SharePoint Takes Center Stage at Catalyst Event

Solution may require some customization to meet an organization's needs, attendees told

The Burton Group put the spotlight on Microsoft's SharePoint Server 2007 product on Thursday at its Catalyst Conference 2008 event. The analyst and consulting group allocated no less than five panels at the San Diego-based event to discuss SharePoint for the enterprise. The panels focused on the solution's strengths and weaknesses, as well as the importance of partner support in implementing SharePoint.

The SharePoint panels kicked off with a discussion on "The Next Steps" for the product by Guy Creese, vice president and director of research at the Burton Group. Creese outlined both positives and negatives for a platform that's designed to enable organizational collaboration, portal creation, search, content management, support for business processes and business intelligence.

Financially, SharePoint represents a big plus in Microsoft's product stack. The SharePoint 2007 product generated $800 million in revenues in Microsoft's fiscal-year 2007, Creese said. That figure is $50 million more than the total revenue generated by -- a hosted customer relationship management solution provider -- in its fiscal-year 2008, he added.

Creese offered a caveat for organizations expecting SharePoint to work right out of the box. The solution may require some customization to meet an organization's needs.

"SharePoint has been a huge success in the market," Creese said. "However, what we're starting to find is that a high-tuned SharePoint installation requires custom coding and third-party" support, including perhaps third-party software.

Products that compete with SharePoint include IBM Lotus Notes, which Creese said is doing well but has few new customers. Oracle is consolidating four different products at this time, and Creese said it's a wait-and-see proposition for Oracle's efforts in this space. He flat out said that the Burton Group doesn't see Google Apps as a "SharePoint killer," a phrase used by a Google product manager. Other competitors include some veteran niche players, but they aren't competing with Microsoft on price, he added.

SharePoint: The Good and Bad
SharePoint 2007 contains many improvements on top of the 2003 SharePoint product. Creese highlighted SharePoint 2007's search functionality, which has a good user interface. The portal functionality in SharePoint is less expensive than that functionality in Lotus Notes, but SharePoint doesn't offer out-of-the-box application integration and it doesn't comply with all portal standards (e.g., JSR 68). In addition, the blogs and wikis generated by SharePoint are not up to speed, he said.

SharePoint's business intelligence functionality is such that you may not need to use other BI products, such as IBM Cognos or Business Objects, with it, Creese said. In that respect, SharePoint provides an "opportunity for Microsoft-centric organizations to have fewer moving parts," he explained.

SharePoint works with other Microsoft solutions, such as IIS and SQL Server, but the downside to that is that it also creates dependencies on Microsoft solutions, Creese said. SharePoint provides templates for ease of use, but if you don't map to those templates, then you have to rely on custom coding to make it work.

Other improvements to SharePoint 2007 include a rich client to create fill-in forms and a content management system that is complementary to many best-of-breed enterprise content management systems, Creese said.

Weak or missing features in SharePoint include lack of offline support, poor records management, digital asset management, social networking software, back-end XML syndication and lack of a universal taxonomy agent, he added. Consequently, organizations using SharePoint may want to seek partner solutions to fill in those gaps.

SharePoint Partner Solutions
Another panel at Catalyst was a "SharePoint Partner Roundtable" discussion by five companies that collaborate with Microsoft on the product. All told, Microsoft has "more than 2,700 partners" building on top of SharePoint, according to Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's general manager for the office business platform, as stated in a June 2008 Microsoft Webinar.

One partner, Exostar, provides SharePoint in a software-as-a-service model, building in security for its aerospace and defense contractor clients. Exostar uses end-to-end encryption to meet government requirements and object-level reporting to track all events. The company integrates SharePoint with Active Directory and is helping its large customers prepare to do content sharing using federation techniques. Exostar relies on a partner to enable synchronization in SharePoint.

SchemaLogic works in the unstructured content metadata space. The company provides a family of connectors that work with the predominant search engines and enterprise content management repositories. Its services include a metadata model that can transcend SharePoint's scale and that also supports client-specific taxonomies.

NewsGator Technologies provides a Facebook-like experience in the enterprise, supporting social networking in conjunction with SharePoint. The user interface can be made more interactive and communications are enabled using mini-business cards in SharePoint.

Cisco Systems provides security for SharePoint deployments through its Securent acquisition. Securent provides an XACML (eXtensible Access Control Markup Language)-based entitlement management solution to enable governance and externalize policies from SharePoint.

NSE provides a roles-based approach to management, integrating SharePoint with back-end data systems to enable real-time access. For instance, users can create dynamic forms to update a PeopleSoft relational database. Panelist Jason Storey, NSE's CTO, saw an evolutionary improvement with SharePoint 2007 over SharePoint 2003.

"In [SharePoint 2003] … it was really a pain to work with," Storey said. "In the new versions you have Windows Workflow services developed behind the scenes … you have ASP.NET execution model so it's easier for you to extend that. You don't have to go find a true SharePoint guru to do SharePoint developer work. You can train a .NET individual."

Catalyst, all told, was a five-day event, and the well-attended SharePoint sessions represented just a small part of it. The event covered broad IT sectors, including social networking, datacenter design, mobile networks and service-oriented architecture, among others.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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