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Busting myths about SharePoint Online limitations

Concerns about SharePoint Online limitations aren't completely unfounded, but they may be exaggerated. Before dismissing SharePoint in the cloud, explore some of its benefits.

With the increasing number of mobile workers, the variety of device types and the growing need for efficiency,...

effective collaboration platforms have become critical. Many organizations use Microsoft SharePoint on-premises to share, organize and manage content. With SharePoint's strong cloud presence, Microsoft now offers a solid, scalable and cost-effective enterprise content management option that doesn't require a major investment in hardware and software to support it.

When Microsoft released early versions of SharePoint, some cloud providers offered the platform as a service for end users, but many organizations continued to maintain the system on-premises and upgrade as newer versions were released. But with SharePoint 2013 and Office 365, the online subscription model has more available features and may become more compelling. SharePoint Online is also bundled with Exchange Online and Lync Online, providing a cost-effective and full-featured package. However, there are also some SharePoint Online limitations that are important to keep in mind.

SharePoint Online limitations vs. benefits

With SharePoint Online, Microsoft provided several implementation models that are designed to cater to various use cases and requirements. According to Microsoft's chart of features, there are few differences to SharePoint Online. But many remain skeptical of the online version's capabilities and have concerns about issues such as storage capacity. Most quotas for storage of site collections and personal site storage in SharePoint Online are set at 1 TB, with 5,000 items in site libraries including files and folders. While the limitations exist, many organizations work around them by building additional site collections, which allows for the same browsing experience despite the sites being somewhat independent.

There are other feature limitations as well. The online version also doesn’t offer custom entity extraction, extensible content processing and search connector framework. In the on-premises version, these capabilities enable administrators to configure the system to search for specific words or phrases -- considered custom entities -- in unstructured content to improve user search experience. As its roadmap explained, Microsoft is likely to deliver these missing features in the near future.

Concerns about end-user experience may also make enterprises reluctant to use the online version. An online service cannot always guarantee adequate bandwidth, and if Internet connectivity is slow, normal functions such as uploading documents to the SharePoint sites can be a slow, painful process. This is not a limitation of SharePoint but of the end user’s Internet c onnectivity. SharePoint Online requires a connectivity assessment to ensure that there is adequate speed to handle data transfer to and from SharePoint sites –which is not much different from setting up Exchange Online.

Another common objection to SharePoint Online is the lack of the business intelligence (BI) functionality that is available in the on-premises version, including native support of SQL Server reporting services, PowerPivot, PowerView and data connectivity to local data sources from ERP systems and third-party products. Fortunately, Microsoft addressed this important capability with the release of the Power BI subscription for Office 365.

Power BI is a suite of tools and functionality that integrates with SharePoint Online to offer native support for BI needs. Microsoft has even included tools in Power BI that aren’t available in the on-premises version. Capabilities like Oversight, Insights and Q&A are a few of the new capabilities that enhance the BI stack.

The simplicity of administering SharePoint Online may seem unnerving at first. Microsoft offers a multi-tenant environment where it manages the farms on behalf of its clients, so a SharePoint administrator deals with less complexity with SharePoint Online than with an on-premises deployment.

Public clouds and SaaS have always posed security concerns. However, it's a common misunderstanding that the cloud is less secure than an organization's data center. Microsoft maintains complex security layers that can be more effective than some organizations' security framework. And currently, Microsoft is in compliance with regulations like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and HITECH.

Cloud offerings such as SharePoint Online provide more than cost savings. IT organizations can effectively simplify infrastructure without sacrificing major functionality. And while the cloud doesn't free IT from all responsibility, SharePoint Online can provide organizations with an added layer of data protection and business continuity. As IT shifts focus from managing servers and databases to increasing efficiency and supporting innovation and business objectives, it's increasingly important to maximize the use of tools like SharePoint rather than simply managing installation and configurations.

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