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Compare SharePoint 2019 vs. SharePoint Online

SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online have different customization capabilities, payment models and more. Organizations must consider these distinctions before selecting one.

As organizations aim to digitize operations -- including content management -- they should know their options.

Microsoft's enterprise content management system, SharePoint, serves as a central repository for digital assets that users can interact with through a web interface. Additionally, Microsoft sells SharePoint in different versions. As SharePoint 2016 approaches its end of life, content management professionals may consider SharePoint 2019 or SharePoint Online.

SharePoint 2019 is an on-premises software, whereas SharePoint Online is a cloud service available in Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The two platforms differ in key areas, including system requirements, security and payment models. Content management professionals should know the difference between these SharePoint versions before they make a purchase.

What is SharePoint?

SharePoint is an enterprise content management and business process automation system that Microsoft launched in 2001. It can store various content types, such as documents, lists, images and videos. It lets users collaborate on, search for and share content with each other. Also, it can use InfoPath or HTML forms to collect information from end users.

Originally, Microsoft only offered SharePoint as on-premises software. However, in 2013, Microsoft released the cloud version: SharePoint Online for Microsoft 365. As SharePoint evolved, Microsoft replaced some of its core components with dedicated online services. For instance, Microsoft Power Apps replaced InfoPath, Power BI replaced PerformancePoint and Microsoft Power Automate replaced SharePoint Workflows.

Although Microsoft replaced some of SharePoint's components, it still offers SharePoint in two versions: SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online for Microsoft 365.

Differences between SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online

As an on-premises system, SharePoint 2019 differs from SharePoint Online in many ways. Organizations should understand these differences to determine which SharePoint version best meets their needs.

System requirements and infrastructure

SharePoint 2019 implementation requires organizations to install and manage a SharePoint farm. It includes web front-end, SQL and application servers. Organizations may require more servers if they need additional redundancy in SQL and other SharePoint services.

SharePoint Online, on the other hand, requires no servers or hardware, because Microsoft hosts the software in its data centers. SharePoint Online's main system requirement is a web browser that supports HTML5.

Maintenance and updates

IT professionals may find it too much work to host SharePoint 2019 on owned infrastructure, such as on site or in a colocation data center, because many of its components need maintenance and support. For instance, application and database servers often need patches and upgrades. Although IT can perform some patches with ease, they must ensure adequate system backups and access to Microsoft support if needed.

Also, new features reach SharePoint Online before they appear in the on-premises version, which can leave on-premises users behind when it comes to functionality.

SharePoint Online users don't have to worry about maintenance because the vendor handles patches and updates. However, Microsoft manages and schedules these updates at its own will, which can cause issues with customers' customizations.

Data security

Securing data hosted within SharePoint is a top concern for any organization, regardless of whether it hosts the platform internally or if Microsoft hosts it. SharePoint 2019 users can implement restrictions that isolate the system from the outside world. Organizations with on-premises systems have the flexibility to implement protections through software and hardware to meet security requirements.

SharePoint Online is a cloud service, so Microsoft requires user authentication to access the data. Many of Microsoft's cloud security features, such as Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) and Azure Active Directory (AD) Premium, offer more advanced security capabilities than its on-premises counterpart. ATP can detect sign-in anomalies based on user location, and Azure AD Premium can generate reports that identify potential bad actors.

Payment model

SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online have different payment models, which is often a deciding factor for buyers. For SharePoint 2019, organizations must purchase a server license upfront as Capex.

Microsoft sells SharePoint Online through a subscription model. Subscribers pay a monthly fee based on the license type and number of users, so users may pay steeper upfront costs with SharePoint 2019 than with SharePoint Online.

A chart comparing SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online
Know the differences between SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online.

How to choose the right version of SharePoint

Before organizations purchase a version of SharePoint, they should consider key factors. These factors include customization and compliance needs, budget and preexisting infrastructure investments.

SharePoint 2019 or later can help organizations that fit the following criteria:

  • support customer applications that can't run in cloud environments;
  • follow data access controls and compliance requirements that mandate their databases reside on private networks;
  • want to purchase their own server licenses;
  • plan to use existing IT infrastructure investments; and
  • need access to high-level controls and customizations.

SharePoint Online may help organizations that fit the following criteria:

  • want to avoid managing on-premises environments;
  • follow requirements that force them to adopt a subscription model;
  • plan to bundle SharePoint software with other Microsoft 365 subscriptions;
  • want to integrate SharePoint with other services, such as Power Apps;
  • lack SharePoint and SQL management skills;
  • need access to the latest features as soon as Microsoft releases them; and
  • use online file storage and file synchronization capabilities.

Organizations can pick one version, SharePoint 2019 or SharePoint Online, but they can also go the hybrid route. A hybrid approach offers the benefits of on-premises SharePoint along with SharePoint Online and Microsoft 365 services.

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