Archive for July 26, 2009

Planning for SharePoint Online Part 2

In my last blog post, I began a discussion of things to consider when thinking about SharePoint Online Services. Part 1 covered the implications relative to Browser Support and the Overall Client Experience. Again, my objective is to provide some commentary about the decision process and identifying key decision points between t he Standard, Dedicated and On-Premises Architectures. If you don’t understand what I just said, read Part 1.

In Part 2, I’ll review the issues and limitations of SharePoint Online regarding Collaboration Features.

Availability of Site Templates

For me, here is where the rubber begins to hit the road. The Standard Offering does not support any of what I would call “Portal” templates, most notably the “My Site” template. In a nutshell, this means that you are looking at a Dedicated Offering in order to realize Enterprise Social Networking. Also of note is that the Internet Facing Sites are not supported here – I expect this will be a specific Online Offering from Microsoft in future. Finally, most Meeting Workspaces are not supported, which is only disappointing if you currently use them: my experience is that this is an underutilized feature anyway.

Presence

Most of us really dig the “jellybean” – it provides an entry point into opening up a dialogue with colleagues, some well-known to you and some not, which would otherwise be terribly awkward in the online world; presence is a key ergonomic feature of the Microsoft Business Productivity Suite. Ok, so the good news is that if you are looking at taking advantage of the BPOS offer (that is, you are looking at bundling Exchange, SharePoint, OCS and Live Meeting in the Cloud), then you get presence. But, SharePoint Standard Online alone will not support presence unless you are also taking advantage of Office Communication Server Online.

In the Dedicated Offering, you can take advantage of an Office Communications Server on-premise – if you are looking at co-existence architecture, this can work for you.

Of course, presence works out of the box in the On-Premises world – most of this stuff does if you have planned your SharePoint Architecture at all.

Social Networking

Did I mention that My Sites are not available in the Standard Offering? It’s true – if you see value in Web 2.0, if you see value in discovering the knowledge network which exists in your organization, then you need to be looking at the dedicated offering, not the Standard one. This is really a critical consideration for many firms, as it makes the cost benefits of the Standard offering a wee bit less inviting.

Mail enabled Lists

This is the capability to configure SharePoint to receive email into Lists and Libraries, making them a first class citizen in the collaboration process, but also potentially raising a number of difficult compliance issues. In my experience, this capability is most value in custom applications which leverage SharePoint technologies. As an example: a solution which manages a relatively complex business process which includes documentation which should be contributed via email. Since your options are limited in the realm of custom features and solutions (more on this in future posts), I don’t envision this giving anyone pause.

In my next post, I’ll look at the Impacts to Portal Features which you should take into account before committing to a SharePoint Online Architecture.

Planning for SharePoint Online Part 1

I read an excellent White Paper and Planning Tool last night regarding a breakdown the technical capabilities of each hosted offering for MOSS 2007. I’ll be sharing some details about these considerations in a series of blog posts; this is the first one.

The first thing to understand is that there are 3 offerings to consider: SharePoint Online Standard, SharePoint Online Dedicated and SharePoint On-Premises.

1. SharePoint Online Standard is the most cost-effective offering and also the most limited technically. This is the Multi-Tenant Offering: while there is Logical separation of business data between tenants, no Physical separation exists.

2. SharePoint Online Dedicated is the dedicated hosted offering. Customers enjoy logical and physical data separation from other tenants.

3. SharePoint On-Premises is the traditional model where your firm’s SharePoint environment is hosted in your firm’s data center: your I.T. professionals have complete control of (and responsibility for) the environment.

My objective here is to bring to light some observations about the planning process which struck me as important considerations. Most firms will be tempted by the cost model for the Standard Offering, but then will need to consider the technical limitations of this offering before making a decision. I am looking to focus on these key decision points.

Let’s look at the Client Experience first. For many firms, this is a key consideration as it impacts their ability to “shift the paradigm” of information workers within the organization away from File Shares to a managed collaboration environment.

Browser Support

Most current generation browsers are supported. It is important to note that with the Standard Offering, a Microsoft Online Services Sign In application is required in order to provide a seamless authentication experience; firms who are not up-to-date with their browsers may encounter issues here.

Mobile Devices

I was surprised to learn that the Standard Offering does not support Internet Explorer Mobile, which is the default browser for Windows Mobile OS. Firms may need to consider a Dedicated offering if they are making significant use of MOSS Mobile Device capabilities.

Vanity Domains

Online Services does not support them – you need to own the domain in order to use it for accessing your SharePoint Online environment, regardless of offering.

Available Storage

Storage is important when thinking about what your firm can live with. Basically, storage is impacted by the number of users – you get 250MB for each user license you purchase. In the Standard Offering, the maximum storage is 1 Terabyte – this translates to 4,000 users. Also a consideration in the Standard Offering is the way Site Collections are managed – Site Collections are limited to 50GB per collection and 20 Site Collections total – this makes sense since most site collection architectures share a single content database on the back-end.

The Dedicated Offering is very similar in that you need to manage your storage by user and site collection considerations, but there are means to purchase additional space (if required) in this scenario. In the Standard Offering there are hard limits.

Office Client Integration

Another big one: firms are always concerned (or should be) about the way architectural decisions will impact Microsoft Office Client Interactions. The good news here is that we can distill your decision around which offering suits by examining your use of 3 Office Clients:

1. Outlook – the Standard Offering only supports Outlook 2007. Move to Outlook 2007, there are a lot of good reasons to do so.

2. Access – the Standard Offering will not permit you to upload Access 2003 files to a Document Library. If you are using Access as a Reporting Front-End, and you want that front end available to users by downloading from SharePoint, consider moving to Access 2007.

3. InfoPath – the Dedicated Offering requires InfoPath 2007

All other considerations with regard to Office integration with MOSS 2007 are in play: Office 2003 works well, but not as well as Office 2007.

Deleted Item Recovery

The Recycle Bin rocks and saves a lot of administrative headaches. However, you have much less control over how long items are retained in both Standard and Dedicated Offerings.

I’m interested in your feedback – are any of these considerations “deal-breakers” for you and your firm? Would any of them require you to dismiss an offering? Would any of them commit you to a deployment path?

Next, we’ll look at Impacts to Collaboration as they relate to the three choices for SharePoint deployments

Brian Berry is a Director of Technology Consulting with BlumShapiro, focusing on Microsoft Business Intelligence solutions, with a strong focus on Systems Integration, Master Data Management and PerformancePoint Services. He has been helping companies optimize their investments in Microsoft technology for over 12 years.

Productivity Services for the Small and Nimble

I’m spending a bit of time these days thinking about how to get my clients to think in new and interesting ways about reducing the cost of productivity services. As a Microsoft partner, this has led me to the new Microsoft Online Services offering. If you have not yet heard about this, and you are in the least bit interested in reducing I.T. costs in your organizations, I suggest you take a look and at least begin thinking about it because there is a huge opportunity here to reduce costs. Not just reduce costs, but turn your attention to things which really matter.

I asked a friend of mine who works for a small technology services firm about how his company purchases and consumes basic business productivity services: Email, Telephony, Collaboration, etc. I had some questions which I wanted to get answered.

Aren’t small companies already entirely in the cloud?

Not really; this one actually hosts its own website, as well as basic project tracking on a web site hosted internally. Since the firm is a technology services firm, this probably makes sense for them. However, I was surprised because I expected that if a firm had chosen to host email externally, they were likely to not have anything on-premises: my assumption here is that email is both a tightly managed and ubiquitous service that everyone would prefer to keep in-house. This turned out to not be true.

How expensive are Hosted Email Providers? Exchange online is the most expensive product in the Business Productivity Suite – is $10/user too much to pay?

These days, email is practically free – IF you can live without Calendar, Scheduling, and Mobile Support. If you need any of those three capabilities, an Exchange Hosted solution is more in line with your needs, and that will run you north of $12/user.

That does include Anti-spam filtering, but does not include any kind of Email Retention / Automated Holds services a la Exchange Hosted Services, but in this case, we are assuming that no one really wants to sue you because you are too small.

What alternatives are out there for “Unified Communications” technologies?

My friend’s firm uses Meet Me Now (described as WebEx lite) which runs just under $500/yr. for a firm of his size.

The VoIP / Telephony question was more difficult to answer: essentially, there is nothing unified or standardized in terms of voice technology – Vonage, Skype, Cell Phone providers were all mentioned. Vonage has a small business package available – under $500/yr.

All-In-All, I think my conclusion is that:

For the truly small and nimble company, Microsoft Online Services is not necessarily a “no brainer”. Most have already determined a mix of cloud and on-premise services which they can live with. In the case of this small firm of 15 employees in U.S and Canada, the BPOS suite would run them $2700/year. It is difficult to do true apples-to-apples comparison against their current mix of services, primarily because their email is just that – Email. This firm would have to determine if moving to Exchange, with the Unified Communication capabilities and Email Retention / Compliance pieces justify the additional cost.