Microsoft Azure vs. SharePoint: What Are the Differences?

One of the most common questions we get from small and medium-size businesses is, “What’s the difference between the Microsoft Azure Cloud and SharePoint? Which one do I need?”

It’s a great question, and one that is both simple and complicated to answer. Of course it will be different for every company, but in this article, we will try to create a quick resource and provide foundational knowledge so non-technical decision-makers can choose between Azure Cloud and SharePoint.

Microsoft Azure vs. SharePoint

All data needs to be hosted on a server. As discussed on a recent blog post, there are both on-premise [physical] servers, and cloud servers to choose from. Once you understand the different kinds of servers for hosting your business’s data and computing, we’ll detail Azure vs SharePoint.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure is a huge umbrella of solutions, but at its core, Azure is a virtual private cloud computing platform. Azure offers an ever-expanding set of services to help businesses build the solutions they need to meet their goals. 

Azure supports infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS) computing, with virtual machines that run in the cloud, website and database hosting, and advanced computing services, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT). 

Here are two real-life applications of Azure:

1. Bosch Building Technologies used Azure to expand and globally deploy a platform that analyzes energy consumption to pursue ongoing energy efficiencies across the company. 

2. Azure Synapse Analytics is currently powering FedEx to increase the speed and safety of COVID-19 vaccine distribution around the world with predictive alerts for disruption of shipment routes by weather or traffic. The technology then enables remediation by rerouting to avoid the disruption. When the shipment being transported is as precious as COVID-19 vaccines, every insight to the road ahead matters. 

On a more technical level, Azure also offers cloud-based storage for massive amounts of unstructured data, called “blob storage.” Blob storage is typically suited to an enterprise-level organization, and “cold storage” is used to archive records that must be maintained, but are rarely accessed. Azure App Services provides a scalable hosting platform for developers to create custom web-based applications using popular development frameworks, such as Node.js, PHP, Python, and Java. The managed environment makes it easy and highly secure to deploy, operate, and scale your apps. 

Some additional Azure solutions include Azure Functions, Azure Container Instances, Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS), and Azure Cosmos DB. Azure Functions allow for the creation of advanced event-driven serverless applications in a no-code environment. Azure Container Instances and Azure Kubernetes Services allow you to deploy containerized applications with fully managed services—no virtual machines required! Azure Cosmos DB provides support for a handful of popular NoSQL APIs. 

If you don’t have any experience or recognition of the services listed above, don’t worry, as each one is practically a career specialization in itself. The key takeaways about Azure are:

  • Azure is a virtual private cloud you can use as your business’s cloud server.
  • Azure is typically deployed in enterprise-level organizations, not small to medium-size businesses.
  • Azure servers are managed, maintained, and secured by Microsoft, taking the upfront cost of servers and ongoing maintenance off your plate.

Microsoft SharePoint

Some people might understand SharePoint as a “mini Azure” but that analogy is simplistic and a little misleading. More accurately, Azure is IaaS, while SharePoint is closer to PaaS. SharePoint can be run either on the cloud or on premises, with licensing requirements differing slightly by option. By running SharePoint Online, your SharePoint hosting will come through your Microsoft 365 license, and Microsoft manages the security, updates and patches, and maintenance of uptime automatically. With SharePoint Server, users are responsible for running and maintaining everything internally and on-premises, including server architecture, active directory, and file storage.

What SharePoint is: 

  • SharePoint is a customizable web application that can integrate with other Microsoft services and applications, such as Outlook, Teams, Microsoft Viva, OneDrive for Business, and more. 
  • SharePoint can store documents for your organization, host internal web pages, and house checklists for teams to work on. 
  • SharePoint can be used to create advanced custom workflows to accelerate your business growth, such as tracking leads, sales, orders, or internal projects. 

What SharePoint is not:

  • SharePoint is not a server. SharePoint cannot run your regular Windows software, so you still need to have an on-premise or cloud-based server solution. (This is where Azure or Office 365 can be utilized in conjunction with SharePoint!)
  • SharePoint is not a database. Though SharePoint sits on top of SQL Server, a relational database management system, SharePoint is not a database in itself. SharePoint uses lists and columns to organize data, so it can appear quite similar to a relational database, but it cannot be used as a substitute because it cannot handle large volumes of complex data or transactions.

Choosing the Right Solution

As you can see, it isn’t always a matter of Microsoft Azure or SharePoint. Many businesses are using Azure for their servers and SharePoint for organizing information, data, and content within their company’s environment. For many small and medium-size businesses, a Office365 license may be the perfect solution to enable the use of all the Microsoft Office productivity apps in addition to Microsoft Teams, Viva, OneDrive, SharePoint, the no-code development tool Microsoft Flow, and even Powershell, an automation platform and scripting language developed by Microsoft for simplifying and automating the management of Windows and Windows Server systems.

It’s not vital for top decision-makers to understand all the nuances and technologies behind every solution available, but it is crucial to have proven, vetted consultants walking you through your options to customize an IT solution as strong as your business. Windows Management Experts offers Managed Services and on-call IT support packages, licensing, Azure cloud infrastructure, and Office 365 roadmapping. 

Contact WME today to take the confusion out of your 2021 IT strategy!

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Matt Tinney

Professional IT executive & business leader having decades of experience with Microsoft technologies delivering modern-day cloud & security solutions.

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