Services in the Cloud & SharePoint Online

It has been a while since I last posted a blog here, but I hope to make up for some of that this week, as I'm in Los Angeles at the PDC 2008. This morning in the first keynote Ray Ozzie announced that Microsoft will be putting it's money on "Services in the Cloud". The "Cloud" is an environment hosted by Microsoft itself that exposes services to the Internet.

The cloud version of SharePoint will be "SharePoint Online". This is a SharePoint environment hosted by Microsoft in the Cloud, so no SharePoint Server deployment and configuration is needed on your side.
Microsoft offers two scenario's:

  • Standard
    • More than one company sharing one architecture
    • Minimum of 5 seats
    • 1TB maximum data storage
    • No My Sites
    • No custom code deployment!
    • $ 7.25 per month per seat
  • Enterprise
    • More than 5000 seats
    • My Sites
    • Custom code deployment

SharePoint Online offers Office 2007 client integration, so you can take your documents from SharePoint Online offline with Outlook 2007. Also you can use single sign-on, so your employees don't need to log in separately to the SharePoint Online environment.

The thing that stands out here for us developers is definitely that you can not deploy custom code to SharePoint Online. If you want to make customizations to your SharePoint Online environment you can use SharePoint Designer. So you can alter master pages, create page layouts, use data view web parts or content types for instance, but you can't create your own web parts or features.

If you want to use the data in your SharePoint Online environment in your own custom tools you can create applications that run on your own servers or clients and use the SharePoint Web Services that are exposed by the SharePoint Online environment. Of course you can then also use Silverlight Controls to display the data from the online environment. 

I think SharePoint Online offers changes to small business that cannot or will not pay the licensing costs that come with the MOSS platform. If you want a simple no-code SharePoint solution, SharePoint Online might be your friend. However, if you want to use any custom functionality like custom web parts or features you might be better off either paying the licence costs for MOSS, or use WSS and deal with the limited functionality of the free platform.