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SharePoint in the cloud requires a cautious approach

For organizations that want to take advantage of Office 365's benefits but are wary of the risks of SharePoint in the cloud, a hybrid approach could work.

SharePoint Online and Office 365 have been hot topics at SPTechCon 2014 in Boston this week. But despite the cloud's...

benefits such as cost savings and mobile collaboration, many companies need to proceed with caution rather than jumping in.

"We've been inundated with cloud. And when I ask 10 people to define cloud, I get 10 radically different answers about what cloud is, what cloud architecture is and how they're going to use cloud," said Office 365 MVP Ben Curry in his session "SharePoint Then and Now: At a Crossroads." Curry is also managing partner at Summit 7 Systems, a Microsoft Certified Partner that provides business productivity technology.

With SharePoint 2013, the cloud has become a major consideration for companies, especially if they don't have the infrastructure, personnel or budget to continue running everything on-premises. Curry said that companies with plenty of hardware and in-house expertise can do a lot with 2013 on-premises, but companies with a smaller IT team and no developers could struggle. Additionally, licensing can put a strain on smaller budgets, and building out high availability is also expensive.

Curry said one option is to develop a hybrid cloud that keeps mission-critical workloads in-house while taking advantage of the benefits of SharePoint Online.

"There are a lot of reasons to still run SharePoint 2013 on-premises," he said.

For some companies, security and performance remain two of those reasons. Conference attendee Frank Cheney, senior systems analyst for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, said he would consider a hybrid cloud in the future -- but the cloud is not a priority today, even though the organization does have the latest version of SharePoint on-premises. "There are some critical areas that we'd have to think about before making the move," he said. He noted that for a government organization, compliance regulations and security concerns still play a large role in cloud decisions.

"Getting people to buy in [is a challenge] because it's a big step -- there's a loss of control. Performance would also be a potential issue. If it went down, there'd be some unhappy people," Cheney said. "It's exciting, but also daunting."

According to Curry, companies should examine their workflows and how they should be distributed in deciding what should be in the cloud and what should remain on-premises.

"Break them up in a way that makes sense to your company, and then try to have them on one side of the cloud or the other. [For example] you can do collaboration in the cloud, and maybe do records management on-premises." He said that administration issues arise when workloads are split across both sides. To do this effectively, companies need to understand their technical and functional requirements better than ever.

"Unless you've got really good technical and functional requirements, we don't know where to put content and workflow," Curry said.

Anna McCann, project manager at Athenahealth, Inc. in Watertown, Mass., said that business users at her company are eager for the collaboration and productivity advantages of Office 365. In particular, people would like more Dropbox- or Box-like capabilities for easily sharing files from any location. The company is currently in the testing phase and hopes to use Office 365 and SharePoint Online next year for some workloads.

She mentioned that rather than having a problem with SharePoint user adoption, people have been enthusiastic about SharePoint's capabilities in general. But as a healthcare organization, Athenahealth is proceeding toward the cloud with caution.

"People tend to jump in [to the cloud] with both feet. It's better to have governance in place first," McCann said. "We're very concerned with security and protecting our client's information, so we want to make sure we do all the due diligence before bringing Office 365 onboard, to ensure it's 100% secure."

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