Top 10 Things to Consider Before Moving SharePoint to the Cloud

Questions about SharePoint and the cloud tend to run along these lines: Will moving to the cloud truly save me money? Will I be able to have a highly customized SharePoint implementation? Will farm administration go away?

Good questions, for starters, but you probably have more. Check your list against these 10 questions about SharePoint and the cloud, courtesy of Shawn Beeson, principal consultant in the Portals and Collaboration practice with RBA Consulting in Denver.

Beeson, a Microsoft Certified Professional Developer in ASP.NET and SharePoint 2010 Development and a Certified Technical Specialist in SharePoint 2010, MOSS, and WSS configuration, says you need to consider not just cost and compliance but also the skills of your technical staff, and more.

Here are his top 10 things to consider before moving SharePoint to the cloud:

Question 10: What is your time frame?

Define your target time frame--is it flexible? is it fixed? If you're implementing SharePoint for the first time--a greenfield deployment--then you might not have as long an estimated time frame as someone doing a brownfield deployment, that is, moving from SharePoint on premises to a cloud implementation.

Question 9: What is your enterprise app topology ?

What do you have that needs to integrate with SharePoint? SAP? custom apps? Project Server?

How do they work together from a code perspective? is this feasible? Will you be able to have single sign-on?

Question 8: If you already have SharePoint, how customized is it?

Some third-party SharePoint applications used on-premises might be difficult to implement in a cloud deployment, or you might lose some functionality. Are your existing customizations packaged and deployed as a feature? Do you postpone current development work in progress or do you correct the course and plow onward? How do you introduce application lifecycle management into a cloud based solution?

"In the future, everything has to be in the sandbox," Beeson says. "It's a more restrictive process with a restrictive code access policy, and it only has limited access to SharePoint APIs."

Here's what's supported in sandbox solutions: Web Parts, lists, list templates, custom actions, workflows. Here's what's not supported: access to the file system, off-box connections, ADO.NET; enterprise features; threading; third-party .NET controls.

Question 7: Do you have a strategy for managing identity?

Managing identity is so important, Beeson says a possible job function you might end up with on your team could be that of identity manager, someone who understands the boundaries of identity between all applications. For example, an identity manager might architect a cloud federation service that lies between the apps and the authentication sources.

Question 6: Will you be affected by legal considerations about moving to the cloud?

Some countries have issues with storing data in US-based data centers, thanks to the Patriot Act. (Note that some other countries also have similar laws.) What happens if your cloud provider is seized or searched by a local authority hosting your data? what rights do you have? Some industries have issues with storing data, which you already know about if you have to comply with any of the alphabet-soup regulations (SOX, HIPPA, etc.).

Question 5: Do you know what SharePoint features are must-haves for your organization--and are you willing to give some up to be in the cloud?

Right now, with Office 365's SharePoint Online, you're limited with what you can do, Beeson says, and he also advises questioning any cloud provider you might be considering. For example, he lists some restrictions in SharePoint Online:

  • MySites is limited
  • SQL Server Reporting Services isn't available
  • Excel Services and PowerPivot aren't available
  • FAST Search isn't available
  • No support for customer use of Windows PowerShell for service administration
  • No support for BCS direct connection to SQL Azure--a Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) endpoint is required
  • Timer jobs aren't available, nor are BCS profile pages
  • Records Center isn't available
  • Word Automation services isn't available

Question 4: Do you understand your target cloud environment?

You need to know what features and customizations you'll have and whether you might need a hybrid environment, which adds complexity, or whether you might need private (dedicated) hosting, which adds cost.

Question 3: Are you able and willing to change your support, site ownership, admin, dev, and governance models?

Will farm administariton, maintenance, and tuning go away? Who will own the governance of your cloud environment--will your admins take over governance responsibilities or will others? will they be in house or outside? How will the required technical skills in your organization change?

Question 2: Have you defined a plan for moving what you have?

What will site hierarchy and navigation be like? Who will handle content review? Will you use a third-party tool to move SharePoint from on premises to the cloud? What will be involved with that?

Question 1: What's the ROI? How long will it take you to make your money back?

Beeson notes these cost considerations for starters: Cost of cloud preparedness; client licensing;

migration costs; infrastructure costs with Active Directory Federated Services (ADFS); cost of filling in the gaps in limitations (e.g., SharePoint Online's gaps). You might well see savings in server licensing, client licensing, and infrastructure costs, but you might see unforeseen costs too: "Understand where you're going to break even and where you're going to save," Beeson says.

And finally, The Bonus Question: What about your people? Don't forget about them, Beeson says. "Developers, site owners, administrators--you're taking this away from them. Lay out a plan for them and make sure they're part of the process. You can't do this in a silo. There are going to be shifts in responsibility and job titles and descriptions."

If you do decide to move ahead to the cloud, you'll need to question your provider about the following, for starters:

Data security: Hosting data in a remote data center exposes you to risk since data center staff have access to your data. What measures are in place to secure your data from IT staff?

Physical security: Data may be stored in many data centers. How can you ensure that the data centers hosting your data have adequate physical security?

Data ownership and control: How can you be sure you aren't held hostage now that your data is no longer under your control? How do you get it back if you decide to leave (offboarding?) Read the fine print and make sure you know who owns the data.

Service level agreements (SLAs): Are SLAs clearly defined? For example, what is the cost and remediation of down time? Is your provider going to make up the cost?

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