Don't Think of Windows SharePoint Services as Free
- By Scott Bekker
There's a tendency to think of Windows SharePoint Services as a free add-on for Windows Server 2003, a late delivery on a feature Microsoft couldn't quite finish in time for the gold code release of the OS in April.
That could be an expensive mistake in large organizations, if the experience of early adopter customers and Microsoft itself is a guide.
It looks like a better way to view WSS is as a teaser for the full functionality in Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003. Taking this view would lead enterprise administrators to only roll out the free add-on service as a pilot to see if there's real demand within the organization for a full SharePoint solution. The pilot of the free add-on services would then be followed by a full implementation of the portal server, which starts at $3,999 with CALs priced at $71 each in volume licensing deals.
That's the approach consultants at Avanade, a services company that is jointly owned by Microsoft and Accenture, has been using for its big early adopter customers of Microsoft SharePoint technologies.
"It starts with WSS usually as the proof of concept. They realize that if we're not careful this will spread like wildfire, and we won't be able to control it. Every instance, we've put out WSS and then put in SharePoint," says Ricardo Arroyo, a senior program manager at Avanade.
SharePoint technology appears to have turned a corner and is one of the more exciting new elements of the Office System and Windows Server 2003 generation of products. Microsoft seems to have made collaboration easy enough for IT administrators to enable and for users themselves to set up and use that it could finally take off as a widespread feature. That after false starts for SharePoint technologies in the Office suite and as a stand-alone portal product, which suffered from scalability problems.
A big part of Microsoft's Office System launch this week involves convincing the enterprise that the existing model of collaborating on documents by e-mailing attachments isn't good enough.
The new method Microsoft is peddling with the Office System and Windows Server 2003 is for work teams to create SharePoint sites where they can collaborate on documents, check for presence information of virtual team members and view project schedules.
Microsoft's dogfood experience with SharePoint offers an unintended illustration of the wildfire problem Arroyo mentions. In the months that SharePoint collaboration has been enabled at Microsoft in the run-up to this week's launch, company employees have set up 25,000 sites built on the new SharePoint technology.
That's about one site for every two employees. At a small company or even a medium-sized company, that's not much of a management problem. In fact, WSS is a major feature of Windows Small Business Server 2003 and none of those deployments are likely to explode into the need for a copy of Microsoft's $5,600 SharePoint Portal Server (ERP with 5 CALs) to manage, organize and expose the collaboration sites.
But at a large company, that leads to backup issues, issues of organizing the collaboration sites through an intranet so they can be found by others in the organization and issues of user rights to allow outsiders to be able to access appropriate projects.
"[By using SharePoint Portal Server] you can avoid the Lotus Notes complex where you have all these thousands of applications out there, and you have to back them all up," Arroyo said.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.