Before the cloud and for a while after the launch of SharePoint Online launch you had no choice – it was SharePoint On-Premises all the way, on your servers, administered by you. Since then, recent improvements in SharePoint Online, particularly in areas such as security, the feature set, and deployment, have made the Online version a viable option for blue chip and enterprise clients. This has given SharePoint users a decision to make: where best to invest – SharePoint On-Premises or SharePoint Online.

For those unfamiliar with the difference between the two options, SharePoint On-Premises, or On-Prem for short, is installed on your corporate servers, administered, maintained and customised by you. SharePoint Online is hosted on the Cloud and administered by Microsoft – you pay a monthly per-user fee and bingo, you have access.

The good news is that it’s not an all or nothing decision: you can (and many do) put part of your intranet on the cloud and keep more mission critical or sensitive areas on premises, an attractive option for those with SharePoint On-Prem legacy systems in place.

Business and technical factors – security, features and capabilities, robustness, cost of purchase and ownership, deployment, extensibility, and others – are drivers, along with strategic considerations such as Microsoft’s intentions and developments in technology and how people use.

How big a consideration is data security?

It depends on how sensitive your data is. All enterprises have some sensitive data. For some, such as financial services companies, most data is sensitive and a great deal mission critical. The desire to offer employees a workplace where people can explore, share, contribute and engage, as they do at home – on mobile devices and via social channels – seems at odds with security requirements but in fact the cloud and SharePoint Online has made it possible to balance these two requirements.

The best of both worlds

You may not have considered a hybrid On-Prem and Online set up – if you haven’t then take a look at it. The advantages of offloading non-critical parts of your intranet to the cloud are compelling. Cost of ownership is substantially lower because Microsoft administers Online, plus there is no need to do major version upgrades every few years in order to take advantage of the latest state-of-the-art digital workplace features because, again, Microsoft does it. Meanwhile, you can keep strategic and critical elements of your intranet safely under your own roof.

You may not be aware of it but if you’re using Office 365 or OneDrive then you are already collaborating through the cloud on a day-to-day basis. If SharePoint Online is in your bundle then you’re in a great position to create a cloud-based portal quickly and seamlessly. The subscription based model means you only need to set up your licenses and you’re ready to go.

Safe as houses

What about those security concerns over the cloud? A year or two ago it was de rigueur to question the security of something as ethereal sounding as the cloud. Since then, the Global players have flexed their muscles and delivered huge advances in the capacity and security of cloud services. Governments, including our own, are committed to the cloud. And financial institutions, the benchmark for security and prudence are using the cloud for everything from mobility solutions to collaboration and CRM tools, to data sets hosted in the public cloud and made available on a subscription basis to authorised parties.

Suddenly, the cloud is looking a lot more secure. Maybe more secure than your own network. Once you start to think about it, you may well ask how secure is your firewall really? Unless you regularly carry out penetration testing and re-assess the security of your own network, it isn’t necessarily as safe as you think. Corporate network breaches grab headlines, and rare though they are, they do happen. Remember the fall-out from the Sony Pictures hack in 2014? Can you be certain that your own network is as secure as you’d like?

On-prem – a thing of the past?

Now, what if you have invested blood, sweat and tears into a SharePoint On-Prem solution? (And yes, admit it, there were tears.) Was it all for naught? Has On-Prem had its day?

The roadmap from Microsoft reveals an ongoing commitment to On-Premises, which Microsoft has clearly stated is informed by its cloud products but without compromise. The 2016 version of SharePoint is likely to encourage cloud-blending with cross-device collaboration particularly though hybrid deployments of SharePoint Server with Office 365. With SharePoint 2016, Microsoft has confirmed its commitment to delivering On-Prem releases of SharePoint.

Microsoft dreams of the day that we are committed to its cloud. Of course – nobody can predict the future – but that day doesn’t look like arriving any time soon. Some of the clients we speak to are ready to fully embrace the cloud but many more have decided to go for a combination of On-Prem, cloud and hybrid deployments. So really, rather than it being a decision between On-Site on On-Prem, more often than not it’s about getting a blend that’s right for your organisation.

If you need some advice about creating a new portal using Office 365 or need some insight into the SharePoint product roadmap, please get in touch. SharePoint Server 2016 will become generally available in Q2 2016, with a public beta planned for Q4 2015.