What Is Microsoft Office 365? What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of SharePoint Online? (Part 2 of 2)

By Laurie Head
AIS Network Vice President

To review:  In June 2011, Microsoft released Office 365, which is essentially bundled online software hosted in the cloud. Office 365 replaced Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) and bundles together the latest upgrades of its SharePoint, Exchange and Lync Server solutions.  So, when you hear “SharePoint Online,” that means SharePoint as it is presented in Office 365, which is hosted by Microsoft. In my last blog, the first part of this series, I explained what Microosft Office 365/SharePoint Online is.  Now, let’s look at the benefits and drawbacks.

Office 365

In today's blog, we look at the benefits and drawbacks of Office 365/SharePoint Online.

Online SharePoint is like a good off-the-rack suit – it does the job if you are a relatively low-level user. However, like a department store suit, it never fits perfectly enough to feel tailor-made.

The features and functionality limitations may be a deal-breaker for some organizations. For example, Office 365 does not allow for full server control and unrestricted access to customize the online SharePoint environment; it also restricts the maximum number of users to 50 and a number of search features are not included. Because online SharePoint cannot be highly customized, some organizations may eschew it for hosted SharePoint Server 2010, which allows for maximum customization. Organizations weighing the two options should study the service descriptions for each product; they will need to compare carefully the online SharePoint to its on-site counterpart.

Nevertheless, a good business case can be made for deploying Office 365. Among the benefits are:

Comprehensive. The bundled services are attractive to many smaller organizations for which customization is of little importance.
Fast. Turn-key configuration and anywhere-access go a long way in the small- to mid-size market.
Less expensive. Maybe, maybe not. However, it does free an organization from the capital outlays associated with on-premise hosting.

Among the drawbacks:

Storage. It’s more expensive per gigabyte.
Service Level Agreement. Microsoft offers a lower SLA than most top-tier hosting companies. They do not guarantee 99.999% uptime.
Comprehensive. An organization may not need or want all of the features offered – or the cost that comes with it.
Features/functionality limitations. In comparing the on-site and online versions of SharePoint, an organization might find that the limitations of the latter are a deal-breaker.
Impersonal hosting relationship. Microsoft is the hosting provider, and it will be challenged to match the rewarding, personalized experience that organizations often have with a smaller hosting provider – one who blends seamlessly into the organization’s own IT staff.
Loss of flexibility and control. An organization can keep its on-premise infrastructure, and using the hybrid capabilities, still deploy Office 365 in the cloud.

However, if you require a high level of control and customization for SharePoint, you would be better served deploying SharePoint Server 2010 in the cloud. If, in future upgrades, Microsoft chooses to match more closely the features and functionality of online SharePoint to its on-site counterpart, namely SharePoint Server, the incentive to move to Microsoft’s cloud may be even stronger for many organizations. In the meantime, third-party hosting of either SharePoint Foundation 2010 or SharePoint Server 2010 may offer an optimal solution.

Are you using Office 365?  What do you think of it?  Check out our white paper for more information.

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5 Responses to “What Is Microsoft Office 365? What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of SharePoint Online? (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Sankar Annamalais says:

    Thanks for your effort, very good information.

  2. Memoti says:

    What’s the minimum size of a company to participate in BizSpark? Can it be a one-person LLC or sole proprietorship?

  3. Micah says:

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  5. David says:

    I just finished migrating to Office365 and am finding it to be very cumbersome and not very easy to manage. I have found Outlook to load very slowly and disconnect from the server multiple times per day. I’m just not seeing the overall benefits for my company to be on Office365. We have 160ish employees.

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