SharePoint 2010 Ready for Deployment
Customers are eager to get the forthcoming 2010 release of the collaboration server. Social-networking enhancements are a key draw.
The Orange County School District in Florida is among numerous organizations that hope to deploy the new Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Server -- the widely anticipated upgrade of Redmond's rapidly growing collaborative computing platform that's set to be released May 12.
SharePoint 2010 boasts improved search, enterprise content management and bi-directional connectivity to external data sources. New social-networking capabilities include the ability to let users create wikis; additionally, SharePoint 2010 has an improved development environment and is easier for IT pros to administer. It's also more conducive for public-facing Web sites.
"There are many features that are interesting as we begin to roll out collaboration sites and more apps that run on the portal," says Michael Antonovich, Orange County School District's assistant director of Web Services.
Indeed, this month's SharePoint/ Office launch is arguably the cornerstone of the Microsoft 2010 release wave. It's joined by other key releases: Microsoft just shipped Visual Studio 2010 along with the Microsoft .NET Framework 4, and is readying SQL Server 2010 R2.
"When we talk to companies with 10,000 to 20,000 users or even more than that, a lot of them need communities; they're craving communities."
But Office is Redmond's cash cow, with more than 500 million installations. Under siege by lower-cost
alternatives from Google Inc., IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and VMware Inc., Microsoft is betting its revamped Office will keep many users in the fold (see "A New Decade of Office," March 2010). Introduced to the suite with Office 2007, the controversial Ribbon interface -- revamped with improved usability features -- can now be found throughout the new release, including SharePoint.
By launching both Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 together, Microsoft is looking to deliver a one-two punch. While Office 2010 ushers major new features such as a much-improved Outlook client with a social-network connector, the ability to do faster business intelligence queries in the revamped Excel, and new Web capabilities, the Professional Edition also boasts the new SharePoint WorkSpace 2010, a refinement of the technology formerly known as Groove.
SharePoint Gets Social
The sexiest feature in SharePoint 2010 and the one that's generating the most buzz is support for social networking. "When we talk to companies with 10,000 to 20,000 users, or even more than that, a lot of them need communities; they're craving communities," says Mauricio Duran, president of Los Angeles-based Sieena, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with three large customers who want to deploy SharePoint 2010 as soon as it's released.
"They want people to use their Web sites, and they want them to get to know each other to find the expertise they're looking for within the company," Duran adds. "The questions are exactly the same; they basically come to us and say, 'I want Facebook within my company.'"
Todd Klindt, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and senior consultant with Mainville, Ohio-based SharePoint911, agrees.
"I haven't yet decided there's a good business case for the social-networking capabilities, but a lot of people are excited about them," he says.
Among the new social-networking features in SharePoint 2010 is the ability for organizations to create profiles of their employees that simplify the discovery of subject matter experts. As with Facebook, employees can create their own networks within an enterprise SharePoint environment, post status updates, list activities, post questions and create both individual and enterprise wikis that can be tied into the SharePoint content-management repository. Among other things, tying wikis and other content to the SharePoint repository lends itself to discovery for knowledge management and compliance.
The new social-networking features also support tagging, which allows for the classification of information. Everyone can create their own groups through what is called My Network, which provides real-time activity streams. Through integration with Microsoft's unified communications tools, it offers support for presence.
For public Web sites, SharePoint will be more practical than its predecessor, Duran says. That's because Microsoft is expected to offer a Standard Edition that's half the price of the 2007 release. "That can really give the incentive that many of these companies were waiting for to build the public sites using SharePoint," Duran says.
Honing in on Workflows
SharePoint has much-improved options for helping organizations enhance the automation of business processes. SharePoint 2010 comes with out-of-the-box workflows that can be plugged into certain processes. These workflows include common operations such as approvals and reviews, according to Microsoft.
Power users can create their own workflows with SharePoint Designer and Visio Workflow Designer, which create business-process diagrams stored in the Process Design Repository. SharePoint 2010 lets developers using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 deploy custom code-based workflows into a sandbox.
SharePoint 2010 allows for external connections to running workflows, so users can send and receive external events from workflows, making it easier to communicate with running instances, says Phillip Wicklund, a senior SharePoint consultant with Wayzata, Minn.-based RBA Consulting.
"Deploying customizations into SharePoint takes a pretty deep understanding of how things work in
SharePoint 2007, but in SharePoint 2010 a lot of it is abstracted. All you really do is hit F5 and it will do the deployment for you," Wicklund says.
SharePoint 2010 will also be popular for those who want to integrate it with external data sources such as information from SAP, Oracle or Lotus Notes, as well as with custom applications.
With SharePoint 2007, developers could pull data from those systems, but with the new Business Connectivity Services (or BCS, which replaces the Business Data Catalog), there's complete read-write data access.
The Search Is On
The new search features in SharePoint 2010 could prove compelling. The search engine moves away from traditional links by rendering visual results, offering more personalized information based on context, and allows users to search from their PCs, browsers or mobile devices.
SharePoint 2010 will be available with Standard or FAST Search. The latter will be an option for enterprises looking for higher-end search capabilities, and is the first release of the technology for SharePoint that Microsoft acquired from FAST in 2008.
Both versions include improved navigation with refined and related results, according to Microsoft. Other areas addressed are relevance, people (the ability to find individuals using algorithms associated with social networking), connectivity via Microsoft Business Connectivity Services and extended scalability.
Meanwhile, FAST Search for SharePoint was designed to utilize the SharePoint management interfaces and deployment offerings such as Windows PowerShell. It also offers metadata extraction, structured data searches, refined searches and visual search, and is much more scalable than the standard search features, according to Microsoft.
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.