Inadequate Skills Push SharePoint Costs Higher

Maintenance costs for Microsoft's ShaprePoint can be high in part because trained personnel are hard to find, a new industry study reveals.

The average cost to manage a SharePoint installation is $46 per user per month, according to Osterman Research's State of the Market study.  The firm surveyed over "120 IT executives, managers, and staffers at mid-to-large enterprises." The survey, conducted in August, was commissioned by Seattle-based Azaleos Corp., a management services provider for e-mail, collaboration, and unified communications, based mainly Microsoft's stack.

The costs haven't increased significantly over the last two years.  Osterman reported an average management cost of $45 per user per month in its February 2009 survey, also commissioned by Azaleos. While SharePoint adoption grows, the management costs are not decreasing, the study concluded. By contrast, Microsoft Exchange management costs were found to be much lower, at around $15 to $25 per user per month.

The survey respondents mainly used SharePoint 2007 (59 percent), followed by SharePoint 2010 (37 percent), and Windows SharePoint Services/SharePoint Foundation Services (18 percent). A quarter were migrating to SharePoint 2010. Just eight percent of participants used Microsoft's SharePoint Online services.

Downtime while using SharePoint was common problem, as cited by the study's respondents. "More than 80% of organizations experienced unplanned downtime multiple times during the past 12 months, with the majority of these experiencing up to five separate outages," according to the study. Service Restoration took an average of no more than 30 minutes, study participants said.  Downtime mostly stemmed from hardware errors or mistakes made by IT team members. Those problems caused average monthly management costs for SharePoint to double (to around $90 per user per month). Almost half (43 percent) of study respondents pointed to "a lack of administrator skills, training, and knowledge as an inhibitor to efficiently leveraging SharePoint."

SharePoint has continued to grow more complex with newer versions, noted Scott Gode, vice president of product management and marketing at Azaleos. And it's been harder to find skilled administrators that know the technology. However, SharePoint is also growing across organizations, which can add to the complexity.

"There is an additional ongoing amount of migration and adoption of SharePoint by customers who [became] not just departmental customers but enterprise-wide customers," Gode said in a phone interview. "That, by its very nature, made things more complex because you couldn't just look at things in a vacuum anymore for the department. It had to be spread across the company in a mission critical kind of way."  He also noted that SharePoint is a different kind of animal to manage compared with Microsoft Exchange.

"SharePoint is a set of great tools, but at its core, it's a blank slate for any number of applications," Gode noted. "With SharePoint, there are no known set of scenarios because you can design anything into it. So there has to be a lot more flexibility and creativity in the way that those administrators are trained and gain experience through their work career."

Azaleos, as it happens, has its own remote monitoring solution, called "AzaleosX," that delivers uptime and maintenance support for private cloud and on-premises deployments of SharePoint, while customers retain control over their servers and data. That kind of support can reduce an organization's costs in recruiting, training and retaining a SharePoint workforce that is increasingly hard to find, Gode said.  For the few organizations that are tapping into the public cloud, such as Microsoft's Office 365, Azaleos can support hybrid configurations. Microsoft won't let Azaleos tap its public cloud on behalf of a customer.

SharePoint is being used for a variety of applications. The top use, according to 72 percent in the survey, was "managing Intranet and Web site content, along with document management and control." That figure is down from 85 percent cited in the 2009 survey. Other important uses include corporate Internet portal (63 percent), workflow management (59 percent), business intelligence (52 percent), file storage (51 percent), search (48 percent) and social media (25 percent).

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.