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SharePoint (SP) is a versatile application, a bit like a Swiss army knife and that probably accounts for its amazing popularity in businesses all around the world. In SP 2010, and thus SP online the aim is to cover the entire spectrum from personal sites (blogs and Mysite), team and project collaboration sites to intranet / internet publishing sites.
Introduction to SharePoint in Office 365
If you need to share your SP sites with the world you have two choices, either you can share externally with selected users who are invited and who have to login with a Live ID. Alternatively you can create a public facing website with anonymous access.
An excellent feature in SP is support for taxonomies, terms and words that can be used to tag content for better structure. Custom taxonomies, adapted to the businesses or department, can be created at the tenant level and also at the site collection level. For better document management you can attach a document ID to a particular document, this number will always follow this particular document throughout its lifecycle, no matter where in SP it’s moved to.
Each user subscription adds 0.5 GB to the overall storage pool for SP Online, so a company with 500 users will have 250 GB of storage and you can buy more if needed. Overall maximum storage for a tenant is 1 TB, and files larger than 250 MB can’t be stored in SP Online.
Tagging content will really help in organising large numbers of documents.
What’s in and what’s not in SharePoint Online
One often mentioned search system in SP 2010 is FAST, this is not available in Office 365, nor is Business Intelligence (BI) functionality in the feature known as Performance Point. There’s also no Business Connectivity Services (BCS, which connects SP to SAP and other ERP systems). You can’t deploy software solutions that require full trust code, nor can you run custom code at the farm level.
What you can do is run Office Web Apps; they’re integrated into SP online whereas they have to be installed on premise and you can search across site collections (which you couldn’t in BPOS), you can also search for people and their expertise and it supports phonetic search (picking up similar spelt words). Silverlight based interfaces are fully supported as is sandboxed custom software solutions.
Customisation of SP can be done through the free SharePoint Designer but the administrator has to turn this access on, if you’re creating workflows these can be laid out in Visio and then exported directly as a SP workflow. A detail to note is that the More web parts button is in a different location than it is in SP 2010 on premise.
If you have a lot of content in SP on premise today a good deal of planning is required to decide how to proceed. There are no built in tools for migrating SP sites to Office 365 although several third party solutions are available. Also be aware that you can’t store .exe, .vbs, .chm or .com files in SP online.
Customising a SP site for a team is quick and easy.
A major consideration with any cloud deployment is the impact on internet bandwidth, moving say a 1000 user’s mailboxes, SharePoint document and VOIP traffic to outside the LAN is going to cause a significant increase in internet data traffic. And if there’s one thing users today don’t like it’s having a “slow network”. The Microsoft Online Deployment Guide (see Resources) gives detailed guidance on bandwidth usage. For troubleshooting client issues don’t forget the Microsoft Online Services Diagnostics and Logging tool (see Resources).
Without going into details on how Office 365 compares to Google’s offering it’s clear to me that O365 is miles ahead in usability and integration, especially since the environments where people interface with O365 (Outlook, OWA, SharePoint and Office itself) are familiar territory for most information workers requiring very little change in to use. The last bastion where Google was ahead was in concurrent editing of a document by several users, this feature was recently added to Word Web App.
Overall there’s no doubt that Office 365 is a great cloud service, offering easy to use and powerful services for email, collaboration and communications with excellent support for integration with existing on premise systems. Many small businesses will drink the O365 Kool-Aid, and there will undoubtedly be many large businesses that will look to see if savings and efficiencies are to be had as well. There will be interesting times ahead in the cloud world.