Industry data and my own experience suggest the Exchange is the first Office 3265 workload used for 75-82% of enterprises.

[2] Assuming they are not yet ready to develop in the newer cloud app model.

Back to Blog Home

Diana South

As Senior Product Marketing Manager, Diana South is responsible for Cryptzone’s data loss prevention and digital accessibility solutions. Diana brings over 20 years of experience with enterprise software to help organizations provide equal and secure access for their users, delivering products that become integral to the customers' business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *