Why you can't always go all the way with SharePoint cloud

Organizations started the shift to the SharePoint cloud from on premises, but encountered obstacles that made SharePoint Online less appealing. Enter the hybrid deployment.

At this point in the current decade, the SharePoint shuffle has become a tech trope repeated at many companies....

It starts with the problem of on-premises SharePoint, as well as the reluctance to go to the SharePoint cloud -- it has likely been around since the George W. Bush administration. Yet the content is still mission-critical to an organization's workflow.

Eventually, the decision is often made to migrate the whole thing into the Office 365 cloud, where it will be more accessible. Plans are made and the budget is committed to getting it done. When the trigger is pulled, content, site templates, metadata, forms and workflows start making the journey. But somewhere along the line, it all grinds to a halt.

It's an old story, and a very common one: most long-term SharePoint deployments are hybrid on-premises and in the cloud. Few that began on premises make it all the way into the SharePoint cloud.

And it's not that the enterprise runs out of steam, time or budget, or that SharePoint's notoriously finicky architecture is as unwieldy upstairs as it is down; it's that many organizations find a hybrid deployment to be unexpectedly convenient. So why not just go with it?

Grandiose plans

The pitch to migrate to the SharePoint cloud usually begins with a housecleaning theme. There's all this content, accumulated over many years, badly organized and in need of pruning. Migration to the SharePoint cloud is just what we need to clean it up.

Then there's the accessibility pitch: all the custom forms we're using -- imagine how convenient it would be if we could reach them from anywhere, not just the house network. Oh, and our collaboration sites would be much more useful if we could team up from the field.

Then the supporting money math kicks in: SharePoint cloud is not only more convenient and flexible, it's also cheaper than our on-premises deployment.

This is all well-intentioned, of course, but it often turns out that not all of it is true.

Good on the ground, bad in the cloud -- and vice versa

The practical truth often turns out to be that some things work better on premises than in the cloud, and vice versa. Let's take them one at a time.

Content Management. This is one of two areas where SharePoint positively glows; as a content management platform, it has few peers. But the reality is that most enterprise content is primarily useful to in-house personnel, and much of it is simply stored for compliance purposes -- as it is cheaper to store content on premises than in the cloud -- and there is little or no need to make it accessible from anywhere.

Forms. Forms come in all shapes and sizes, but there are two really big ones: the quick and dirty form for gathering data in the field and the long and complicated form for feeding information into a major in-house system. On premises and online split the difference here; the former belongs in the cloud, the latter in house. Why? Forms generally don't migrate well to begin with; the quick and dirty short forms are more easily rebuilt from scratch, and the long and complicated ones are better left where they are.

Teaming. This is the other area where SharePoint just glows. Its collaboration tools are not only extensive, but well-integrated, and increasingly multichannel year after year.

This is the one area where on premises/online is a toss-up -- not necessarily either/or, and both is just fine. Why? Because team sites are seldom customized, so migration of existing sites to the cloud is painless -- and the increased access for teams with members in the field is highly desirable. On the other hand, team sites are so easy and cheap to spin up that there's no reason, if your on-premises deployment persists, not to use them in-house, even if widely spread teams prefer the SharePoint cloud.

Barriers can be good

Migration challenges and complexity issues are often drivers in the decision to migrate or not -- but for the best reasons. What works better on the ground can stay on the ground, and the increased functionality and access of the SharePoint cloud can be there when it's rightly a deciding factor.

SharePoint cloud is bundled with most Office 365 subscriptions, so it's there in any case -- and as various applications and departments make the transition, the on-premises deployment can scale back and drop licenses as needed. Balance will happen pretty naturally, and everyone winds up happier.

It's a best of both worlds outcome, if a somewhat serendipitous one.

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