Should you run SharePoint on-premise or in the cloud?

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Microsoft kicked off this week with some big news for the SharePoint community: the on-premise edition of the eminent enterprise collaboration platform will be getting an upgrade before the end of the year.

For some concerned SharePoint users, the surprise here isn’t so much that a new version of SharePoint Server is coming out in 2015, but that a new version is coming out at all. Ever since the launch of SharePoint Online, speculation has been rife that Microsoft is set on herding its install base onto the Office 365 platform, away from on-premise apps and into a future of subscription-based cloud services.

This transition is a logical and happy one for many users. For others, however, the prospect of losing the ability to run SharePoint on-premise is unthinkable – for the first time in a decade and a half, it could force them to fundamentally alter the way they work with the platform.

On the occasion of the official SharePoint Server 2016 announcement, it’s worth revisiting why, exactly, the on-premise versus cloud debate is such a hot topic in the SharePoint community. Here are four of the key differences between running the platform in your own data centre and in someone else’s, whether that’s via Office 365 and SharePoint Online or through a third-party vendor.

Setup and maintenance

Let’s start with the obvious one: there’s considerable legwork involved in setting up a SharePoint Server stack on-premise, especially if you’re bolting on additional Microsoft services such as Exchange and Lync servers. Switching to a software-as-a-service model eliminates this, and Office 365 in particular offers hosted versions of Exchange, Lync, Office Web Apps and Yammer alongside SharePoint. For small businesses with limited IT resources, the cloud option has much in its favour.

Extensibility

Unfortunately, SharePoint Online simply isn’t able to offer the same extensibility as its on-premise counterpart. Notably, it can’t run high-trust apps, which are needed to connect to remote servers. So, if you’re switching to SharePoint in the cloud via Office 365, say goodbye to your line-of-business apps that draw data from external sources.

Security

A more generic contrast between the cloud and on-premise IT lies in their security implications, and this is also true of SharePoint. Granted, in 2015 it’s no longer really fair to say that cloud services are inherently less secure than in-house infrastructure – providers have done a ton to improve their credentials in this regard over the past couple of years. However, it’s still worth thinking about issues like data sovereignty, which describes how data is subject to the laws of the country in which it is stored. Depending on what you’re storing in the cloud, this could open you up to any number of unforeseen regulatory challenges.

Service-level agreements

Finally, many SharePoint users worry that running the platform and other apps in the cloud will affect their availability: what if the provider suffers downtime, for example? Office 365 has some local sync options, but a service interruption could still spell substantial danger for an organisation’s overall productivity. In circumstances like this, it’s important to establish a service-level agreement where acceptable uptime rates are formally defined.

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