Friday, May 02, 2014

SharePoint Extranet on Office 365, Part 2 - Building an Extranet with Azure

I won’t be discussing using Office 365 and SharePoint online for your extranet in this post. This article will focus on an alternative if your management is pushing for a solid extranet and is pushing for it to be in the cloud.  

In larger companies there can often be a fairly wide chasm between IT management and the IT Pros on the frontline.  Bridging that gap isn’t always easy.  I am seeing more and more large companies looking to move as many services as possible to the cloud.  This can be a good decision in many cases but each technology needs to be evaluated to determine the fit for your specific needs.  Whether a large or small company, some services might make sense to be in the cloud and some on premise.

In part 1 of this series I explained why Office 365 isn’t a great solution for an extranet if you have many requirements around security, user management, and flexibility (among other reasons).  But what if you want the management that ExCM provides for a robust extranet solution, but have the edict to host it off site?  

If you aren’t familiar with Microsoft Azure, you should get familiar.  It gives you flexibility to use Microsoft’s data centers for your VM’s but not give up total control as you would with SharePoint online.  You can easily request a Windows VM and have total control over it, just as you would with an on premise server.  This gives you the best of both worlds if your requirement is to move off premise.  (For full disclosure, you can use other VM hosting services such as Amazon and Rackspace as well).

Depending on the scale of your extranet, one VM could be sufficient to host SharePoint and ExCM to have that robust, full featured extranet solution, hosted in the cloud.  SharePoint would still be the on premise version, so you give up no flexibility as far as that is concerned.  You can add all the third party software, and custom farm solutions you need, to get the most value out of your SharePoint environment. 

We see many customers that have on premise SharePoint and now want a SharePoint based extranet, but want it completely separate from their existing SharePoint environment.  Azure would work great for this scenario as well.  Leave your truly on premise SharePoint environment alone and fire up a new Windows Server VM on Azure.  Run SharePoint Foundation 2013 on it (free) and install ExCM 2013 to run your Extranet.  With the help of our experts you could have this scenario up and running the day your Azure VM gets provisioned.  

Using Azure to host SharePoint, and an extranet, is also a great solution for smaller companies that need a full featured extranet, but don’t have the IT resources to manage the environment on their own.  Small law firms, realty offices, and any other small professional service companies don’t often think about this type of a solution.  It would take some IT knowledge to get up and running, and again, we’d be happy to help you do so if this scenario describes you.  

Office 365 is a great solution for certain people in certain scenarios.  The idea of the cloud, and allowing someone else to do the heavy lifting on the infrastructure side makes sense in a lot of situations.  It just seems that a lot of people we talk to think there are only two options, completely on premise SharePoint or SharePoint online with Office 365.  I believe the middle ground of a cloud hosted server, running on premise SharePoint, is the real sweet spot for a lot of scenarios.   Bottom line is, don’t compromise features just because your company doesn’t want to host servers anymore.

If you are investigating extranet options and would like to discuss what might be a good fit for where to host it, please reach out to me and let’s discuss.

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