By Mike Alsup
Aug 19 2014
Many organizations are contemplating the migration of some or all of their SharePoint on-premise solutions to Office 365. This isn’t a simple migration and will require the consideration of a variety of factors. This article outlines some of the considerations that come with migrating from on-premise to Office 365-based SharePoint solutions.
1. Microsoft is becoming OS Neutral, which is bringing new users to Office 365
Reflecting its tiny market share of Windows on smartphones and tablets, Microsoft has become almost OS-neutral. Changes to the SharePoint development model have opened the platform to other development tools and standards. In recent Microsoft announcements, it has been clear that Microsoft is moving to strongly support the iOS and Android platforms with developer tools, directory services and mobile device management. The Microsoft opportunity is to participate in the management of all of the devices in the organization. Many competitors are trying to do this, but Microsoft has important advantages:
- Many organizations have already moved their Exchange systems into Office 365 to take advantage of significant cost savings and avoid the need to continue to maintain their email systems on-premise.
- The popularity of Office productivity tools in corporate world is propelling many users of tablets, especially iPads, to adopt Office 365 to unify and extend their tablet and laptop experience. The Office file formats are very popular, and tablet users need an application to edit those files. Microsoft has only provided native iOS applications to edit Office files to users with an Office 365 subscription.
- OneDrive for Business is positioned by the Office productivity tools as the default cloud file sync and share solution to store and retrieve documents. OneDrive for Business is a SharePoint Online component of Office 365. It is more difficult to use Box or Dropbox or other cloud file sync and share solutions from Office 365 tools than it is to use OneDrive for Business.
- The Windows network operating system, in combination with other solutions like StorSimple, is evolving to provide a seamless experience between on-premise and cloud network operations. This is particularly important in areas like storage, backup and file share management.
- The availability of Active Directory and OAuth for user identity authentication and permission and group membership management is enabling integrated identity management with other solutions, such as SAP.
2. The Multi-Tenancy of Office 365 enables much better scalability, but it will require changes in philosophy and policy
In the traditional, on-premise world of SharePoint, a variety of customizations were allowed inside SharePoint. This is the “Full Trust” development model. The challenge with this environment is that these customizations had the potential to negatively affect the scalability and stability of the SharePoint environment itself. SharePoint is a complex and feature-rich environment and every SharePoint environment ended up with differences and inconsistencies that made supporting SharePoint more challenging.
As SharePoint has enabled multi-tenancy in Office 365, Microsoft has required these customizations to be moved off server into Azure or another platform to ensure the stability of SharePoint Online. This is the “Provider Hosted” application development model. In this environment, applications that communicate with SharePoint Online are required to use the Client Side Object Model (CSOM) APIs (or REST Services) for App development. CSOM was originally introduced with SharePoint 2010 and is a fundamentally different paradigm to build SharePoint applications which requires much more understanding of authentication, trust and inter-application communications. Microsoft has indicated that they will be able to support millions of users and billions of documents in this model, but it will require significant changes to existing SharePoint solutions before they can be migrated to Office 365.
3. The SharePoint App Model is Immature
As a precursor to a migration of SharePoint solutions to Office 365, many organizations are using the SharePoint App (or CSOM) model to build on-premise SharePoint 2013 Apps. This will make the migration of these apps to Office 365 easier, and offers the same benefits to SharePoint installations on-premise, since the Provider Hosted applications are running outside of the SharePoint environment in both cases. Many organizations are wrestling with first version issues in developing SharePoint App’s based on this model because it is still relatively new.
4. Cloud storage of corporate documents enables economic benefits and requires changes in philosophy and policy for enterprises
Microsoft is one of a handful of companies that are going all-in with the development of their cloud offerings. Other significant cloud platform providers include Amazon, Google, Rackspace, and IBM. In the ECM market, Open Text and EMC are making significant private cloud investments. Microsoft is making Azure an enterprise-scalable cloud offering and many other ECM vendors are also hosting complimentary Cloud offerings in Azure.
One of the primary competitive areas among cloud platforms is the massive amount of storage that is available to users. The storage savings are potentially significant for organizations that manage SharePoint using expensive, high availability storage on-premise. There is much debate about how much Office 365 storage really costs and whether the massive free storage being offered to consumers is really that inexpensive for larger enterprise customers. In any case, the issues surrounding heavily regulated environments and the secure storage of corporate records in the cloud is still a primary mitigating factor of cloud adoption from a policy perspective in many large organizations.
5. The Impact of “In Place” Governance
Modern documents are no longer only single objects. The tradition of dynamic documents in the history of document management, whether in engineering document layers or documents that are assembled for viewing just-in-time, like web pages, is that many types of documents are very difficult to understand outside of the context of their original editing environment. For this reason, documents were frequently simplified when exported from their original environment, but this process strips out much of their compliance and records-oriented metadata.
Second, modern documents have a people and social context. Commentary on the documents, their viewing history, process actions, user ratings, and where the documents are used are frequently separate elements from the document content itself. This information can be very difficult to capture and understand outside of the context of the original document editing environment.
As a consequence of this complexity, Microsoft is promoting In Place governance to make sure that the full context of the documents is available to governance processes. Microsoft’s position on governance is straightforward - it is that the data of an application should be managed “in that application” and they are promoting in-app archiving (Exchange archiving and SharePoint archiving). This makes Microsoft’s approach In Place governance a logical approach to governance requirements. This approach has the side benefit to Microsoft of making it harder to govern documents from outside of the Microsoft stack (SharePoint, Exchange, and OneDrive for Business). Additionally, the migration to the SharePoint App Model makes it more expensive for governance vendors to integrate their solutions with Office 365 in order to compete in the enterprise content governance market.
6. The Future Direction of the Office 365 Add-In Components and Solutions Market is Unclear
What components and solutions will actual buyers spend money on? The Office 365 and Azure environments are still fairly new as solution platforms in most organizations. There are numerous vendors who have built sophisticated solutions and Add-In components for these environments, but have yet to sell them to clients. The types of components and business solutions that will be attractive to enterprise buyers and the pricing that will sell these components and business solutions are not yet clear.
Organizations are adjusting to building Apps based on the new SharePoint App Model. The nature of Office 365 and Azure divides many functions up differently than they were deployed on-premise. We have seen that organizations want to use this model, but are surprised by its immaturity and implementation complexity. As a result, they back off from significant deployments. We see these organizations looking for case studies of deployment success before making large scale commitments.
7. Business Solutions are a Key Opportunity to Achieve Benefits from ECM Investments
One of the weaknesses of the Office 365 and Azure environment (in a compliance and content management sense) is that it doesn’t natively provide the level of content governance and records management services that the legacy ECM Suites traditionally provided or that the SharePoint partner ecosystem enabled in on-premise solutions with SharePoint add-in products. We see Microsoft partners aggressively investing to build products that extend Office 365 and Azure to provide these content governance services.
Examples of these services include:
- Knowledge Management
- Site Governance and Management
- Business Process Management
- Taxonomy/Auto-Classification Management
- Hierarchical Storage Management
- Physical Records Management
- Connectors to integrate governance with Line of Business or ERP solutions
- Information lifecycles and information policy federation to span multiple repositories
These are the services that enabled the traditional ECM Suites to be the full foundation for enterprise business solutions and, when available, will enable enterprises or integrators to build the types of business solutions in Office 365 and Azure that have driven the ECM market for decades, such as:
- Accounts payable imaging
- Contracts Management
- Human Resources
- Document Control
8. Who Wins and Loses in a move to Office 365?
Training and infrastructure providers are clear losers in a migration to the Cloud in the long term. Microsoft has taken over the management of their own infrastructure and there is less training required, especially in administrative and infrastructure management functions. The “Traditional” administrative role has changed to a Cloud Tenant Administrative role which is responsible for managing different areas such as Resource Allocation and Compute quotas within Office 365.
There is significant change required to move infrastructure and business solutions to Office 365, and systems integrators with strong change management skills will see these skills in great demand.
Business solution providers are clear winners, because the infrastructure deployment models can be dramatically more consistent and cost-effective. Like many organizations, we have wrestled with the inconsistency of the SharePoint environments into which our on-premise solutions were deployed. The inconsistency of the SharePoint infrastructure and deployment amongst our clients goes away in Office 365 and Azure (we hope!) because it is a more standard environment. However, there is the increased complexity of Provider Hosting, cross platform authentication, networking and security that must be anticipated.
It is clear that there will be multiple winners in the information management and governance market. Today’s organizations are coming from a variety of starting points, with different ECM and content governance requirements, different scale, and different levels of technical proficiency. SharePoint didn’t need Windows 8 to be successful to dominate its markets, it just needed the momentum of Office 365, Office productivity applications, and the SharePoint App model to be successful to win the largest market share in the markets for enterprise content management and governance. By extending Microsoft support to iOS and Android, the market position of SharePoint becomes stronger, especially with the seemingly inexorable enterprise migration to Office 365.