Survey Finds SharePoint Costs Higher Than Most Enterprises Estimate

Storage growth, lack of qualified management personnel often underestimated.

Enterprises' estimates of SharePoint maintenance costs and personnel requirements are too low.  So says a new industry-sponsored survey of more than 110 respondents conducted by Osterman Research in September and October.

Among the Issues enterprises don't fully consider: storage growth, low staffing levels, and poor plans for implementing Microsoft's business collaboration platform. Azaleos Corp., a Seattle-based consulting and managemenet services firm focusing on Exchange, Lync, and SharePoint, commissioned the survey.  Azaleos works with IBM, Verizon Business, Savvis, and CDW, which resell Azaleos services via their data centers.

According to the survey, most organizations are happy with SharePoint; 67 percent of respondents said that SharePoint has improved their information management capabilities. However, about a third (30 percent) feel that SharePoint has either had no impact, a doubtful impact, or made things worse. Most respondents (87 percent) use SharePoint either on-premises (though which versions are used wasn't clear) or in private clouds.

SharePoint is mainly used for housing document libraries and collaboration (88 percent), as a document repository (77 percent), to store business records (56 percent), as a discussion board (47 percent), to share calendars (42 percent), run MySites (35 percent), and for social media (32 percent).

Expectations Unmet as Costs Rise

A mere 14 percent of participants said that SharePoint met their expectations when it was initially deployed. Compared to an August 2011 Osterman survey, organizations feel that SharePoint apps are too costly or too complicated to buy or build. Respondents also say SharePoint lacks templates or applications for specific business needs. Enterprises are also challenged to find IT personnel qualified to manage SharePoint. Total cost of ownership increased between the two surveys, from $45.77 per seat per month (August 2011) to $48.47 (September 2012).

Storage growth accounts for some of the low estaimtes for SharePoint deployment, along with poor governance plans for maintaining the massive amount of data housed. About three-quarters of enterprises in the survey either have no governance plan whatsoever or have one and aren't following it. The average SharePoint user works with about 1.25 GB of content. About half of organizations surveyed are maintaining more than 1 TB of data in SharePoint, which can balloon over time.

The Osterman study pointed to the rapid growth of SharePoint, with 40 percent of respondents indicating that it had grown "more rapidly than they had anticipated" as one factor in the IT personnel shortage. The study also speculated that cutbacks in IT departments represented another factor. Mean SharePoint administrator staffing had dropped from three people in the August 2011 Osterman survey to two people in the September 2012 survey.

The personnel drop, as noted by the new survey, is somewhat unexplained, according to Scott Gode, vice president of product management and marketing at Azaleos. However, he pointed to the requirements of data management and governance as a possible explanation.

"I think it was more of a case where there's not enough data around how SharePoint needs to get governed and how the overall SharePoint platform in a given organization is growing," Gode said. "With [SharePoint] 2013, there's a potential for a lot more apps to go onto that platform because of the whole SharePoint Marketplace that Microsoft is creating. And so you are going to need more personnel or if you don't need more personnel, you're going to need a much tighter system of governance within the SharePoint platform to enable them to get along with less people. Maybe what companies are saying is we are in the process of putting in tighter governance systems and procedures, and, in anticipation of those taking hold, we are going to drop out some of our personnel right now. Or maybe they are in the process of hiring companies like Azaleos to fill the gap."

Even with Azaleos' services in place, Gode said that Azaleos recommends that a company have one-third or up to two IT personnel working with SharePoint. Azaleos has three parts to its services. It offers architectural guidance, including designing storage. It has a deployment service addressing issues around SharePoint migrations. And its core business is monitoring and management for SharePoint server installations and the overall health of the ecosystem. The company currently supports SharePoint 2013, which was released to manufacturers this month

SharePoint Apps Considerations

Microsoft's SharePoint Marketplace promises to keep apps for SharePoint running separately from the SharePoint server, which will improve performance and security. However, organizations may have some concerns if they move to SharePoint via Microsoft's public cloud. Gode said that Microsoft has done a "very meticulous job" in isolating and sandboxing processes with Office 365. However, tapping the public cloud can be "a roadblock" for some enterprises if they are rebuilding apps for SharePoint online becuase it is sometimes too onerous to move apps into the cloud. It's mostly a problem for "old school" SharePoint application vendors, he added. Still, the apps situation is a consideration for companies looking at Office 365.

"If they want to migrate from an on-premise or private cloud to Office 365, then that's more onerous from an application standpoint," Gode said. "If it's just migrating from [SharePoint] 2007 or 2010 to 2013 [on premises], then there are still some issues involved there in terms of making sure the apps work correctly across the new platform in an on-premise or private cloud scenario, but it's not as complicated as it would be if you are moving to the public cloud."

One benefit SharePoint 2013 offers is Microsoft's integration of FAST search into the server. Gode said that IT pros previously had to perform a "scheduled crawl" of the data which would leave gaps if the crawl hadn't taken place before the search was performed. Now that gap is miniscule, he said. This capability can potentially improve the storage situation in SharePoint because if it's quicker to find things in the system, then storing older data becomes less important. Gode added that FAST search also works across Exchange and Lync, too.

The Osterman study, "SharePoint Census 2012," can be accessed via Azaleos' site here (registration is required for access).

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