Hosting SharePoint in Azure

22nd August 2016

SharePoint offers businesses a platform for collaboration that enables increased productivity and improved process management.  When properly configured, SharePoint can manage all aspects of an organisation’s document workflows and provide complementary functions through an intranet.  One of the most important considerations for an organisation when planning a SharePoint deployment is the way in which it will be hosted.

SharePoint hosting – the servers that the software runs on – have a major impact on the way users will experience the platform day to day.  If insufficient resource is available to run SharePoint correctly, then the system will be sluggish, and users will find it difficult to use.  By comparison, if the specification of the SharePoint farm is higher than required, the ongoing cost to run SharePoint will be higher too, reducing the benefits of having SharePoint in place.

When igroup plan a SharePoint deployment for clients, we offer the opportunitiy to host SharePoint in a cloud environment using Microsoft Azure rather than using local servers.  This solution offers a number of benefits:

  • The ability to scale resource based on demand
  • Reduced infrastructure management costs
  • Improved reliability due to cloud uptime and failover
  • Improved data security through regular backups

Acquisition and ongoing management are two of the biggest costs associated with running a local SharePoint farm.  SharePoint requires multiple servers to run correctly – to handle the application, databases, and user management, and this creates multiple potential points of failure.  The SharePoint farm requires regular maintenance and monitoring, and individual racks may need to be replaced from time to time.  Opting for a cloud environment removes the requirement for ongoing infrastructure management – particularly if you have a support contract, and also means that new machines can be provisioned almost instantly, rather than needing to wait for some time for machines to be delivered to your site.

Reliability is a key factor.  As mentioned above, traditional infrastructure degrades over time, and machines must be replaced.  With Azure, virtual machines are used, and as such are not subject to the same levels of component failure.  In the event that one of the servers in Microsoft’s datacentre fails, there would be no impact for clients, as Azure spreads over multiple machines to remove the single point of failure.

One of the most common issues with SharePoint is when the system slows down because an important file has been lost.  When this occurs, the search functions in SharePoint can overload the servers with requests trying to find the lost information.  The cloud backup functionality of Azure means that when a missing file is diagnosed, it can be fixed more quickly by reverting to an older version of the data.  This speeds up resolution of many SharePoint support queries.

Flexibility of the Cloud for Hosting SharePoint in Azure

Perhaps the biggest advantage of SharePoint hosting in Azure is the flexibility that it offers to manage resource appropriate to demand.

With Azure, you can provision new virtual machines quickly and scale back resources where not required.  This means that as a business grows, the number and specification of virtual machines deployed to run SharePoint can be increased on demand, providing the extra capacity and the space to grow without the need to predict long term changes and order infrastructure in advance to manage the capacity.

Cloud flexibility goes further than this too.  We developed software to manage Azure called Cloud Control.  This is a suite of tools that can monitor the level of resource required for a SharePoint farm in Azure and then dynamically change the services which are available based on need.

At peak times of demand – such as during business hours, additional resource can be made available, and at times of lower requirement – such as evenings or weekends, the specification can be dialled back, reducing costs by a fairly significant amount.  Hosting SharePoint in Azure with Cloud Control management, you only pay for the amount of capacity that your business actually uses at any time, rather than subscribing to redundant capacity to handle peaks.

Creating SharePoint Architecture in Azure

A SharePoint farm in Microsoft Azure is structured similarly to a farm using traditional servers as shown in the schematic below:

 

In some cases, where a client is simply moving their SharePoint hosting to the cloud from a standard datacentre, it is possible to just replicate the environment that was previously used – matching the specification of the virtual machines used to their physical analogues.  However, in most cases, igroup will perform a full review of the existing infrastructure in order to determine what optimisation of the network is required in order to deliver the best possible solution for end users.  This solution will take into account both the available budget, and also the end user requirements.

While it is possible to provision a SharePoint farm in Azure direct from the main dashboard, our Azure consultants review usage levels, document storage requirements for your business, and the complexity of your SharePoint deployment to determine what level of spec you need for each of the virtual machines that make up the farm.  This provides you with a much more tailored environment than you would otherwise get, and optimises the price for you.

Ongoing Support

In addition to the initial specification, igroup provide ongoing support and management of the environment including deploying OS patches and maintaining the anti-malware software if you require it.  This means that your internal infrastructure team are able to focus more on the management of your broader IT Strategy than the day to day management of your servers.

For more information about how igroup can help your business, migrate SharePoint to Azure, please contact a member of our project team today on 0207 099 0632, or contact us, and we’ll be happy to provide an initial quote and get started on working with you to achieve your goals

 

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