Recently, I checked in with Scott Gode, vice president at Azaleos, the SharePoint and Exchange managed services provider, to get perspective on what they're seeing around SharePoint—especially SharePoint 2013.
Azaleos is like an extended IT department on steroids—I think of them as a sort of uber-multiple-brained SharePoint admin—they know the nit-picky details as well as the big picture of what's going on in SharePoint.
SharePoint Pro: What does the cloud mean to you?
Scott Gode: The cloud for us in 99.9 percent of cases means private cloud. It's not Office 365, it's a more robust private implementation of SharePoint. Still, from an install base perspective, our biggest share is Exchange, but SharePoint and Lync are month over month vying for fastest run rate in terms of new installations. If there's anything limiting SharePoint in terms of new sales, it's the specter of 2013. In some cases it's a good thing, some cases it's a bad thing.
I continue to read about companies like fpwebnet, and other people doing SharePoint hosting. We don't run into any of those companies in the engagements in the RFPs we're responding to. We're more at 5,000 seats and above.
What does SharePoint 2013 mean to you and to SharePoint land?
Gode: From the Azaleos point of view, we're excited about SharePoint 2013. We've always been kind of unique—we're laser-focused on the admin side of the model, not so focused on the application side of the model. Not that we ignore that, but we don't go out and build and develop applications.
In the SharePoint 2013 world, because of the philosophical change around how applications will be treated, in terms of a marketplace for SharePoint apps that will need to be certified, because the design environment will need to be simplified—all these things will shift the focus, we believe, of the typical SharePoint admin much more toward the back end, more than having to be reliant on the hyper-customization capabilities on the front end.
What customer concerns are you seeing about moving to SharePoint 2013?
Gode: If you shift to the customer-centric viewpoint, there's a certain amount of angst on the customer side--more, even, for the partner side--as to how these applications will work in the environment. What about existing skill sets at developing apps on the "old" platform—how will those translate to the new environment? All those things are natural any time there's a platform upgrade or changes.
How will SharePoint 2013 affect the cloud?
Gode: SharePoint is such an application-heavy environment. At the end of the day, the increased openness around the design environment and the concept of application certification will be a great boon to the cloud. Because if Microsoft wants to--and if the community wants to-- make it more cloud centric, what better way to do it by making sure apps are certified so they can be moved from on-premises to cloud, so that security and other hazards are negated. So those are positive things, once you get past the interim angst.
Site mailboxes, integrating a better view of SharePoint into the Outlook interface, the whole e-Discovery portion of bringing SharePoint and Lync and Exchange data into a single interface, all these are great next steps for the Microsoft unified communication environment. So there's fewer places people have to go to find what they need.
What are common problems you see around SharePoint?
Gode: An industry issue—as we sell and install SharePoint environments, one of the biggest grumbles we hear from customers is around storage. SharePoint, whether used well or poorly, tends to consume a lot of space, as apps and data pile up on servers. We always try to spec SharePoint environments out with some forward-looking advice so customers buy enough storage and won't have to purchase additional storage to support it.
Because of the inherent cost of storage today, this is all storage that has to be purchased as an op-ex, but it's a hard cost, in terms of SANs being purchased, so we're trying to look at different storage alternatives, different technologies coming down the pike, which are applicable to SharePoint and Exchange and archiving. How we can help to mitigate the effects of a lot of SharePoint usage by enhancing the way we spec and recommend storage.
It's not because of the cloud that we're looking at storage. One of the potential benefits of the cloud is that storage can be taken out of the picture. However, even in a public cloud, the standard packages come with a certain amount of storage, but they require you to buy a certain amount of storage depending on how your system is supposed to grow.
SharePoint suffers from its popularity—as more apps and data are stored within it, you need more storage. It's not unique to 2010 or 2013--people start to use these environments and do a terrible job of cleaning up after themselves. People are packrats with their stuff, including data, and unless there's an active set of policies that push archiving, you're in for a lot of stuff.
When we're helping to spec the environment, trying to determine how much storage they'll need, we bring up governance, and we bring it up x number of years into an environment when the customer starts complaining about running out of space. Our operations guy asks them if they've been archiving content and they say no, 9 times out of 10.
Governance is a big issue with SharePoint, and I put governance akin to archiving--it's viewed as an added expense people don't want to invest in, but once a customer gets burned--in the case of archiving, with a legal issue, or governance, with storage space overruns or data gone missing--that's when they invest. It's rare that we find customers being proactive.
What trends are you seeing with SharePoint?
Gode: Healthcare/pharma and financial services have always been our biggest customer base. The reason being that we have a secure methodology for how we can protect customer data and because we help the customer keep that data on-premise or in a private cloud, so they don't have to push it up to a less secure public cloud. We're starting to see larger and larger company sizes in those verticals come to us.
I think that we're going to continue to see a migration of customers to the public cloud. We're seeing that in the SMBs, where cost outweighs control (customization).
The question is at what point is a large enterprise that's cost-conscious but also has other concerns in terms of back-end integration and security, at what point will cost continue to be an issue and they'll be ready to make compromises, or will Office 365 be mature enough so that it's not seen as a sacrifice of features? I've seen everything from Microsoft speculating that it's a couple of years out to Gartner speculating that you won't see an Exchange or SharePoint system at the halfway point of convergence until 2025, more than 10 years out.
What I am seeing is a greater desire on the part of customers for all-in op-ex pricing. Whether the system is going to be situated in the public cloud, private cloud, or on premise, the one thing that products like Office 365 have driven is the single op-ex price. The customer doesn't want to think op ex versus cap ex, they just want to say "I want email, what's that going to cost me per user."