SharePoint on Azure: The Right Choice For Your Business?

The SharePoint architectures have changed and expanded from the earliest days of the collaboration flagship to its current version 2016, accommodating a whole variety of scenarios from on-premises and hybrid, to SharePoint Online. But how exactly should SharePoint on Azure be classified and who will benefit?

An article by Christoph Dehn, SharePoint Consultant COMPAREX

Christoph Dehn, SharePoint Consultant at COMPAREX

I’d like to use this article to show you how SharePoint on Azure should be classified, why it can offer any company real added value, and which opportunities and benefits you will acquire.

The following diagram provides an overview of the various SharePoint architectural models:

Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016 Architectural Models
Fig. 1: Microsoft SharePoint Server 2016 Architectural Models (source: Microsoft)

The diagram indicates the functions and services that Microsoft provides in each architecture and which ones are the responsibility of the company’s own IT. Responsibility for certain IT services also ties in closely with the metric of “cost versus control”. And that is easy to quantify based on a number of criteria.

What might be the criteria for a decision “in favor of” or “against” a certain architecture?

  • Costs
  • Scalability
  • Adaptability
  • Administrative workload
  • Availability

The following article will take a closer look at these criteria for the scenario SharePoint on Azure.

SharePoint on Azure (IaaS)

The diagram indicates that Microsoft hosts the complete infrastructure (server, storage, network and administrative services) on your behalf in Azure – Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). SharePoint on Azure is online. This means that you can have global access to your SharePoint resources if you so choose. But the deployed VMs can be used as local servers, unlike in SharePoint Online, which does not give you direct access to the servers. You have complete administrative access to virtual machines in Azure.

Benefits of SharePoint on Azure

No procurement costs (for HW)

The costs for necessary hardware (servers) are precisely zero, as the infrastructure and required services are made available in Azure. What’s more, Visual Studio subscribers have the added advantage of using development and test licenses and hence of cutting their software licensing costs.

Operational costs

You only pay for what you actually use. Billing mostly takes place per minute of deployed resources – apart from fixed IP addresses or the storage space required for virtual machines. This enables high scalability of resources, for instance in stress or load testing, or to include additional servers that are disabled again at the end of the tests. This cuts the costs of ongoing operations.

Scalability and availability

SharePoint infrastructure can be up and running at the drop of a hat. As we have seen, the system allows the configuration of test and even development environments. Horizontal and vertical scaling are possible for productive deployment. Servers with the same configuration can be pooled as resource groups, facilitating horizontal scaling and also ensuring high availability of services configured on the servers themselves.

The process of authenticating your customers and employees with Azure AD is simple and uncomplicated, therefore allowing easy access to the selected SharePoint in Azure contents

Azure AD
Fig. 2: Azure AD (source: Microsoft)

Templates

You have the option of using predefined solution templates. A solution template is like a master copy that can be loaded to provide a certain system in Azure.

Equally, you can quickly configure individual SharePoint servers and any other ones you may need – for instance SQL servers and Windows servers (with Active Directory) – yourself or connect the SharePoint server with your local servers. This would produce a possibly hybrid scenario, in which you host the Active Directory (Windows server) or critical company data (SQL server) in a local environment, while outsourcing the host function for SharePoint in Azure.

It’s also possible to create entire farms at just a few clicks. Azure offers two readymade variants for a SharePoint 2013 farm: HA (high availability) and non-HA (non-high availability):

SharePoint 2013 non-HA Farm
Fig. 3: SharePoint 2013 non-HA Farm (source: Microsoft)

SharePoint 2013 HA Farm
Fig. 4: SharePoint 2013 HA Farm (source: Microsoft)

Note: You can’t state existing resource groups if you create SharePoint farms (HA, non-HA) in the Azure Portal. Instead you use Azure PowerShell to bypass this restriction.

This means it only takes a few clicks – also script-controlled – to create a complete SharePoint farm, which cuts the administrative workload. You can also produce your own templates for tested SharePoint environments and access them as required. This cuts the time needed for provisioning immensely.

What are the conceivable scenarios if you host SharePoint on Azure?

Development and test environment

Hosting SharePoint in Azure is particularly suitable for development and test environments, as well as for user acceptance tests (UAT). The benefits speak for themselves. Farms can be made available quickly and conveniently using templates or scripts and then disabled just as fast once the development or test phase is complete. This allows your company to save on hardware and other resources, reducing operating costs, time spent and resources invested. SharePoint on Azure is also just as good as a staging environment to test solutions or new updates, before rolling them out across the productive environment.
Another benefit is that you can develop and provision farm solutions in SharePoint on Azure. Like on-premises architectures, developments can come in any shape or form. These Azure-based solutions are accessed via the Internet (if preferred) or in a local farm.

Productive environment

SharePoint on Azure is just as conceivable as a productive environment. It is easy to publish and share pages, especially when combined with Azure AD and customer account management. Geodistribution in Azure is used to reduce your access and response times across your various sites. Even in periods of high traffic, your Internet farm will achieve satisfactory speeds by shortening access routes and avoiding slow VPN connections. It is currently possible to host the farm in 36 different regions worldwide. Other regions like South Africa are currently in planning.

Azure regions
Fig. 5: Azure regions (Source: Microsoft)

Disaster recovery of local SharePoint farms in Azure

Restoring your farm is the number one priority if your productive environment (on-premises) crashes, especially if the operation of SharePoint and its attendant applications is classified as critical to the company. Disaster recovery is quick and easy to perform with SharePoint in Azure. The so-called warm standby environment enables you to switch rapidly to a farm hosted in Azure in emergency situations and to give users access in this way until you have successfully completed troubleshooting. This is a particularly cost-efficient method of protecting productivity, as there will be no additional software sitting idly around (in the best-case scenario).

SharePoint in Azure can be a worthwhile choice for your company: A round-up

It’s well worth taking a closer look at SharePoint on Azure if you want to expand or protect your current infrastructure, or are planning a new SharePoint farm for productive environments.

The SP farm templates in Azure let you deploy SharePoint very quickly both internally and externally for partners and customers, simultaneously slashing the administrative expense of your IT. The costs remain transparent and easy to check. You only pay for what you actually need. This makes the use of SharePoint in Azure particularly interesting for development and test environments, as well as for disaster recovery scenarios.

Do you want to know more about Azure?

On our Microsoft partner page you can find all details about Azure:

Get all details about Microsoft Azure

Our experts will gladly answer your questions.

 Get in touch with us

Leipzig, 18.10.2017

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