Is it possible to live without a server? Office365 and the Cloud as your server

OK, this is the “biggie”!  I’ve had a few customers ask this question so I thought it would be worth exploring as I’m sure there are lots of people scratching their heads about this.

For purposes of this post I’m going to use BlogCo, a mythical 5 person company run by Joe Blogs, as the guinea pig.  BlogCo is pretty much a startup so they can do almost anything they want from a devices perspective.  They have a few laptops, a desktop and a mixture of tablets and phones at their disposal.  They do not have any sort of legacy software and they do not have a line-of-business application that would require a local server (this is an important point to note).  With all of this in mind let’s see what can be done …

As a small 5-person company, BlogCo’s needs are currently pretty minimal so a Office Small Business Premium Office365 subscription plan would fit quite nicely although Joe would need to give some thought about using things like InfoPath before he locked himself in on the plan (there is no easy migration plan out of this subscription level to other plans).  Assuming there is no need for InfoPath or other Enterprise options, this plan would end up costing Joe $159 per user per year (on the yearly subscription plan) and this would provide the following for BlogCo’s 5 users:


  • Exchange Online (50GB per user)
  • SharePoint Online (10GB base storage plus 500MB additional per user; additional storage up to 1TB can be purchased; 2GB max upload file size)
  • Public website
  • Lync Online
  • Office WebApps (Word, Excel, OneNote, PowerPoint Online)
  • Office 365 Pro Plus software for each user (up to 5 copies per user)
  • OneDrive

So, for a total yearly cost of $800 or thereabouts, Joe and his staff would have all of the standard Office applications available to them (on up to 5 devices) as well as full Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.

With some judicious configuring of their O365 SharePoint as well as both their personal and corporate OneDrive’s, the BlogCo users could store all of their shared files in O365 and/or OneDrive.  Of course there are some considerations that need to be taken into account such as overall bandwidth to/from the BlogCo office as well as file sizes for files that would need to be stored in SharePoint (SharePoint Online is not necessarily a good place to store ginourmous Autocad files, as an example).  BlogCo has nothing that fits into this category so all is good and there is the added bonus that all of their files in SharePoint are searchable!  And, as noted,  BlogCo could  add to their base SharePoint Online storage as required.

One thing to note:  O365 does not offer an ability to “reach back in time” to recover a file that may have been deleted months ago.  You can certainly set up versioning in your libraries so that you can track file versions and the SharePoint administrator can “dip” into the backend deleted file bucket to pull back a deleted file (within defined time limits) but there is no feature that resembles a traditional “point in time” backup.  Some users will set up a form of “data copy” out of SharePoint to local storage (USB drive or whatever) to maintain a time based archive of data.  This is something to think about.

This is all lovely but SharePoint is not a good backend storage medium for many line-of-business applications.  As noted, BlogCo has no line-of-business apps, per se, but they do need to run some sort of small business accounting application.  They could run something like QuickBooks or SAGE 50 locally on one or two machines but that immediately blows up our model (no server of any sort).  What would be their options?  BlogCo could definitely look into the cloud-hosted versions of QuickBooks or SAGE 50; they could also look at something like Freshbooks which is written from the ground up as a Cloud application.  Any of these options would work well and don’t require any sort of local client or local storage (ergo, no server).  So, BlogCo is still in good shape.

As they have no server, BlogCo does not have the ability to run WSUS (to centrally manage updates to their Windows machines) nor do they have the ability to install a centrally managed anti-virus (both WSUS and centrally managed a/v are a part of our Best Practices for small businesses). What to do?  Well, BlogCo could just let users manage their own software updates and anti-virus but that is just asking for trouble.  A better solution and one that is also Cloud-based is to look at Windows InTune for managing updates, anti-virus and even software installation files.  InTune provides all of this for US $6/month per user so BlogCo would be looking at $30/month for their coverage.  BlogCo’s Windows machines are all running Windows Professional (WIndows 7 and 8) which is a requirement for InTune so all is good here, as well.

So, where does all of this leave BlogCo?  In pretty good shape, actually.  All of their users have Office software to install where they would like.  Their business data is stored in SharePoint and users have their personal files in SharePoint or OneDrive.  They are considering using the O365 Public website for their web presence.  They have their systems protected with InTune.  And they have their accounting in the Cloud with one of the accounting choices.

So, it is possible to live without a server!  Of course, every organization’s circumstances are unique and need to be examined carefully before the “server-less” decision can be made, but it is possible.  And remember, the Office365 Enterprise plans expand capabilities and storage and Microsoft Azure (O365’s big brother) offers a whole other layer of capabilties for those serious about moving server backends to the Cloud.