SharePoint has been a “virtual” companion of my journey since 2008. I do not know how passionate I’m with SharePoint, but when people negatively state that SharePoint is dead I often raise objection against that statement. If you are working with SharePoint, following updates from Microsoft and the community, you probably know that Microsoft still invest on its collaboration platform. However, the investment budget is allocated towards SharePoint Online to strengthen Microsoft Cloud ecosystem. It does not mean the on-premises version is not Microsoft priority. There are massive number of SharePoint on-premises out there in the market. On-premises deployment still has a room in my opinion. The last version of Microsoft SharePoint for on-premises is SharePoint Server 2016, offering several significant improvements upon customer’s voice and demand Microsoft has received since 2013.

There is still there in the community a controversy between the decision to choosing right SharePoint deployment: SharePoint on-premises and SharePoint Online. Different model does have different pros and cons. If you clearly understand each model’s characteristics, technical possibility and deployment cost, I believe you will have a right direction for your deployment. Whatever folks say, perhaps, I’m still confident with the market of SharePoint on-premises deployment. My post sharing my experiences on the market demands regarding the trend of cloud deployment between SharePoint and Microsoft Azure still does not mean the deployment on Azure IaaS is dead. Supporting the model, I presented SharePoint Server 2016 on Azure IaaS at ExpertsLive Asia Pacific 2017.

Why SharePoint on Azure IaaS?

Before we look to the reasons as to why we should go with SharePoint on Microsoft Azure, let’s state that deploying the on-premises version of SharePoint on Microsoft Azure is not consider “SharePoint in the cloud”. Microsoft would only say that SharePoint Online is the cloud deployment. SharePoint deployment on Microsoft Azure is still considered on-premises deployment.

Although SharePoint Online has continued to show an upward tendency these days, there would be still several technical constraints and disadvantages which stops you thinking again the deployment. The deployment in this point is not a fresh deployment. It is the transformation from old on-premises version to whether the new upgraded on-premises version or SharePoint Online. Transforming from IaaS (Infrastructure as A Service) to SaaS (Software as A Service) is not that simple actually. Well you have your own reasons around high availability, fault tolerance, infrastructure maintenance differences between these model, which drives you to pick SharePoint Online. However, from what I’ve seen, people stay with the IaaS transformation not because they do not understand the SaaS model. It’s because they feel safely when they stay in terms of technical possibility. Microsoft does not give you technical assurance even SharePoint Online now is significantly extensible. If you are playing as a decision maker, it’s still a big concern to switch to SharePoint Online to gain its advantages. With senior IT executives, they do not think the transformation is simple, especially in large organizations. The very first move would be to stay with the model to evaluate, then perform some further analysis for the different model before making a decision. These things would answer partially as to why Microsoft Azure is the next destination for an existing SharePoint On-premises, not SharePoint Online.

While we see the reason to stay, we are asking why Microsoft Azure for SharePoint deployment. If we transform our SharePoint on-premises to Microsoft Azure, what would we be beneficial? The first reason would be the platform compatibility. We couldn’t measure this so-called “platform compatibility” but we have strong belief on Microsoft. Hosting a Microsoft product on a Microsoft based infrastructure or non-Microsoft based infrastructure, which one is better? Microsoft Azure supports key sever products and workloads such as Active Directory, SharePoint and SQL Server which are required for a farm deployment.

As a SharePoint farm administrator, you always wish to reduce infrastructure management overhead, don’t you? Microsoft Azure gives number of different tools and features to assist you to manage and monitor compute resources. You can even automate to better maintain your farm. Moreover, with many Azure PaaS (Platform as A Service) you should not too worry about how you manage your SharePoint farm. For example, Azure Site Recovery to helps you replicate virtual machines to a different region. Azure Backup with Azure Blob Storage can help in a way of traditional backup.

When it comes to high availability that you may require, Microsoft Azure supports you at each layer including network, storage, traffic, virtual machine. From the planning perspective, if you work on your own on-premises environment, responsible for high availability of your SharePoint farm, you would be headache picking a few good vendors of each layer for not only hardware but also professional services. With Microsoft Azure, hardware procurement and selection are out of your scope. You only need to pick and configure Azure services to fulfill high availability deployment.

When SharePoint becomes a center of information where content is shared across the organization, you are going to need to harden your SharePoint at rest. Microsoft Azure provides several advanced networking features which allows you to apply defense-in-depth strategy to your SharePoint.

Not only IaaS, your SharePoint farm sometimes need to integrate with Azure PaaS services. For example, you need to do data mining with shared content to extract valuable knowledge to be retained in your organization. In this case, Azure Analysis and Analytics are considerations.

Lastly, DevOps has been shifted to enterprise software development life cycle as a culture. And SharePoint is not exceptional to be part of enterprise software. As it is a complicated platform, integration and deployment sometimes make you upset. With Microsoft Azure and set of continuous integration and continuous deployment, you are surely beneficial from adopting DevOps to your SharePoint development and deployment.

SharePoint Deployment Scenario on Azure IaaS

There are typically the following SharePoint deployment scenarios on Microsoft Azure, but may vary depending on your expectation:

  • Development and Proof-of-Concept (PoC)
  • Disaster Recovery
  • Internet-Facing Portal
  • Hybrid Deployment
  • SharePoint Intranet

Each deployment scenario serves for a specific purpose. Understanding these scenarios will help better plan for your deployment.

Development and Proof-of-Concept Deployment

The very common scenario is using Microsoft Azure to do demonstration, development and PoC showcase. When it comes to SharePoint installation especially since the version of 2013, people are quite afraid of the hardware specification requirement. A single-server farm would be enough for a standalone development environment. However, if you need an advanced evaluation, such as Search evaluation in a multi-server farm, then the environment need to be large. Another example is that domain controller isolation because SharePoint Server 2016 could not be installed on the same domain controller. Microsoft has no official information saying so but there would be hidden errors in such a deployment. While this becomes a concern in on-premises, there is still an option on the cloud. With Microsoft Azure, you can very quickly provision virtual machines with specification you need to create a SharePoint Server 2016 farm. Another advantage is that if you do not need to use your evaluation environment, you can turn off any time to save the cost.

My upcoming book provides step-by-step guidance on how to deploy a SharePoint multi-server farm on Microsoft Azure IaaS v2. Go pre-order here.

Building development workstation on Microsoft Azure is a good choice for small company when hardware becomes a consideration. Large organization can be beneficial too, but this requires a security governance and quite complicated setup to establish the hybrid model between Azure hosted development environment and on-premises production environment. Of course, the big advantage is that you do not have to maintain a large development environment to just focus to your production environment only.

In Microsoft Azure image library, there is an image called SharePoint Server 2016 Trial. When deploying this image, you do not have to install pre-requisites because Microsoft already installed them. You only need to run Configuration Wizard to provision your farm.

Microsoft Azure also offers Azure DevTest Lab which can be a consideration for the development environment setup. Azure DevTest Lab allows you to build custom images, including lab policies which simplify almost for development and test. Azure DevTest Lab can be used with SharePoint Server 2016 as sysprep is still supported on this version.

Disaster Recovery Deployment

If there are many business-critical applications built on top of SharePoint, then disaster recovery is supposed to be required. You already know that building a disaster recovery (DR) farm for SharePoint is not easy, requiring complex infrastructure setup from network, storage, hardware to application and database level. In this scenario, we expect to build a cost-effective DR solution. Microsoft Azure can be your choice of building a secondary farm instead of preparing a costly on-premises datacenter.

Not only a reliable infrastructure and simplified management, Microsoft supports you to deploy your farm on Microsoft Azure by Azure Site Recovery. This kind of service simplify the infrastructure replication to Microsoft Azure. Microsoft states publicly that Azure Site Recovery is fully tested, certified and recommended by SharePoint regardless of the version. That said, we are confident to say that SharePoint Server 2016 can be used along with Azure Site Recovery for a disaster recovery on Microsoft Azure.

Internet-Facing Portal Deployment

SharePoint provides us many features to build a collaborative web content management system. Organizations often maximize their investment on SharePoint platform by not only internal corporate but also external and internet facing application. We have heard of the buzzword “One-stop shop business collaboration platform” which indicates to drive to one investment for every investment.

Building an internet-facing portal on top of SharePoint by using number of out-of-the-box web content management system features are not difficult. The difficult part is on how to keep the internet-facing portal as stable as possible. When you expose the portal to the Internet, it can be considered your face to the world, unless you are not doing internet-facing portal. Instead you are doing extranet offering to your partner to work with you in an intranet application (e.g. procurement process). Availability is a key success to the internet-facing portal deployment. The availability characteristic results to a medium to large investment on hardware and infrastructure.

In the past, people often use Office 365 Public Website features to gain availability advantages from Microsoft infrastructure. However, as of March 9 2015, Microsoft deprecated Public Website features in the online version. You have had two choices since then. One is a deployment in your on-premises infrastructure. Another one is using Microsoft Azure. We will have a look in pricing for SharePoint deployment on Microsoft Azure to see how it goes.

Hybrid Deployment

The term Hybrid is used in the world of cloud computing these days to describe a scenario in which your on-premises resources communicate with cloud resources. The easily seen scenario is when you have your own Active Directory domain controller in an on-premises environment providing identity service to a SharePoint farm hosted on Microsoft Azure.

Another hybrid scenario is to integrate with Azure Media Services for a digital asset management in SharePoint. Although SharePoint is not a right platform itself to build, but the integration of Azure Media Services can fill the gap. SharePoint is a center of digital asset to all employees while Azure Media Services plays as a back-end processing large digital files (e.g. video).

Why should you consider Azure hybrid deployment? It’s perhaps everyone else is doing it. Cost for hybrid is not going to be discussed here. However, when you do the hybrid, you are going to cut at least operational infrastructure and licensing cost which occupies entirely your cloud budget. In many cases when doing hybrid, you are to outsource data security responsibility which might be a big concern.

The following articles below would give you more helpful information about Pros & Cons of Hybrid Cloud:

SharePoint Intranet Deployment

SharePoint Intranet Deployment is the most common scenario in the world. It’s undeniably a platform for intranet. The term intranet may be a confusing word in the Internet. Simplify it the way is that a system that your internal employees have authorized access to work on a daily basic. That system can be an internal portal showing company news, upcoming event, new employee, top staff monthly or so on. It can also be corporate business processes such as Leave Request, Procurement, Meeting Booking Room or so on.

An intranet built on top of SharePoint Server 2016 hosted on Microsoft Azure can be considered. If transforming to SharePoint Online is very complicated, look at the on-premises deployment on Microsoft Azure.

Conclusion

SharePoint on Azure IaaS still has some challenges. For example if used with Office Web App, you must deploy your Office Web App server in non-Azure environment. Understanding Pros & Cons of IaaS model is a must, before transforming your SharePoint system to whether Azure IaaS or SharePoint Online. Follow my future articles for hands-on lab of deploying SharePoint Server 2016 on Azure soon.