Posted by:Ranjani Rao August 30th, 2011

Hosted email services are the oldest form of online applications or Solution as a Service (SaaS). Today, a lot more than email management is possible on the cloud with companies developing custom cloud-based collaboration software for individual projects and more complex requirements. With the headache of server procurement, configuration, management, application installations and optimization off-loaded to the hosting service provider, even small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are taking the plunge and realizing the cost and resource savings of cloud-based implementations.

Cloud-based collaboration with SharePoint

Microsoft Online Services is a cloud-based communication and collaboration service based on SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010 and Lync Server 2010. Office 365 is Microsoft’s latest version of Online Services for SMBs and large enterprises that allows you to (based on plan opted):

  • enjoy advanced administration capabilities, Active Directory integration and 24/7 support
  • view, edit and share content created in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote desktop applications online with Office Web Apps
  • manage email, calendar, contacts, personal archive, 25MB storage with 25MB attachments via Exchange Online
  • share documents and information via SharePoint Online
  • use instant messaging, presence, online meetings, desktop sharing, and PC-to-PC audio/video calls with Lync Online
  • take advantage of premium antivirus and anti-spam filtering with Microsoft Forefront Online Protection for Exchange
  • license rights to access on-premises deployment of Exchange Server, SharePoint Server and Lync Server
  • access the complete and full-featured set of Office productivity applications with Office Professional Plus
  • build sites with advanced capabilities for rich forms, enhanced data visualization with Visio Services, and publishing of simple databases through Access Services with SharePoint Online
  • access advanced archive capabilities, unlimited email storage, and hosted voicemail with Exchange Online
  • introduce enterprise voice capabilities to replace or enhance a PBX with Lync Server on-premises
SharePoint Online versus SharePoint 2010 development

Developers skilled in SharePoint 2010 don’t find it hard to move to SharePoint Online. The tools are the same – Visual Studio 2010, SharePoint Designer 2010, C# or Visual Basic and the SharePoint APIs and SDKs. Both versions support customization using the browser and SharePoint Designer 2010. Though development and deployment isn’t very different, there are some key differences. SharePoint Online only supports site and web scoped solutions, site-collection levels, and partial-trust solutions. Business Connectivity Services (BCS), External Lists and the ability to call Web services outside SharePoint Online are also not supported though BCS support is expected in a later release.

Enterprises can also automate business processes as SharePoint supports declarative workflows built with Designer 2010 and deployed through sandbox solutions. Custom workflow actions can also be developed with Visual Studio 2010 and deployed to SharePoint Online via sandboxed solutions.

At a recent SaaS online poll conducted by ThinkStrategies in conjunction with Datamation, 83% of respondents were using one or more SaaS solutions while a majority of the rest were considering them. Cloud-based collaboration solutions are here to stay.

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