Office 365 SharePoint Online

Cloud or no cloud?
Within four hours today we had several changes of weather from mildly gloomy to flood like rain followed by bright blue skies with incredible sunshine only to change and cycle again. Some things change quickly other more slowly. Back and forth like the eternal question of whether to use distributed or centralized systems.

Centralized or distributed?
Since the first computers were created a debate about whether to use large central processors or a network of distributed smaller systems has resulted in the latest greatest thing to be one or the other. From IBM mainframes to Unix based networks running SUN Unix Systems through Novell NetWare and Windows networking, connecting relatively cheap workstations through to More powerful servers. As time moved on ease of internet access has meant distributed computing has become a necessity for many of us in our daily lives.

Back to the centre
And now we see the trend moving back to the centralized model only this time one or more vendors are hoping to lure you to their data-center with a variety of service offerings. Much of the technicalities of the cloud will be blogged about here in our Cloud Computing category but what of SharePoint and the cloud.

A big concern for many organisations is that of keeping the skills of their employee up to date. Changing to the cloud has to be utilize those skills not require a complete new set. I have recently been using Office 365. First I used the beta and now I’m using the live versions.

Part of office 365 is SharePoint online. You get both intranet (team) sites and Web (public facing) sites. The key thing about this is that I have SharePoint server facilities for a monthly fee. I am basically renting a SharePoint server. Why is this good? Well apart from being cheaper than doing it all myself I can rely on Microsoft to take the backups, keep the system running, and do the tuning. For larger companies the complexity of software is making it more difficult to keep enough staff with the right degree of technical knowledge, and a cloud or hosted solution may be worth considering for some parts of the business.

Skills in place
In terms of applying my existing SharePoint knowledge. All I have to do is use the system.

It’s SharePoint 2010 with a slightly different look and feel.

Now most people at some time will find that they need to customize SharePoint and this is where a hosted offering differs from having access to an on premise fully accessible server. I can access and customize it using SharePoint Designer. In addition I can upload Sandbox solutions developed using Visual Studio and the SharePoint APIs. More on this in a future post.

Equally I cannot install farm-level custom solutions and there are currently no business connectivity services, but these are features you would get by going for a fully serviced server within the cloud.

Some of the other differences are a slightly different user interface (theme) note the links to connect to Outlook, team or public sites and the different styling to the ‘normal’ SharePoint 2010.

Another nice feature is the Silverlight based site template browser shown below.

It’s another option
For me, having a SharePoint online solution has brought another option to the table. I can now select cloud, my own servers, or a mixture of the two depending on business needs.

At the moment it seems like a nice option but experience in using it and learning more will help identify any potential problems. As I gain that experience I will decide whether to move more of my business to the cloud or not. The key thing is that SharePoint online is SharePoint and the level of which I wish to use it is not affected by whether I can use it technically but whether it suits my business when considering issues such as governance, data protection, security, and value for money.

The debate about centralized and distributed will no doubt continue on together with cloud or no cloud. This cycle will keep many of us busy evaluating the best options for us and our clients. Continual change sometimes predictable, sometimes not. Much like the weather really. J

To learn more about SharePoint, check out Learning Tree’s complete SharePoint training curriculum.

Dave Severn

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