IT Support and services for London based businesses

Server or SharePoint? A guide for small & medium sized businesses

Every so often, we’re asked by our London based business clients if SharePoint online is a suitable replacement for a file server. It’s a good question to ask, as some of our customers solely use their in-house server device to store and edit files. In many cases SharePoint could replace a file server, but only under specific circumstances.

Like any platform, SharePoint has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. In this article we analyse these from a small & medium sized business point of view.

SharePoint Strengths

Cost

SharePoint is available at a very cheap price either on:

  • An Office 365 plan, such as ‘Business Premium’ which comes with a 50GB mailbox, Office software (Word, Excel, Outlook etc.) and SharePoint for each staff member at £7.80 per staff member, per month.
  • A standalone SharePoint plan at £3.10 per staff member, per month.

Buying a server can be a big outlay, not only in hardware and set-up upfront costs, but also in terms of on-going maintenance. Once a server is set-up it needs to be monitored, Operating System software needs to kept up-to-date, and making changes (e.g. managing file permissions) will need an administrator. This type of work will incur a fee from IT support companies (such as totality services) or will require IT human resources in larger companies.

Seamless online and offline file access

With SharePoint, files are stored on your company’s online portal but they can also be automatically synced to the hard drive of PCs and Macs using the ‘OneDrive for Business sync client’  – it’s a two way sync. So any file changes made on computers are uploaded to the online portal and to all other staff members computers (depending on permission rights).

This is a fantastic feature especially for businesses who have staff working remotely, either at home or on the road. When any changes are made to files while offline by a user, as soon as the computer connects to the internet the changes are uploaded to the online portal, and the sync process kicks in as described above.

The OneDrive for Business sync client, works well but it’s in ‘Preview’ status with Microsoft. totality services have experienced some bugs during testing with Macs especially with big files, however Microsoft are working hard to make improvements.

Automation

Unlike a file server, SharePoint can be customised to streamline business processes. The approval process for documents can be automated to alert specific staff members when changes are made to documents and when a file is ready for review. We have several law firm and marketing agency clients in London who use this functionality – it eliminates the process of approving changes manually and keeps staff productive.

Backups

When versioning is turned on, any changes you make to a file is stored as a version. If you run into a scenario where you have to roll back to an older version of the file, all you have to do is select a version from the version history that you want to restore.

Microsoft backs up data every 12 hours with a retention rate of 14 days.

SharePoint Limitations

Other services & applications

If your company currently uses an in-house server for Domain Controller benefits such as a single user login (for computer, Outlook, file access etc) and group policies, or if the server also hosts other applications… SharePoint alone will not cut the mustard. If you wish to move these services off your server too, a migration to cloud solutions will be needed. However, if the latter is not relevant to your company, an Office 365 package alone could possibly tick all the boxes for your business… keep reading!

Number of files

When using the computer hard disk syncing functionality, only 5,000 files can be synced from the online portal to a PC or Mac per folder or ‘Library’, so for example your ‘HR’ folder can have 5k files, your ‘Accounts’ folder can have 5k files etc. You can create as many file libraries as needed as long as the total storage doesn’t exceed 25TB (that’s a lot!). Be careful though as having many libraries can impact the reliability of the syncing tool, and may also be confusing for some staff members, e.g. ‘Marketing 1’, ‘Marketing 2’, ‘Marketing 3’ etc.

For companies with many files this could be a nightmare. However, there are rumours that Microsoft might be increasing the 5,000 file limit per library – at present there is no release date.

Computer hard disk space & internet bandwith

Following on from the point above, if your company works with many files or large files (e.g. Photoshop or Indesign) you could have a serious problem. For example, imagine a scenario where 700GB of data needs to be held on all your staff members’ computers. Not only will each staff member require a large and resilient hard disk, but if you have multiple staff members continuously making file amends or creating new documents your internet bandwidth will be drained – as all files need to be synched across all users’ machines each time a change is made or a new file is uploaded.

Many marketing agencies, design studios, architect practices and other types of businesses using large files avoid SharePoint for these reasons.

Security

The online version of SharePoint is very secure, where possible all documents and files should solely be stored on this platform by your staff – and not PCs / Macs using the sync tool. If for example files are being synched on a laptop and it’s stolen, it will be easy for a thief to access all files residing on the machine. We recommend that laptops holding any confidential data are encrypted to help mitigate this scenario.

File Names

If you’re looking to migrate you files from your server to SharePoint there are 2 important points to note:

•    Folder name and file name combinations can have up to 250 characters, this includes the URL path denoting the location in the online site.
•    File names containing most non-alphanumeric characters are not supported. If you are migrating from a Mac or ‘AFP’ environment this is a critical point to note.

File Types on the SharePoint web portal

SharePoint works best when Office documents are stored within it (Word, Excel, etc.), simply because those file types can be edited within the web portal. Most file types can be accessed, albeit as a view only file (PDF, JPEG, MP3).

At the moment rich files, including Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, .eps, .msg, and .eml can’t be opened via the web portal (even though they’re stored there).

Note: With the synch tool, all file types can be accessed and edited from PCs & Macs.

Conclusion

We highly recommend SharePoint for small & medium sized businesses that simply require access to ‘light’ files, and not too many of them – regardless of staff numbers. Also start-ups can benefit from this resilient platform at a cheap monthly cost.

Companies requiring other services and applications will on the whole want to stick with their file servers, as will any organisations that work with large files. A combination of the two systems can also work very well in some instances.

Ultimately, it all depends on your IT strategy and whether your business can work effectively within the SharePoint limitations detailed in this article.

Get in touch

If your business is London based and you’d like to discuss migrating to, or implementing SharePoint, please get in touch. We have Subject Matter Experts who can help and support your business – you can read about our Office 365 support service here.

totality Tim
IT Support London