SharePoint and the Cloud: Is Microsoft Nudging You?

I spoke with Microsoft SharePoint head Jared Spataro recently and--surprise-- the subject of SharePoint and the cloud came up. I thought it might be interesting to post this excerpt of our conversation, just to add to your awareness of where Microsoft is headed. Have you felt Microsoft nudging you to the cloud yet?

Q: One sees people out there who are frustrated with SharePoint. How do you address that?
Spataro: I'll take a specific criticism which is the complexity. SharePoint started out very simple, and then we pursued a business plan that had us adding over time more and more capabilities, which by definition adds complexity.

The thing that's most important for us strategically there is the cloud. When I've worked with customers, most customers are not at all intimidated by the idea that it's going to take time and effort to solve their business problems.

What they haven't really appreciated was "Gosh, before and even sometimes while you're getting at the business problems, you actually have to stand it up and you have to install, you have to set it up, you have to make sure that it's staying stood up, and you have to keep it running and you have to maintain it."

And frankly there's a lot required to do that. That was the way enterprise software was architected and published and rolled out over the last couple of decades.

The cloud is really important for us because it gives us this opportunity to say "Let us handle that for you, let us take all that away for you, let us help you to do that at a scale you could never do on your own, and at a price that is really attractive because we have this economy of scale that we can offer across our broad customer base. And now that we've done that, you take your energies and focus them back on the business problems."

So that's the way I respond to customers and say "We absolutely understand that you don't want to spend your time running, upgrading, and patching your infrastructure--let us do that for you so that you can put your energies towards the things that will drive the outcomes you're after."

Office 365 is a Software as a Service offering that allows us to abstract away all those details. We will upgrade Office 365 that's currently running to the next version of SharePoint. The people who run it won't have to worry about that at all. They don't have to worry about their SQL databases , they don't need to worry about back up and restore, they don't even need to worry about electricity bills --they simply pay a bill of a user per month charge.

Q: Do you see a path where Microsoft could promote Office 365 and SharePoint Online as being more important than SharePoint on-premises and steer people to that?

Spataro: When I talk with customers, most customers are already really interested in SharePoint Online and Office 365. The thing that has kept them from moving there has typically been this capability gap between what's available today in the cloud and what they can get by running it on their own. So although I don't have anything to announce about the future, we have been really clear that that capability gap is just a function of time rather than plan or ambition.

What we mean by that is it's important to us to ensure that what we have in the cloud is every bit as capable as what you can do on your own, and that's an important goal for us.

When I look at 15--we can't speak much about the next release--but when I look to future releases, the thing I would say is we absolutely feel like we want to be able to tell people "Gosh, you should consider the online version first--it takes away a lot of these issues that you'll have with running it and there are no feature gaps"--we already take that approach today but with some feature gaps it's easy to understand where some people might say "Well, I have FAST Search in the cloud today and the search component is super important."

Q: Where are we with cloud computing?
Spataro: I do believe that over time a larger and larger percentage of industry computing in general is going to be done in these large cloud environments --the economics are clearly in their favor. It's going to take us some time to get there, just like any transformation, but I guess the thing that I would say I'm really recognizing with a little bit of experience now in the industry is some of the most profound changes take a little bit longer than you'd expect but are also much, much deeper than you can even realize in the beginning.

I think that's true of the cloud. It may not happen tomorrow --and there's so much cloud fervor, people waited to see if 2012 would be the year when you run nothing on-prem any longer, and it may take a little bit longer than just through the end of 2012, but I do think that there will be a time when we realize 'Wow this cloud approach to things has changed everything and opened new possibilities for us.'

One simple example I can give you, I was standing in line at [Microsoft's] SharePoint Conference last year and asking [an attendee] about how he saw the cloud and he said, "You know, I have this really interesting experience, Jared, where I work on litigation and IT, and we end up having to go to outside counsel quite a bit. I've been tasked with coming up with our extranet strategy, so I spent a bunch of time writing up what our security would look like, what the architecture needed to be, how we'd federate in identities from all these different firms that we work with, and I couldn't ever really get us to the point that we were really satisfied with the solution. And then one day we decided 'wait a sec, we should check out [Office] 365, see what SharePoint Online has to offer.'"

And to his amazement, he actually found that what we offered in terms of security and ability to invite people in and manage the identity associated with them was better than what he felt like he could ever do on prem. He went from a mindset of "Gosh we're going to have to do this to do it right" to "Man, Microsoft in its environment is going to do this better than we ever thought we could."

That was a real eyeopener for me to recognize even in these early stages we're starting to see scenarios where, because of the economies of scale, we can do it better than most people would be able to do on their own.

Q: What do you think? Is Microsoft nudging you to the cloud? Or have you gone there already? Is a hybrid approach the way to go? Have you gotten any guidance from vendors or from Microsoft, or others? 

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