273695_577765544_94420_n_reasonably_small[1]Andy Hodges is a SharePoint Solutions Consultant at Mando Group, a leading digital agency specialising in creating enterprise web sites and RIAs. Andy works with SharePoint to create engaging Intranets, Extranet and Internet sites. Andy can be found on twitter @AndyRHodges

Cloud technologies have been around for a number of years and are increasing in maturity, which is filtering down to organisations, as not just a viable option when building a new application, but the best option. Working for a digital agency we build a lot of critical online systems using the SharePoint platform. Most of these systems are externally facing to the public and the biggest need to be hosted on large server farms. A lot of the work we do is design led, it is important to be able to have control over the presentation of the HTML and CSS in a SharePoint Solution.

I started to look into SharePoint Online which is part of the Office365 suite to see if the external facing aspects of SharePoint Online have the potential to be used for hosting SharePoint internet sites. As you may know SharePoint Online has the ability to host an externally facing website on your own domain. There is also a comprehensive interface that enables business to quickly setup their own website. Unfortunately this interface doesn’t provide the control over the HTML and CSS that we require for some of our customers, but there are ways around this. Before I look at the ways around this I wanted to test getting one of my own domains setup in Office365, in this article I will explain how I did it.

Step One – Confirm your domain ownership with Office365

I am not yet moving my whole site to SharePoint Online so I setup up a subdomain http://cloud.sharepointrescue.com. Setting up a subdomain requires a bit of knowledge around DNS records, but if you have access to you domain admin account you should be able to do this fairly easily.

To be able to use a “Vanity” or custom domain with SharePoint Online you must first add the domain into Office365 using the admin portal. After logging into Office365 as an Admin user, select “Domains” from the left menu and add a new domain and click check domain.

Now you need to verify the domain. To do this you need to add a CNAME record to you DNS, which is auto generated for you.

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Once you have added the record you can try and verify the domain.

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This part took a relatively short time to wait for the record to propagate, probably about 10 minutes in my case. If successful this will add the domain to Office365.

Step Two – Change the intent of the domain to SharePoint Online

Right, this is a part I got stuck on briefly, if you thought you could use the same domain for Lync Online, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online you would be wrong, like I was. If you want to use the domain for SharePoint Online, un-tick Lync Online and Exchange Online, then tick SharePoint Online.

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Step Three – Change the domain of the SharePoint Internet Site to your new domain

At this point we need to jump into SharePoint Online so click the SharePoint Online Manage option. If you haven’t already create a Site collection, select your site and click on the Website Domains option on the ribbon when it appears. The domain that you have added to Office 365 will be in the dropdown, select this and click ok.

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Step Four – Amend the DNS of your domain to point at SharePoint Online

Now the difficult bit, for your domain to resolve to SharePoint Online you will need to change the DNS once again to point at SharePoint Online. Again in the site collections part of SharePoint Online, select the site you have just renamed and click the DNS Information button on the ribbon.

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This gives you the target for the CNAME record that you now need to add to your DNS. The Alias or Host name should be the (root), which it doesn’t tell you in the help. I also did two other things here that are not mentioned in the help, firstly I deleted the previous CNAME records that had been created to get the domain verified with Office365 and secondly I deleted the A record for my domain. Whether you need to do the second step is debatable, but it worked, so I am leaving it as it is. This took a good day to propagate so it is difficult to know if you have it right the first time, be patient.

Great you now have a SharePoint Internet facing site on your own domain in the cloud! Here is mine http://cloud.sharepointrescue.com. You will notice that the standard Adventure Works master page has been applied. This is not something that I will cover now, but there is a way to enhance the external facing website by allowing custom master pages and CSS. I will be writing a follow up on this topic.