I’ve worked with all versions of SharePoint, that being SharePoint Services 2.0 or SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (commercial release), SharePoint Services 3.0 or SharePoint Portal Server 2007 (commercial release), SharePoint Foundation 2010 (free) – plus SharePoint Server 2010 (commercial extension for Foundation), SharePoint Enterprise 2010 (commercial extension for Server), SharePoint Foundation 2013 (free) plus Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 (extension on top of Foundation).

My current role is primarily on SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise. Our on premise server farm isn’t yet configured for the Apps Store. There is the familiar error message – ‘Sorry, we can’t seem to connect to the SharePoint Store. Try again in a bit.’ SharePoint apps can be deployed in three ways;

  • Provider-hosted (Developer or IT department provides the hosting infrastructure)
  • Auto hosted (Uses Windows Azure or SQL Azure for hosting)
  • SharePoint-hosted (Hosted inside existing SharePoint infrastructure)

Concise instructions on how to enable SharePoint 2013 Apps can be found on Alex SharePoint Blog here: http://www.sharepointalex.co.uk/index.php/2012/11/enabling-sharepoint-2013-apps/

Opting for the third option stated above, I’ll have to setup an isolated sub App Domain. This involves working with the infrastructure team which involves some politics. It could take how long? Please don’t answer that. In addition, our company’s management wants all apps developed in house. Mistakenly they believe that installing apps from the store may bring down the server farm.

So what can I do to add and demonstrate an app from the App Store that can be a good guide on how to develop, let’s say a Timesheet system? While playing the political game at the office, I can setup an external test development environment in the main time. This is in an attempt to install apps from the App Store, as well as demonstrating its features to the powers that be at work.

Below are a collection of Auto Hosted sites providers I am familiar with that can assist you in installing a SharePoint environment quickly.  It is not a comparison between different service providers as I do not paid to do that. Also I have only had time to sign up for on a few of these services – I actually get quite busy at work.

Company: Microsoft

Platform: Office 365 Cloud

Application(s): Office 365 (Outlook, OneDrive), SharePoint Online, Exchange, Lync, Azure AD

Link: https://portal.office.com/Signup/Signup.aspx?OfferId=6881A1CB-F4EB-4db3-9F18-388898DAF510&DL=DEVELOPERPACK&ali=1#0


Office 365 is brand name for a group of software plus services subscriptions that provides productivity software and/or related services to its subscribers.

For business and enterprise users, Office 365 offers plans including e-mail, social networking services through hosted versions of Exchange Server, Lync, SharePoint and Office Web Apps, integration with Yammer and access to the Office software. 

You can set an Office 365 Developer Site to develop, test, and deploy apps for Office and SharePoint. Figure 1 shows my Office 365 dashboard.

Figure 1: O365 Dashboard


Company: Microsoft

Platform: Microsoft Azure Cloud

Application(s): Virtual Machines, Storage, Backup and Recovery, Big Compute

Link: http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/free-trial/?WT.mc_id=A24158309


Windows Azure Infrastructure Services allows you to build this lab environment on your own hardware, but due to the level of SharePoint 2013 hardware requirements, a lot of us may not have sufficient spare hardware to implement an on premise lab environment.

This makes a great scenario for leveraging our Windows Azure ‘Free one-month trial’ offer to get started building a free Dev/Test lab environment for SharePoint 2013 in the cloud. You’ll be able to build a basic functional farm environment for SharePoint 2013 with your free trial subscription.

Company: cloudshare

Platform: Bespoke Cloud Computing

Application(s): SharePoint 2013, Team Foundation Server (TFS) Plugin, AD, MSSQL, Exchange

Link: http://www.cloudshare.com/dev-test/benefits-sharepoint


With CloudShare you can easily spin up any version of fully functional pre-configured SharePoint environment including the required tools for development. You do not require IT experience. In less than 5 minutes, start your SharePoint project with SharePoint Server, AD, MSSQL, Exchange & more.

Share your SharePoint solution with your customers or colleagues. Collaborate better regardless to your location, invite your team members to work with you or send a copy of your SharePoint solution to anyone you’d like.

Integrate your SharePoint solution with the latest products and tools. Select products from a verity of existing pre-configured templates. Our product catalog is constantly updated and expended.

CloudShare gives you the power to fully manage your SharePoint environment features, policies and security. Get complete access and control. There is no limitation to the access level allowed (machines and applications).

With the ability to save the memory state of multi-VM environments in minutes, you can backup your SharePoint solution and easily rollback to a known clean state.

No infrastructure expertise needed. All you need in order to start working on your project is a browser.


Company: Skytap

Platform: Bespoke Cloud Computing

Application(s): SharePoint 2013

Link: http://www.skytap.com/solutions/development-and-test/sharepoint-development


The Skytap Cloud SharePoint farm public template contains a pre-configured SharePoint farm, a complex SharePoint environment that distributes SharePoint resources across multiple VMs in a classic 3 tier architecture: the web tier, the application tier and the database tier. This complete SharePoint environment can be leveraged directly to provide SharePoint’s services to your organisation, or can be used as a dev/test platform.


Company: Rackspace

Platform: Bespoke Cloud Computing

Application(s): SharePoint 2013

Link: http://www.rackspace.com/blog/try-hosted-sharepoint-2013-for-free-in-the-cloud-or-on-dedicated-gear/


You can now choose between Dedicated SharePoint 2013 and a SharePoint 2013 Cloud Image (a new Windows image for Rackspace Cloud Servers). To help you get started, we’re offering the opportunity to try SharePoint 2013. SharePoint Cloud Images are accessible through their Cloud Control Panel, offering the ability to spin up a SharePoint environment in our public cloud.

Company: Datapolis

Platform: SharePoint 2013

Application: ‘Datapolis Process System’, SharePoint 2013

Link: http://sharepoint2013.datapolis.com


You can setup an account with ‘datapolis’ to test workflows in test apps such as Onboarding, IT Tasks, Leave Requests etc. There they also promote their online ‘Datapolis Process System’ workflow application. They also have a downloadable zip file with the ‘Installation Package’, as well as an Installation Guide and Quick Start user guide. I took part in a screencase with the guys from Datapolis and can convey that it is quite an easy application to learn.

About the author 

Larry Saytee