Taking the Pulse of the SharePoint Community

With the SharePoint Pro Live! event, we've visited with a thousand IT pros, so far, in cities from coast to coast. As I'd hoped, the connections made, the questions asked, and the solutions gleaned have been quite valuable for our attendees, and feedback from the event has been fantastic.

One of the most fascinating outcomes has been the opportunity to take the pulse of the community of IT pros who are dealing with SharePoint in enterprises large and small, across every conceivable "vertical." I'll share some of what we're hearing over the coming weeks.

One thing I'm hearing clearly is that SharePoint is not, as Microsoft would like us to believe, a "silver bullet" that delivers (even close to) complete solutions across collaboration, search, personalization, business intelligence (BI), process automation, and content management, all on top of a set of platform services that can support enterprise applications. That's not to say that SharePoint isn't an amazing platform. It is! I believe it delivers more value than anything IT that's come out of Microsoft (or perhaps any other company) in the 21st century.

But we, the community, need to look behind the marketing to determine what, really, can and can't be done with out-of-the-box functionality, with third-party or community solutions, or with custom development.

You cannot read a marketing communication about SharePoint without seeing the "SharePoint wheel"--that pie-like chart showing the six "scenarios" supported by SharePoint. I like to unravel the wheel and look at each scenario separately, because by doing so you can more easily identify what works and what doesn't within those scenarios.

Perspective of the Week: Collaboration
This week, let's take a look at collaboration. I pick collaboration as the first target for two reasons: It's supported by WSS (MOSS adds very little to this scenario), and it has, I think, one of the best stories to tell. (We'll take on some of the less complete scenarios in future issues).

Collaboration, using document libraries and lists within team sites and workspaces, has the potential to unlock significant value for your enterprise. There are, in every organization, processes and business workflows that are laborious, paper-based, or overly reliant on email as a collaboration tool. Moving those pain points to SharePoint and front-ending the user experience with super-familiar tools (the Office 2007 or 2003 suite) can provide an incredibly powerful and adoptable solution. I've seen the collaboration scenario put into place with SharePoint with tremendous success and, often, with little to no investment in third-party tools.

WSS May Be All You Need
As I dove into the community to investigate the collaboration scenario and to develop a report card on SharePoint for that scenario, one thing became blatantly clear: Much of the community thinks you must have MOSS to support collaboration.

For the vast majority of collaboration scenarios, you can deliver your solutions with WSS--MOSS is not a "given" requirement.

I'm not sure whether it's Microsoft "pushing" MOSS too hard, or whether it's the fact that we as IT pros just don't have enough time to really evaluate the options against our requirements, but I know for sure that many organizations have started out with the assumption that they need MOSS to collaborate effectively in intranet or extranet environments only to discover, to their pleasure, that WSS delivered the goods at an obvious reduction in cost.

A year ago, I would have been among those telling you that you needed MOSS. That was because, at the time, the only way to search across WSS site collections was with MOSS. Now, Search Server 2008 Express provides cross-WSS search capability. Granted, SSE runs on only one server, so if you have a large environment where you'd want multiple search front-ends, then you're back to MOSS. But for lots of organizations, WSS + SSE = success!

Governance & Site Collections
Even if your first target for SharePoint is collaboration, you must spend time determining how your enterprise SharePoint implementation will be governed. You should not allow SharePoint servers and sites to spring up randomly, creating what some call "SharePoint chaos." Microsoft's TechNet site has a technical library for Windows SharePoint Services, where you'll find white papers (written by yours truly) about SharePoint design and governance.

One of the key lessons I learned while analyzing SharePoint's manageability controls is that you will likely be served much better with more site collections with fewer sites. It's tempting to create a site collection for the company and have each department in a sub site, but you'll run into problems if you ever want to manage those departmental sites with quotas, or if you want to limit visibility of users and groups. Quotas, users, and groups, are all managed at the site-collection (or "top-level site") level, and those are just a few examples. Of course, every environment and business is unique, but I find that, too often, people embark into a SharePoint implementation without knowing that they should look closely at whether their design should include more site collections. So I wanted to shine a spotlight on that particular issue.

Notable Announcement: DocAve Backup & Recovery
Last week, AvePoint announced the release of DocAve Backup & Recovery. AvePoint is one of the SharePoint community's "A-list" vendors, in my opinion, and is completely dedicated to the platform and the community. This product addresses several gaps in the backup and disaster recovery capabilities of SharePoint. Not only does it provide the most granular recovery options (down to an item, including full fidelity of that item's versions), but it also supports the broadest recovery: entire servers and farms. Pretty cool to see a solution that supports SLAs from the smallest to the most significant recovery scenarios.

I Love NYC & BOS
This week, the SharePoint Pro Live! event visits the northeast, with stops in New York on Tuesday and Boston on Thursday. I'm thrilled... I love those cities and haven't had a chance to spend a day in NYC for far too long. I'm a culture freak so I'll be setting my virtual machines aside for some modern art and theatre. Hope to see you there!

Until next week, all the best!

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