What Is Microsoft Sharepoint Online And What Can It Do For You?
SharePoint comes in two different editions, with important differences. They are distinctly different with their own strengths and weaknesses.
SharePoint Online (SPO): SPO is the cloud hosted product that comes bundled with various Office 365 plans, but can also be purchased standalone. It always gets the latest and greatest features first, and requires no maintenance by the end user. SharePoint Online is first and foremost a cloud solution that has additional tie-ins with Office Online products, OneDrive, etc that may or may not exist in the on-premise version of the product. The SPO edition suits small or midsize businesses better.
SharePoint 2013 (SP): This edition is meant to be installed either on-premise or on a cloud server for example within Windows Azure. It is also used primarily by large organisations with a large IT department. The areas that SharePoint Server 2013 excels over SPO are contained within aspects such as connecting multiple instances of the product in a server farm environment, storing large amounts of data without incurring cloud storage fees, and other Enterprise based needs.
SharePoint Online can act as a cloud file server, a content search hub, it can be used to run public websites and internal intranets and helps handle complex document workflows.
It has come into its own since the release of the revised Office 365 suite, making it a lot simpler to set up, use and maintain. You can now work in-browser or in Office 2013 or both at once. OneDrive for Business provides access to your own personal "My Docs in the Cloud" at 25GB per user and more importantly, for companies moving their file servers to the cloud, it lets them sync up to document libraries.
SharePoint organises storage a bit different than other providers. Since SharePoint is built around collaboration and a search focused core, it needs more structure to how data is placed into the service hence document libraries.
- Site: This is the uppermost boundary tying together any data you can place into SharePoint such as lists, files, images and web pages.
- Document Library: There can be an unlimited number of document libraries in a site. Most companies use a default Team Site where all document libraries can be built. Libraries are virtual filing cabinets that will store collections of related data like docs, images, etc.
- Files and Folders: This is what most end users care about, and these can be freely created, moved, and locked down within a document library.
So there are conceptual building blocks that have to be taken into account when building your SPO "file server in the cloud".
OneDrive for Business without document libraries cannot allow for mass sets of files to be shared in a file-server style environment. OneDrive without Document Libraries does not replace the File Server.
OneDrive for Business does allow you to share files, but unless you specify every single person on files you are sharing, the items will not be seen in their "Shared with Me" view. OneDrive for Business, on its own, does not function as a file server in the cloud. That power is solely available through Document Libraries in SPO.
For companies with less than 1 Terabyte of data SPO is an attractive option.
Calculating exact pricing per month for SharePoint Online can be difficult. Microsoft uses a baseline of 10GB of space for your entire company, and then adds on an additional 500MB for each extra user you have on your account. This needs to be figured in when trying to find how much it would cost to move your data into their cloud.
For editing your Office files in a web browser, building an intranet, or collaborating with others in real time on your docs SPO does a great job :-
- Browser-based Office Online apps: MS Office Online apps are browser based versions of all the basic Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access etc). No other cloud storage suite apart from Google Drive offers anything like this.
- Real-time co-authoring of files: Another item that ties into Office Online apps, but can be used from the 2013 Office desktop apps too. Office Online can seamlessly edit these files with multiple people at the same time.
- Easy sharing capabilities: You no longer need to attach documents to emails anymore as you can create links from SPO or inside your Office 2013 apps, and include them inline within emails. It reduces email file explosion, and every recipient always sees the latest version of a given file.
- Seamless integration with Office 2013: Although your reliance on desktop Office will be reduced you can still live in Office when at the office, or onsite and internet is sparse. You can access SPO sharing links from any core app, and even work in a co authoring manner from within the apps.
- Lync integration with SPO: In SPO doc libraries, you can not only see who edited files last, but start a chat with them right from the web browser in a Lync window.
- Network recycle bin: SPO provides network recycle bins across all content placed into the product where you can retrieve any deletions with a few clicks.
SPO works best in conjunction with Office 365. If your users will be 100 percent relying on Office Online apps for their co-authoring needs, they will run into few problems.
However be careful when working with SPO and in premise Excel 2013. If a colleague has an Excel file open from SPO through OneDrive and you try to open the same document on your desktop PC in Excel 2013 you cannot edit the file until your colleague closes it. The same limitations don't exist in Excel Online.
You can setup per-user granular permissions on any file or folder in a document library. Read only, editor, limited viewing, and many more permission levels are there at your disposal. SPO search can crawl any data that is readable within a file, including metadata, and even allows you to view file previews prior to opening an item if you are unsure if that is what you were looking for. Since SPO is a platform that runs near exclusively within SQL Server behind the scenes, it's not surprising that data crawling is so easy for it.
Limits in SharePoint Online & OneDrive for Business
SPO considers storage space on two different levels. The first is individual storage space per-user that is accessible for each person in their personal OneDrive for Business. Secondly, there is a concept of pooled storage that applies to document libraries and sites in general.
The limit for OneDrive personal space and site collections is 1TB in size, whilst overall pooled storage has no limit now.
There is full control over file versioning in SPO however version history does eat into your storage quota, so allowing unlimited version history is not really recommended.
Security & Privacy in Cloud Storage
Luckily, SharePoint Online is backed by Microsoft's concrete datacentre privacy and security commitments. Coupled with the granular permissions that can be setup on document libraries, for what it costs for SPO per user, the amount of security afforded cannot be beat.
SPO- the future
OneDrive can get clogged up when it comes to file syncs at times. However Dropbox and Google Drive have just as many instances where things get clogged up and you need to force sync or clear out sync issues. This is one of the main obstacles to desktop sync apps presenting a problem free experience. However it's generally a smooth ride that just requires some care along the way.
Also without document libraries, moving a file server up to SharePoint Online is a disaster waiting to happen. However implementing document libraries properly requires a fair amount of technical planning and foresight, which we are happy to assist with. Any time and energy invested in setting up SPO reaps its rewards many times over the further you leverage the product. Between Office Online, OneDrive, co-authoring, search, and the cost effective storage offered, SPO is an entity that doesn't have any other direct competitor, aside from Google Apps.
Some of the things to look forward to are Android tablet support, tighter integrated communications and better desktop app to Office Online feature fidelity.
A cost benefit analysis for any move to a modern cloud powered solution will need to be made. Do you want to pay large up-front costs or would you prefer a more gradual and manageable cost schedule. You will need to determine if your security requirements will be met by your intended cloud provider. Will the cloud have enough storage space for your needs at a price you can afford?
If your company is already using or going to use Office 365, then SharePoint Online should be your choice and offers the cheapest option in your transition to the cloud.
We can help with making the transition easier with training/consultancy to meet all needs: - users, administration, designers or developers. Click here for more details on Microsoft SharePoint Online training courses.