The success of any enterprise organization relies in part on systems and processes that allow people to communicate and collaborate effectively. Today, corporate intranets are an integral part of doing business in large organizations. These intranets help with the distribution of news and documents, support around-the-clock collaboration across physical and temporal boundaries, and enable new communication channels with partners, suppliers, and customers.
Microsoft SharePoint technologies have played a huge role in the advancement of enterprise communication and collaboration. Thousands of enterprise organizations around the world use Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Products, the latest locally installed versions of this technology, to share corporate information, implement document management and workflows, publish reports, and perform other vital tasks.
Now organizations can take advantage of another powerful technology that augments SharePoint 2010 with functionality delivered through the cloud: Microsoft SharePoint Online.
SharePoint Online, part of the Microsoft Office 365 suite for online productivity solutions, and the successor to Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS), provides a platform for large organizations to enhance and extend the functionality of existing “on-premises” SharePoint deployments using a cloud-based service. SharePoint Online provides a single, integrated location where people can:
- Collaborate with team members and external parties
- Find organizational resources
- Look up corporate information
- Glean business insights for better-informed decisions
While there are differences between managing the “on-premises” and cloud-based versions of SharePoint—some of the key differences are highlighted later in this paper—IT professionals can easily use their existing skills in the SharePoint Online environment. Its intuitive interface simplifies tasks such as creating portals and collaboration sites, setting up users and establishing permissions, implementing powerful search tools, and building business process and forms workflows.
This paper provides an introduction to the basic features and functionality of SharePoint Online, including administrative tools, provisioning of users, creation of different types of sites, and deployment of custom business solutions, applications, and workflows. The Resources section contains links to more detailed information about deploying and using SharePoint Online, including a PowerPoint-based tutorial that demonstrates how to use key SharePoint Online features.
SharePoint Online—A Brief Overview
SharePoint Online is an enterprise-grade solution that enhances communications and collaboration capabilities by empowering people and groups to easily create sites to share documents and information. It requires minimal extra cost and overhead because there is no need to physically deploy any software on site, and because Microsoft assumes much of the operational burden of managing the IT infrastructure. Because it is a cloud-based service, organizations simply subscribe to SharePoint Online, which can help simplify the implementation process and accelerate time to value.
SharePoint Online is available in two versions. Both versions are offered through flexible user subscription licenses that include access to either the entire Office 365 suite or to individual services.
- SharePoint Online Standard is hosted in a multi-tenant environment on shared hardware in Microsoft data centers, and is designed for companies of any size.
- SharePoint Online Dedicated is designed for companies with at least 5,000 users. It provides enterprise-scale features, such as dedicated hosting and hardware, a fully customizable environment, and the ability to deploy full trust code.
With either version, Microsoft handles the management of certain core IT infrastructure functions, including management of the server hardware, the Windows Server layer, and the SharePoint Online farm. Because SharePoint Online is hosted by Microsoft in redundant, geographically dispersed data centers, it benefits from mission-critical availability and reliability. It is also governed by the same security policies and protocols that are used for vital enterprise applications.
SharePoint Online can serve a wide range of enterprise use cases. For example, organizations could extend an existing intranet to remote locations, such as branch or retail outlets. This use case can be particularly valuable for companies with workers who don’t have fixed workstations, such as retail point-of-sale employees, bank tellers, seasonal labor, or manufacturing floor workers. Other use cases include the creation of an external website for events or limited-time projects, and the creation of sites that provide partners or suppliers with carefully controlled access to corporate information, such as product specifications or inventory supplies. With SharePoint Online, organizations can create the most common and useful kinds of sites. These include:
- My Sites are sites individuals use to manage, protect, and share personal documents and information, and to follow their colleagues’ activities.
- Team Sites are used to keep teams synchronized, and to manage important projects. Teams can use these sites for tasks such as storing common documents and meeting notes, tracking key milestones and schedules, establishing project delivery schedules, and enabling real-time communications between colleagues.
- Intranet Sites are used to deliver company news and information, and to keep employees up to date with the latest company news and information. Organizations can use them to share information with mobile or remote employees, find people and important documents, share ideas and seek input in discussion forums, and provide access to information about important corporate processes, policies, training, and reporting.
- Public-Facing Internet Sites can be created for special tasks and activities, such as events or a time-limited activities like marketing promotion, or used to provide catalogs of features or functionality for products. The site can be populated with enterprise content, but minimize or eliminate direct access to the corporate network from outside the firewall.
This variety of possible use cases and sites demonstrates how SharePoint Online is ideal for the creation of hybrid enterprise intranet deployments. It allows organizations to selectively create, distribute, and provide access to information and workloads, while tightly controlling access to data that resides behind firewalls in on-premises SharePoint implementations, or in other line-of-business systems.
SharePoint Online also works with familiar Microsoft Office applications. Users can easily create Office documents and save them directly to SharePoint Online, or co-author documents with Microsoft Office Web Apps such as PowerPoint Web App and Excel Web App. Users can access Office documents offline or from mobile devices, and they can set document-level permissions to protect sensitive content.