A look at Microsoft's hybrid cloud proposition (iStock)

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It's sometimes a little too easy to look at the cloud versus on-premise debate in binary terms, particularly when you're comparing and contrasting the likes of SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online. In reality, the logical choice for most enterprises is to go hybrid – using a mixture of on and off-premise IT to achieve optimum cost, security and efficiency.

It makes sense, then, that Microsoft – which still has an extensive customer base using pre-cloud technologies – is taking pains to prove that it's serious about its hybrid cloud proposition. This was evident at its recent Ignite conference in Chicago, where it lifted the lid on a handful of new solutions for users with one foot in the cloud and the other in on-premise IT. There's now Azure Stack, for example, which allows users to replicate Azure's infrastructure and platform-as-a-service experiences in their own data centres.

In a interview with Fortune just after the event, chief executive Satya Nadella hammered the message home. "I don't think of my server business as somehow 'old school' or 'legacy'," he told the magazine: "I actually think of the server as the edge of my cloud. We now have the ability to tie together the cloud and the server. That is a very unique capability that we have."

But what does this mean for users? Here's what's currently possible for customers who choose, as Mr Nadella puts it, to tie together Microsoft's agile and cost-effective public cloud services with their on-premise IT.

Integration with directory services

One conceivable hybrid cloud scenario that keeps IT teams up at night is the prospect of having to recreate user accounts across multiple environments. If you're using one directory service to authenticate and authorise users for access to on-premise resources, you're not going to want to have to duplicate that data every time you set up a new cloud service.

Luckily, both Azure and Office 365 allow users to synchronise their Active Directory data between on-premise IT and the cloud. This means that once a user has signed into a central Windows Server domain, they can jump right into an Office 365 or SharePoint Online environment with the same account – and vice versa.

Integration with Microsoft server products

Office 365 can also be integrated with a range of Microsoft's on-premise and virtual machine server products – Exchange, Lync, SharePoint Server 2013 – to provide a seamless experience when some users are in one environment and some in the other.

If, for example, you have an on-premise Exchange Server – chosen for security reasons, say, because of the nature of the documents shared by upper management – but don't have enough space for all of the inboxes your business needs, you could use the Office 365 version of Outlook for rank-and-file workers' email and keep Exchange up and running for senior executives. To the user, it'd look like a single environment with one global address list.

Creating a hybrid SharePoint environment

When it comes to SharePoint, Microsoft provides specific roadmaps for enterprises to create hybrid environments merging SharePoint Server 2013 and Office 365. An important part of this is Inbound and Outbound Hybrid Search, with which users are able to run search queries in one environment and see results from the other. Also, Business Connectivity Services can be used to show data sources from SharePoint Server in SharePoint Online.

This functionality is invaluable if you're looking to start a migration to the cloud, but don't yet have a plan in place to account for the feature gap between the two flagship versions of SharePoint and intend to approach the project on a piecemeal basis. You can gradually reduce infrastructure costs, but stick to the same compliance standards and keep the same set of tools you've always used.

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