Key Benefits of Hosted Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange

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1 Key Benefits of Hosted Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange BACKGROUND What are SharePoint and Exchange? Microsoft SharePoint is a web-based collaboration and document management platform that permits teams of users to share documents and other content via a Microsoft Office-style user interface. SharePoint is used to manage company intranets, blogs, wikis, and other group collaboration resources. First launched in 2001, SharePoint has been upgraded to incorporate new features, more closely integrate with Microsoft Office, support web-based access, and leverage social networking and other online trends. Microsoft Exchange is the dominant enterprise-class messaging system in the United States and Canada and currently supports nearly 200 million users worldwide. Exchange is closely associated with the Outlook desktop client, available for both Windows and Mac OS, or as a web-based client. Exchange features , calendaring, task lists, contact management, and shared document folders, plus other functions. Exchange was introduced in 1996 and has been updated regularly with new features and performance enhancements. What are Hosted SharePoint and Exchange? SharePoint and Exchange are commonly self-deployed by organizations, but a growing number of hosting providers now offer access to SharePoint and Exchange implementations on servers located in secure commercial datacenters. Providers of SharePoint and Exchange hosting services supply a wide array of capabilities, add-on options, support levels, and pricing. While a hosted solution is particularly well suited to smaller organizations that lack in-house expertise in managing these sophisticated platforms, many larger organizations are increasingly turning to hosted SharePoint and Exchange services to reap the benefits of outsourcing all management tasks to a third-party expert. 1

2 KEY BENEFITS Migrating to a hosted SharePoint and/or Exchange solution can deliver numerous benefits for businesses of all sizes. The advantages of a hosted solution impact an organization in two broad categories: benefits for IT departments, and benefits for end users. Benefits for IT Departments Lower and more predictable costs In the face of intense competition within the commercial hosting marketplace, providers of hosted SharePoint and Exchange services have invested in efficient service delivery and economy of scale, resulting in very attractive pricing. In most cases, hosted services cost less than self-deployment. For example, according to Osterman Research, an on-premises Exchange installation supporting 100 end users costs approximately $49 per seat, per month over a three-year period. A larger 1000-seat implementation runs about $21 per seat over the same time frame. These figures include the necessary IT labor costs for managing Exchange. In comparison, hosted Exchange services are available at a much lower cost per seat, resulting in significant cost savings for most companies. Writing for CMSWire, Sean McDonough observed that self-managed SharePoint and Exchange deployments are typically beyond the financial means of many IT departments, and complex licensing procedures may present additional barriers to entry. Daily administration and upkeep for [on-premises] SharePoint required an ongoing investment in technical personnel, wrote McDonough. Upgrades to new versions of SharePoint were painful and required even more planning and investment. Using hosted SharePoint and Exchange means that most, if not all of the necessary technical know-how required to manage infrastructure is supplied by the managed hosting provider. IT administrators can save money not only on equipment expenditures, but also on expert personnel hires. Hosted solutions also have more predictable costs, because the hosting service contract specifies a fixed cost per seat over the lifetime of the agreement. Events which normally result in additional and unpredictable costs for an on-premises installation, such as power outages, natural disasters, security breaches, facility moves, etc., are not a factor with hosted deployments. 2

3 More productive utilization of IT talent and team collaboration tools have become indispensable fixtures in the modern workplace, as necessary to employee productivity as overhead lighting and restrooms. But managing Exchange and SharePoint infrastructure does not create competitive advantage in itself, any more than maintaining office electrical and plumbing systems does. Recruiting, training, and retaining talented IT staff is costly and time-consuming. Most companies are better served by allocating these valuable resources to proprietary technology initiatives which contribute directly to competitive advantage. Plus, continually maintaining SharePoint and Exchange installations is not a satisfying challenge for many IT professionals. Personnel assigned to these tasks are often motivated to look for more appealing job opportunities. Continual access to specialized expertise SharePoint and Exchange are complex platforms and require expertise not only with the server software itself, but the supporting computing and network hardware, plus any additional software to be integrated. Hiring and/or training sufficiently qualified IT personnel is costly, and may be prohibitive for all but the largest of organizations. Instead, providers of hosted SharePoint and Exchange have qualified support staff who typically receive ongoing training to maintain current Microsoft Certifications such as MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) and MCSE (Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert), with available specializations in server infrastructure, desktop infrastructure, SharePoint Server, and Exchange Server. In most companies, knowledge workers are increasingly mobile, and business is conducted without the limitations of geography or traditional office hours. This reality mandates 24x7x365 management and support of SharePoint and Exchange infrastructure, which hosted solution vendors are well equipped to provide. Improved performance and reliability Providers of managed hosting services for SharePoint and Exchange have extensive experience in provisioning and deploying computing and network hardware to support these platforms. They also have a deep understanding of the configurations which will provide optimal performance of SharePoint and Exchange infrastructure. In contrast, many organizations fall into the temptation of pressing sub-optimal computing resources into service to support SharePoint and Exchange, and experience inconsistent performance and a lack of reliability as a result. 3

4 With managed hosting, IT administrators can devote more time to training employees and customizing SharePoint and Exchange for specific business use cases. They are relieved of the burden of constantly maintaining large arrays of equipment and managing interactions between disparate components. Additionally, continual uptime from their hosting provider means that IT departments need not run the risk of costly, damaging outages which can compromise continuity and synchronization. Reduced network impact A significant amount of the network traffic associated with on-premises Exchange and SharePoint deployments can be reduced by opting for hosted solutions. Antivirus and anti-spam filtering can be performed by the hosted service provider, eliminating a large portion of spam and harmful that would otherwise enter an organization s network and possibly be delivered to end users. Most hosted service providers offer enhanced anti-spam and anti-virus filtering as a standard feature, or as an ala carte option for a relatively modest monthly fee. These specialized capabilities would often be out of reach for smaller organizations with self-deployed infrastructure. Smoother upgrade path Version upgrades of SharePoint and Exchange servers can be a costly and timeconsuming process. In particular, Exchange does not allow an in-place upgrade to a new version. Instead, the new version of Exchange is deployed separately from the existing installation, and then data from the existing installation must be migrated to the new platform. Many hosted SharePoint and Exchange providers offer migration to a newer version of either platform at no charge to their customers. More importantly, they make the process virtually seamless, ensuring superior operational continuity and guarding against lost end-user productivity. Enhanced security IT Business Edge recently featured a slide deck, produced by SharePoint experts ICC, examining some of the keys to properly implementing and maximizing the value of SharePoint architectures. In many cases, businesses may set up SharePoint such that it is either too rigid to enable collaboration, or so porous that it exposes organizations to security risks. We often see SharePoint deployed in these two extremes, ICC manager Joe Hartsel told IT Business Edge. One is left so open that it becomes the Wild West. The other is locked down so tight that users can t really do much of anything to make them more productive or effective so they just don t use it. 4

5 Instead, hosted services providers can work closely with their customers in the deployment process to ensure the desire for flexible collaboration capabilities is balanced with the need for security. Once deployed, the hosting company can continually monitor the platform and make adjustments as needed to maintain that balance. Plus, hosted SharePoint and Exchange providers typically operate from extremely secure datacenter facilities. Safeguards commonly include 24x7 on-site security personnel, video surveillance, access controls for employees, server and network monitoring tools, and other protections against unauthorized access to the facility, computing resources, and data. Usually, the level of security employed by hosting providers goes far beyond the protections their clients utilize in their own facilities. Benefits for End Users Cross-platform support Most U.S. businesses are decidedly Windows-centric when it comes to desktop infrastructure. But Macintosh users are working within many of these organizations, particularly in collaboration-intensive roles such as graphic design and video production. These users often suffer with poor support from in-house IT staff who are unfamiliar with the Macintosh platform, and in many cases are all but left to fend for themselves. In contrast, many hosted SharePoint and Exchange providers offer desktop support for Mac users, either by telephone or online. Mobile Device Support Originally desktop software-based tools, SharePoint and Exchange added web browser access capabilities, and now support many mobile devices including Android, ios, and BlackBerry OS smartphones and tablets. According to marketing software vendor ExactTarget, 90% of smartphone users access the same account from both their mobile device and desktop. And statistics gathered by analytics provider Litmus show that 44% of is now opened on a mobile device. Clearly, smartphones and tablets are quickly becoming the devices of choice for consumption of and other collaboration tasks. Given this trend, it is imperative for organizations of all sizes to provide seamless support for end users with mobile devices that are either company-issued or used in a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) environment. But it s difficult for the typical IT staff to keep abreast of the rapidly changing mobile technology landscape, given the proliferation of OS flavors and versions, plus hardware manufacturers who frequently put distinctive twists on their implementations. 5

6 Again, hosted services providers have this need covered. Because they serve organizations in a wide range of categories, providing access to mobile device users isn t just a nice-to-have it s required. CONCLUSION Businesses in the United States and worldwide have made extensive investments in Microsoft SharePoint and Exchange platforms to obtain the productivity benefits of streamlined communication and enhanced collaboration for their end users. Considering the brisk pace of modern business and the growing reliance on information technology rather than physical location to connect knowledge workers with each other, this investment is likely to continue, if not accelerate. However, despite these companies reliance on SharePoint and Exchange, managing these sophisticated server infrastructures is not among their core competencies, does not provide intrinsic competitive advantage, and could pose a distraction from other IT initiatives which more directly drive revenue. Given the compelling advantages of outsourcing the deployment and management of SharePoint and Exchange platforms to specialized hosting vendors, organizations of all sizes and categories would be well served to carefully evaluate opting for a hosted solution vs. on-premises deployment. 6

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