I was recently having a very good chat with a potential customer that had some very good questions regarding Access and Office 365. This person already had an Access app and was looking to share it online in the browser and was thinking that SharePoint was the best solution but was confused about what they needed exactly since they had an Office 365 plan with a few users with just email and a few more with Sharepoint and more. It was such a good conversation that I thought it would be good to clarify some of the differences between Office 365 and our SharePoint 2013 Enterprise hosting plan for Access Web Databases and Web apps.
Cost Savings over Office 365
The most confusing part of the comparison is that the varying plans for Office 365 are quite confusing in and of themselves. Office 365 is a sort of all encompassing term used to describe a lot of different products from Microsoft. It can be as simple as a subscription to Microsoft Office software or a complicated enterprise plan with access to Exchange, Sharepoint, Yammer, and more. If you’re interested in Access Web Databases or 2013 Web Apps, the first thing to determine is whether your Office 365 plan even includes SharePoint Enterprise. You need to have either an Office 365 Business Premium plan ($12.50-$15 per user per month) or an Office 365 Enterprise Plan ($20 per user per month) to have access to the correct version of SharePoint with Access Services. Obviously if you have a small business where you have 10 users or less and need email, exchange and everything in between, Office 365 is the better deal, but for a lot of people they need something more flexible.
Let’s say you have Office 365 and are paying $15-$20 per user and have an Access database that you want to host in SharePoint as a web app and share with some of your clients outside of your organization. How do you do that if they don’t have their own Microsoft account/Office 365 account? Our $99 SharePoint hosting plan has been tailor made for Access Services 2013 and 2010 and offers substantial cost savings over Office 365. Right off the bat our $99 plan includes 10 users ($50 – $100 less than Office 365), and each additional user is only $3 per user per month vs. the $15-$20 per user Office 365 plans. Best of all, you don’t need to pay for all the extra features of Office 365 that you don’t need for you and your clients.
Access Services 2013 and 2010 running Side by Side
Another cool feature about our $99 Sharepoint plan is that you can run 2013 Access Web Apps right alongside Access 2010 Web Databases since our 2013 SharePoint environment is running both versions of Access services. We’ve already written about the differences of this technology in a previous post: picking between Access 2013 Web Apps and Access 2010 Web Databases.
Comparing Access Hosting to Office 365
Here’s a few more points about our implementation of SharePoint over Microsoft Office 365. An On Premise or 3rd Party Hosted Access Services 2013 implementation helps provide focused, reliable solutions for the following common customer needs:
- Web Based Reports: SQL Server Reporting Services can be used to create reports and link them back into the menu structure of the web app. Access 2013 web databases use the browser as the primary interface to the client. This environment provides an excellent cross platform solution that allows users to participate without a copy of Access on their desktop and create/read/update/delete records in the database, but it lacks a mechanism for reporting on that data. With SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) you have the ability to deliver browser based reports to your users alongside the Access 2013 web database forms.
- Anonymous Access: With this feature enabled Access web databases can be viewed by an anonymous read-only user without requiring authentication. We recently had a customer looking to provide an up to date inventory of their video game and pinball machine inventory to their web site visitors. With Access Services 2013 and anonymous access enabled inside the SharePoint web application, web visitors could view the entire catalog of available games and pricing information without authenticating to SharePoint. This is a powerful feature for any organization that wants to make their product inventory visible to any web visitor, delivering the information quickly and seamlessly without complicating the end user experience.
- Full control of SQL Server security: Access 2012 allows for the automatic creation of 2 SQL Server user accounts, one with read-only privileges and another with read-write. While that is useful, some customers would like to extend this model to multiple user accounts. By creating multiple SQL logins via SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) you can create a much more complex security model for applications that want to leverage the Access 2013 web database information stored in SQL Server. Password complexity and aging requirements can also be enforced on these accounts.
- Full control of the network firewall: Many Access 2013 applications require extended security to comply with corporate or regulatory requirements. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) security requirements are a good example of this necessity. In a self-hosted or 3rd party hosted solution you have enough firewall configuration flexibility to lock down your entire database by imposing restrictions on the network perimeter based on TCP/IP address ranges, machine names, and network protocols. A combination of these restrictions can be imposed to address any security mandate.
- Render http links in the web browser control of an Access 2013 web database: The browser control is a powerful feature in Access 2013 web forms that allows you to call external resources into your application. Office 365 requires https for all external links which limits the use of browser based resources that do not support https. This restriction can be lifted in a self-hosted or 3rd party hosted configuration.
- Customized backup: You can create a backup rotation scheme in SQL 2012 for the Access Web Apps that mirrors the site collection backup routine in SharePoint. This allows for a synchronized full fidelity backup of the SharePoint site and the Web Apps with multiple restore points. We recently assisted a customer who required a complete snapshot of their SharePoint and Access Services environment to be available for rollback to 24/47/72/96 hour recovery points. In addition, the second and fourth snapshots needed to be available in a secondary data center in the event of a problem with the primary facility. All of this is easily accomplished in a hosted configuration where both the SharePoint and SQL Server environments are completely controlled by the hosting organization.
- Ability to change Access Services configuration parameters and SharePoint web application settings: When running Access Services 2010 alongside Access Services 2013 you maintain complete control of the SharePoint service parameters for Access Services. These parameters can be tuned to enhance the interaction between Access 2010 and SharePoint lists and eliminate the “List Threshold Exceeded” errors that can appear when using the default configuration settings and manipulating large tables. Full support for web based reporting in published Access 2010 Web Databases and permissive file handling for things like PDF can also be enabled when you have full control over the entire SharePoint Central Administration console.
We are happy to announce the availability of low-cost SharePoint foundation hosting plans. These plans start at only $99 a year and while they do not have the publishing features of Access Web Services, these SharePoint 2013 plans are still great for Access Developers. You can use SharePoint Lists as you backend and easily have anonymous website users add information and input data using SharePoint’s list functionaliy without having to pay per user enterpise license fees. Watch the video below to see the type of Access development and features that we’re talking about:
We are happy to announce that we are once again offering SharePoint 2010 Access Web Database hosting plans. This new plan has a 30 day free trial and is $99/month. It includes 10 users and 2 GB of storage space, unlimited databases, unlimited bandwidth and allows you to combine Web Forms and Web Reports with your existing clientside Access DB functionality for a true powerful hybrid application. These SharePoint hosting plans are completely scalable. Additional storage and users can be added to this plan at any time for additional fees. We plan to continue to offer service to Access 2010 web publishing on SharePoint 2010 and 2013 for as long as Microsoft supports and allows us to license this product.
Click here to get started publishing Access 2010 Databases to the Web.
One of the most important changes with Access 2013 and their new web apps is in the architecture itself.
In SharePoint 2010, Access Web Services was storing everything in SharePoint (and then SharePoint’s content was backed up by SQL). Access 2013 apps are hosted by SharePoint 2013 while the data is stored in SQL Server 2012. SharePoint 2013 provides authentication, authorization, and security for Access 2013 apps. The back-end tables, views, macros, and queries are stored in an SQL Server 2012 database. This change in architecture reflects a substantial change in the way Access Services works.
You will notice that SQL stores tables, views, macros and queries but there’s no mention about reporting. That is because Access 2013 Web Apps do not allow you to create traditional Access reports. The only way to do reporting is by connecting the local Access software program to the SQL tables directly or using some other compatible reporting software tool.
There are a lot of advantages of using Access 2013 with SharePoint 2013, but it is important for Access Developer to note the following:
- The idea of the Hybrid Application, SQL reporting services in a browser, and the architecture of Access Web Services 2010 has been completely abandoned by Microsoft. Access Applications can be either SharePoint 2013 web apps OR traditional local Access Applications.
- Any existing SharePoint 2010 web application cannot be moved to SharePoint 2013. You can preserver your tables, but all of your forms, reports, and queries will be lost in the transition from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013.
- Access 2013 introduces a new application type that enables you to create a web-based Access app in SharePoint 2013. It is easier and more stable than 2010 since it is directly backed by SQL, but there are no built-in reporting services for Access web apps.
- Access 2013 and Access 2010 can both publish to SharePoint 2010 and the old Access Web Services 2010. You must have Access 2013 to publish to SharePoint 2013 and create an Access 2013 web app.
- VBA code is not compatible with SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013 Access applications.
Access Hosting is committed to supporting the Access Developer community and will continue to offer SharePoint 2010 Access Web Services hosting for as long as developers are interested. SharePoint 2013 Access Web apps do have a ton of advantages, and we have launched our brand new Access 2013 SharePoint 2013 hosting packages. If you are interested in a free trial, please sign-up here.
We don’t just offer SharePoint hosting either. We have great ways for every Access Developer and Access application to be hosted in the cloud whether it’s through SharePoint, SQL Server or our RDP solution which lets you host any Access 2007, 2010 or 2013 application without ANY modifications. It supports VBA code too.
Since SharePoint 2010 with Access Services has been released, we have gotten requests from customers looking to prevent users from opening their Access application. Many developers want the only user experience to be the browser based version of their application and our video tutorial hack is too limiting and simply not good enough. Well, as you can see from the picture above, we have finally figured out a way to remove the Options Menu (and subsequently the Open in Access option) from any Access Web Database. This customization has been widely requested and is yet another feature that Office 365 does not offer. Unfortunately because of how SharePoint 2010 was designed and coded, this customization requires that we alter SharePoint master pages and is therefore only available with a virtual private server. If you are interested in this feature, it is now available with any of our SharePoint Virtual Appliances which are only $499 and include 10 users and 5GB of storage space.