BPC: ‘Best Practices for SharePoint Online’ with Mark Eichenberger

Mark Eichenberger delivers his "Best Practices for SharePoint Online" at #BPC10Mark Eichenberger, a Microsoft Business Productivity Specialist with years of SharePoint experience has, as of July 1, 2010, been tapped to become a BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) specialist, and BPOS was the focus of Mark's morning session at the BPC today. 

Mark acknowledged at the start of his session that BPOS (and the cloud) "is fairly new, and some of the best practices are still evolving," but he nonetheless concluded his session with a series of best practices recommendations.  Rather than bury the lead in this post, I'm going to start with Mark's best practices recommendations for SharePoint Online and then circle back for the BPOS overview that preceded those recommendations.

Mark's first best practice recommendation was to "know why you're going online," noting that typically, companies choose the cloud-based approach for one of two reasons (or a combination of the two): reduce costs and/or to extend reach.  Mark strongly recommends that you make sure that an executive is backing the plan ("somebody with a 'C' in their title"), or prepare for the very real possibility of a failure to launch.

Mark's second best practices recommendation was to be aware that if you require SharePoint 2010 now, but your organization doesn't meet the requirements of the BPOS-Dedicated (BPOS-D) model, that BPOS-Standard (BPOS-S) does not currently offer SharePoint 2010 and is still running 2007.  As a result, Mark's recommendation is that you look at third party providers or, if you're in the early planning stages of your cloud strategy, "get your Microsoft rep involved" sooner than later.

Mark's third recommendation was to get to get some help, most especially because "there are a lot of 'gotchas' in the cloud," so you should seek out a partner with experience in the space because they're going to be aware of those "gotchas" and can help you avoid them.

The fourth item on Mark's best practices recommendations was in regard to disruption and the need to plan for it because, "there will be disruption."  Some areas of concern to be aware of include the plain fact that in a move to the cloud, there will be differences (security, logins, old links, limitations), and you need to plan for disruption and be ready to support your users during the transition.

Finally, Mark recommended a number of considerations that you should bear in mind when exploring third party providers.  These consist of a series of questions you'll want to know the answers to when entering into discussions with third-party providers, such as: "Who is responsible for maintaining the OS and SharePoint servers?" (with regard to patching and regular maintenance); "How will security work?" (for example, will internal credentials translate?); and "What customizations/third parties will they support?"

Sharing those best practices recommendations is how Mark ended his session, but what preceded them was an overview of BPOS, and the differences between BPOS-D, BPOS-S, and a brief mention of BPOS-F (BPOS-Federal, which launched earlier this year and boasts all of the features and functionality of BPOS-D with added support for a variety of federal compliance standards).

BPOS-D is, as alluded to previously, running SharePoint 2010 today, allowing for more customization than BPOS-S, and provides dedicated hardware and software for your organization.  All of which, of course, comes with a sizable price tag, and as such is intended for larger organizations – while the minimum number of seats required to license BPOS-D is 5K, the target audience is really organizations ranging from 20K-100K seats.

BPOS-S, on the other hand, is currently running SharePoint 2007, is multi-tenant (i.e., hardware and software is shared between participating organizations), and doesn't provide much in the way of customization options, but is available to get smaller organizations into the cloud and running SharePoint with the peace of mind that comes with a Microsoft-hosted environment … and licensing BPOS-S requires a minimum of just five seats.  Today, the Standard offering provides basic collaboration features, and is especially useful for "deskless" workers, but it's not intended as a replacement for a "mature SharePoint portal."

On the topic of migration from an on-premises SharePoint environment to the cloud, Mark said that while Microsoft doesn't offer tools to migrate existing SharePoint sites and content to BPOS, there are a number of third-party providers who are available to assist with your migration needs.  Quest, Metalogix, and AvePoint were all mentioned as third-party providers offering migration services.

Speaking of third-party providers, and speaking as an employee of Bamboo Solutions, when a question came up in the Q&A regarding the possibility of an "app store" becoming available in BPOS to provide third-party solutions, Mark said that he would personally love to see it happen so that they could, for example "offer Bamboo Web Parts" right there in BPOS, but that as far as he's aware, plans are not yet afoot for such an app store.  If you're a BPOS user today (or expect to become one in the future), and an app store for third-party providers is something you'd like to see in BPOS, by all means, do feel free to tell your Microsoft rep… and tell 'em Bamboo sent you.

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