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Channeling the Cloud

SharePoint's Path to the Cloud Is Not a Straight Shot

Few dispute that SharePoint in the cloud is the future. The challenge for partners and customers is determining the best path to get there.

With this year's release of Windows Azure Infrastructure Services, SharePoint 2013 and the new Office 365 SharePoint Online, Microsoft has upped the ante for offering its collaboration platform in the cloud. The path for many customers and partners, however, is still uncertain.

A survey of about 500 customers conducted by sister-publication Redmond magazine last month found 17 percent are using SharePoint in the cloud. Of those, nearly 66 percent are using Office 365 SharePoint Online and 14 percent are running SharePoint servers in the new Windows Azure Infrastructure Services. The rest report they're running SharePoint on a third-party cloud, with a managed services provider or at a colocation facility.

When asked about their planned implementations, there's a subtle but noteworthy shift. The number planning to use Office 365 SharePoint Online drops to 55 percent. Those planning to deploy SharePoint Servers in Windows Azure jumps to nearly 29 percent. The greater desire to use Windows Azure to deploy SharePoint points to a faction for which the latest SharePoint Online doesn't meet their needs.

One key issue is that SharePoint 2013 and the new SharePoint Online come with a new app model. Those with older versions of SharePoint can't port most custom apps and integrations with Office 365 (though they can do so with SharePoint 2013). Another key concern is that SharePoint is very much a platform in transition. For example, it's widely assumed the Yammer activity stream will ultimately replace SharePoint's news feed. Many are expecting Microsoft to reveal where SharePoint is headed in March at the company's SharePoint conference.

Even those who want to start using SharePoint in the cloud, perhaps to establish an application for people outside the firewall, still want to have some if not the bulk of their SharePoint infrastructure on-premises -- a hybrid cloud architecture. "They want that on-premises container to be the central integration point, to pull down selected services from the cloud," says Chris McNulty, CTO of Dell Software.

McNulty believes Microsoft's messaging and move from three-year upgrades to a more rapid release cadence has overwhelmed many customers. "Not that it was the wrong messaging, but it was more to digest than people have been used to having to digest in a while," he says.

Christian Buckley, Metalogix SharePoint evangelist, questions Microsoft's messaging. "Microsoft has shot themselves in the foot with this latest SharePoint version," Buckley says. "I understand what they are doing -- moving from a highly volatile platform to a more measurable, manageable platform, but their communication has been terrible. They're upsetting their partners by not having a clearly communicated vision and parallel path for on-premises and the cloud."

SharePoint MVP Dan Holme, a principal with Intelliem, says, "Organizations are struggling with digesting the Microsoft message and roadmap, which have not been inspiring a lot of confidence. But they're coming to realize that Office 365 is the future."

Few dispute that SharePoint in the cloud is the future. The only challenge is determining the best path to get there.

More Analysis by Jeffrey Schwartz:

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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