It's rare for a major piece of software these days to lack some kind of hidden costs, and SharePoint Server 2010 is no exception. Not “hidden” in the sense that Microsoft is trying to slip something past you, but rather it refers to the costs of owning and operating SharePoint that businesses don’t always think about.
Not thinking about these things can not only cost an organization money, but also jeopardize the stability, performance and reliability of its SharePoint infrastructure. That’s because without realizing that these costs exist, an enterprise might overlook some critical design, maintenance and management tasks.
SQL Server provides the back-end for SharePoint 2010, and any significant SharePoint installation is going to need a dedicated SQL Server computer and large SharePoint farms might require more than one machine. That means purchasing additional Windows Server licenses along with the SQL Server licenses and it means you’ll have to support SQL Server. It’ll need backing up, performance will have to be tuned from time to time and database maintenance tasks will be required.
That’s fine if you already have a database administrator (DBA) capable of performing these tasks, but don’t make the mistake of creating a “reluctant DBA” by simply appointing one of your “Microsoft guys” to become a SQL Server expert. If you don’t have on-staff expertise, then factor in some training for an existing resource or hire an expert if there are enough SQL Server installations to justify a full-time position.
Storage in the SharePoint world involves a lot more than just buying big RAID arrays. By default, SharePoint stores all file attachments and media in its SQL Server database. Those Binary Large Objects, or BLOBs, not only take up a lot of space, they make SQL Server perform a lot of work that it wasn’t optimized for.
Instead, many organizations rely on Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) to get the file attachments out of SQL Server and back where they belong: On an NTFS partition. That might seem architecturally redundant (taking files that probably used to live on a file server, sending them to SQL Server and having SQL Server put them onto another file server), but it’s how SharePoint works. You’ll need to factor in some extra costs and expertise to get RBS working -- and to keep it working, since it adds some complexity to tasks like backup and recovery.
Storage management can also become an issue. Many organizations find that they need specialized backup and recovery software to enable quick, easy recovery of individual items. Others might also want to reduce storage needs by adopting a SharePoint companion solution that can compress and de-duplicate both primary storage as well as backups. Such solutions have their own acquisition and maintenance costs, but they’re a must-have that many organizations end up adopting sooner or later.
SharePoint offers an excellent opportunity to apply granular security to its various resources, often making it easier to meet specific business requirements without a lot of workarounds. Unfortunately, many organizations realize too late that “flexible” and “granular” can translate to “very hard to maintain.”
Consider whether you need to generate reports identifying every resource a particular user has access to or whether change logs showing all modifications to security permissions over a given period of time must be produced. If you’re in any kind of organization subject to industry or legislative rules (e.g., HIPPA, SOX, GLB, PCI DSS, etc.), then you’ll likely need such capabilities and discover that SharePoint’s built-in security management tools aren’t up to the task.
That means purchasing more tools from a variety of SharePoint independent software vendors. Typically, these tools scan SharePoint 2010’s permissions and create easily-queried databases that can generate reports, show changes over time and more. However, they have their own acquisition and maintenance costs, and some of them may require SQL Server licenses, Windows Server licenses and accompanying maintenance charges. They’ll also require some expertise to set up, maintain and use, meaning more training costs.
It’s possible your organization won’t need to worry about any of these things, but it would be wise to consider the alternative. If, for example, you look into SharePoint 2010’s security features and decide the built-in features will serve your organization, you’ll have done your due diligence and security won’t become a hidden cost.
It’s better to think about the details before implementation than to have them turn into unanticipated costs that crop up and surprise you in the future.
Hosted SharePoint: Nothing hidden in the cloud
Outsourcing a service like SharePoint can often be difficult for today’s IT departments. For years, IT has managed its own infrastructure components and has grown confident in its abilities to manage everything exactly the way it wanted. Giving up that level of control can be tough.
But there’s no shortage of hosted or “cloud-based” SharePoint 2010 providers who can take care of an organization’s SharePoint needs as a service.
Hiring out management of the platform has one significant advantage: Nothing’s hidden. Everything from the storage required to support for SQL Server is rolled up into one simple price. Sure, you’ll usually pay more as your SharePoint 2010 setup uses more storage space, but you won’t have to support that storage, maintain it, optimize it, back it up or deal with anything else. SQL Server will be maintained for you and all of the software licenses needed to run SharePoint -- including Windows, SQL Server and others -- are also typically built into the provider’s price.
Hosted SharePoint can even be a way to get started with the collaboration platform until an organization figures out how it plans to use it. You can always migrate to an on-premises setup (tools exist to handle these migrations) once you’re confident that you know what you’ll need and what all of the costs really are.
About the author:
Don Jones is a senior partner and principal technologist at strategic IT consulting firm Concentrated Technology LLC.