EuropeanSP11: ‘Proven Practices for Utilizing the Cloud in SharePoint Deployments,’ Presented by AvePoint’s Ernst Hutsteiner

Ernst Hutsteiner of AvePoint presented a session at the European SharePoint Conference this week on utilizing the cloud in SharePoint deployments.  As the title of his presentation stated, his goal was to present proven real-world practices and not just theory.   In order to set the stage for the discussion, the first part of Ernst’s presentation provided a primer on cloud terminology.  Ernst introduced the basics of the cloud: IaaS (infrastructure as a service), SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service).  He described these as the three cloud computing options.  PaaS was defined as “cloud as an operating system” and included examples such as Amazon Ec2 and Windows Azure.  SaaS included offerings like and Office 365, and IaaS as “the cloud as hardware”.  His session would focus on only IaaS and SaaS remarked Ernst. 

Ernst then posed the question “What drives a move to the cloud?”  The cloud benefits he covered that included the ability to facilitate rapid on-boarding, achieving instant optimization, effortless movement to new software versions, and the gains of improved scaling and performance.     The list didn’t end there.  Strong SLAs, sustainability, easing of the storage burden, and moving CapEx costs to OpEx also were cited.  Once the benefits of moving to the cloud were made clear, Ernst talked about some of the things that hindered a move to the cloud.  Security was listed first.  Probably the most important of all, he stated, since if you can’t be sure your information in the cloud is safe, then it’s very difficult to get beyond that.  A close second would be the bandwidth and reliability of your own connection to the internet.  As Ernst aptly pointed out, if you can’t connect to the internet then you can’t do business in the cloud.  Ernst then went on to describe how the cost of cloud storage can also hinder cloud movement as it is much more expensive over the long run to have your data in the cloud as opposed to keeping it on-premises.  From some, he stated, the issue of data sovereignty can be a concern.  Some countries have laws that require data to reside within the borders of that country.   Cloud datacenters can reside anywhere and aren’t located everywhere.  Problems with the lack of a traditional development, test, and production server can also hinder cloud adoption stated Ernst.  

The session then turned specifically to Office 365.  Ernst worked to define it for the audience and then covered its limitations.  He described Office 365 as essentially hosted version of SharePoint, Office, Exchange and Lync that comes in two options: standard and dedicated.  Standard provides customers with a multi-tenant shared environment, and the dedicated offering, Ernst says, allows a customer to obtain a private cloud experience if they have a user base of over 5000. Limitations of the platform includes some of the enterprise level features of SharePoint like FAST Search, BCS, Performance Point Services, and others.

Ernst then stressed that the decision to move to the cloud isn’t an all or nothing proposition.  He encouraged attendees to carefully decide which workloads could benefit from the cloud first, and then to consider both the migration and coexistence of information.  With the basics of cloud covered, Ernst moved to communicate some of the common scenarios and ways to migrate workloads to the cloud.  For the migration of meta-data, Ernst described the options available to someone working natively with Office 365 using one the out-of-the-box methods it provides.  This included the manual upload of information, FTP  of content DBs directly to Microsoft, physical shipment of content DBs to Microsoft, and the ability to manually script a migration through an API.  Ernst then covered the approach of using 3rd party software to assist in migration and it wasn’t a surprise to see him choose to showcase the capabilities of his company’s DocAve migration tool.  If you are interested in the details of how DocAve facilitates the migration of workloads to Office 365, then I will suggest you seek out the AvePoint website.
The session continued to cover the migration of information to Office 365, but Ernst now turned to explain the difficulties of storing BLOBs in the cloud.  He suggested only moving BLOB information directly into a SharePoint’s SQL Server database if the BLOBs that you were importing were less than 1M in size.  Beyond that limit, stated Ernst, SQL Server tends to fragment information which can start to impact performance.  Ernst recommended using the cloud as a destination for BLOB storage and showcased the both the out-of-the-box and DocAve approach to moving them to Office 365. 

In his summary, Ernst did a good job wrapping up the benefits and challenges of utilizing the cloud in SharePoint deployment.  He stressed that although the use of the cloud will always be something we consider in the future, he believes that hybrid scenarios utilizing both cloud and on-premises with be common.