Why wouldn’t you use the App model for On-Premises SharePoint solutions?

It’s been a while since my last post, and due to a mini-hiatus I decided to take over the Christmas/New Years period in relation to certification studying, I figured it was time for a little something different on this blog. Truth be known, this is a conversation I’ve had with a number of pro-App model colleagues as far back as October last year. I tend not to be able to help myself when it comes to playing the devil’s advocate role (in fact I’ve been given the ‘black hat‘ on too many occasions to think it a coincidence) so this position did come perhaps a little too naturally for me, even with my bias towards heavily branded public facing solutions.

I was actually inspired to write about this from a recent #CollabTalk thread via a question posed by Christian Buckley (@buckleyplanet)


My favourite responses came from a cloud-focused Microsoft employee on the SharePoint team, Mark Kashman (@mkashman)


And a SharePoint Certified Master, Chris Beckett (@teknirvana)


I found the honesty of the responses refreshing.

It’s no secret Microsoft’s position on this one. You only have to read the official documentation on MSDN such as Deciding between apps for SharePoint and SharePoint solutions or Apps for SharePoint compared with SharePoint solutions to realise they’re pushing the App model in a big way. A couple of ‘tell us what you really think’ quotes that spring to mind from the aforementioned articles include ‘With these considerations in mind, apps should be looked at as the primary choice, and full-trust solutions should be looked at when the capability of the app model does not meet the business requirement.’ and ‘The most important guidance we can give you is to develop an app for SharePoint instead of a farm solution or NCSS whenever you can’.

The cynic in me however still believes there may be an ulterior motive to this position. Microsoft has been ‘all-in‘ for the cloud for a long time and there are a number of very good reasons why they would prefer clients be on Office 365 rather than managing their own on-premises farms. It therefore makes sense that they would want to remove as many barriers to entry to that transition as possible, full trust solutions being a significant one.

So as I always do, I set out to read as many decent articles as I could on the topic. I had remembered some time ago reading the SP-king-of-controversy, Bjørn Furuknap’s SharePoint 2013 App Model Solves Non-Problems Only? article and even though it was one of the only ones that would potentially back up my argument, it seemed to be arguing against the necessity of the App model rather than why it perhaps shouldn’t be used. That article introduced me to Doug Ware’s posts SharePoint 2013 Preview – Apps or Crapps?The SharePoint 2013 App Model is better than Farm Solutions and An Architecture for Provider SharePoint 2013 Hosted Apps on Azure which definitely argue the counter-point well.

Alaa Mostafa’s SharePoint 2013 Development (Apps versus Solutions) was a decent read which pushed the App model as was Jeremy Thake’s SharePoint Apps Playbook Series: Part 1 – SharePoint Apps vs SharePoint Solutions (was looking forward to the series, lets hope for more!). There was also a logged discussion SPChat transcript: App Model vs Solution Model with Jeremy Thake which helped frame my thoughts.

So what are those thoughts? Well, in a perfect world it’s clear that Apps would be the way to go. There are a number of things that concern me though looking from a wider consultancy view rather than just my own (where did I put that ‘these thoughts are my own’ disclaimer..):

  • The learning curve of developing with the App model against sticking to what most already know. The MSDN article I referenced before actually counters this point, arguing that it is not the only factor to consider and that it may be outweighed by the extensive lifecycle management process required for full-trust solutions. Not everyone is a senior consultant capable of making this transition on a client site however.
  • The ‘new’ nature of the beast. Anyone who has been around SharePoint long enough (and this has been particularly relevant with SP2013) would know that things rarely ‘just work’ in the first iteration. I can definitely see this causing a lot of unnecessary headaches on projects.
  • The added development time the above points could lead to. Increased complexity + less familiarity is sure to equal more $$. When you’re competing for work it’s not always best to ‘theoretically’ offer the best-MS-approved solution if you don’t get to implement it for being cost noncompetitive. It also wouldn’t paint the most rosy of pictures of any existing consultant banging their heads against the wall for a seemingly easy requirement.
  • Getting the App model up and running on-premises isn’t a trivial thing, which again adds added complexity and cost to any project which hasn’t already set up their environment for it.

I also wonder if its just me that thinks that this shouldn’t be a purely technical decision and should be one that involves the business. I believe that as consultants we should advise the client on the best way forward by giving them all the facts (and perhaps even some opinions) but allowing them to make a business decision with that information in front of them. Why should we push the App model if the client has no desire to ever move to the cloud? My argument is if you’re on-premises and you have no short-to-medium aspirations to head to the cloud, then where’s the justification for the steep learning curve, increased complexity and increased cost of building Apps.

Now that I feel I’ve made my point, i’m going to do a complete 180. The App model in my opinion should be on any consultant-worth-their-salt’s priority learning list. The direction is clear, and it will become THE way to develop for SharePoint sometime in the future. I’ve put my money where my mouth is in this case, registering for SPC14 with the aim to attend a number of cloud and App related sessions as well as Sonya Koptyev, Kirk Evans, and Richard diZerega‘s pre-conference sessions on Migrating Traditional SharePoint Solutions to the App Model and Refactoring Business Solutions into Apps for Office. One more excellent blog that should also be on the must-read list I feel I need to point out is Vesa Juvonen‘s – definitely worth following for those wanting to transition to the App model.

I’m curious to see if my view changes over time, particularly after SPC14 and hopefully after a number of healthy debates in regards to whether the App model should be chosen over full-trust solutions for on-premises SharePoint installations. If you care to add to the debate i’d be more than happy to hear from you through any medium you wish – i’m definitely prepared to be convinced either way.