Windows SharePoint hits its stride

Installations of Microsoft's SharePoint have quickly multiplied in enterprises as Windows shops make this technology a priority.

ORLANDO – In the early days of its adoption, Microsoft's SharePoint technology never really registered with IT administrators as a strategic tool in their Windows management arsenal.

But at TechEd 2007 this week, information about SharePoint products was everywhere. It's clear that much has changed in recent years as the integrated suite of server capabilities that helps manage content and processes becomes an exceedingly popular option for IT managers and end users through grassroots adoption.

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It's also the fastest growing product in Microsoft's history, said Jeff Teper, a corporate vice president for Office SharePoint Server and the founder of the SharePoint team at Microsoft.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS), which has been growing since the launch of Windows SharePoint Server (WSS) 2003, is up to 85 million licenses, according to Teper. "With [Windows SharePoint Server v 3.0] 2007, we saw a big acceleration," he said.

Teper said he guesses that half to two-thirds of people using WSS v 3.0 have moved up or plan to upgrade to the 2007 version in the next year. The newest release became available in November.

SharePoint as a single point of integration

The kinds of corporations and organizations that are taking advantage of WSS, which comes as a free download with every Windows Server license, are varied. The main theme is that everyone is looking for ways to organize a broad repository of information across their enterprises.

For example, Tad Davis, a senior programmer at the Chickasaw Nation, the government entity that represents the Chickasaw people, is using the technology as a single point of integration for its employees.

The IT group is working with a lot of legacy applications and a lot of Access databases and is trying to find ways to use its existing technology more efficiently, Davis said. "Everyone has their own applications," he said. "We want to have the administrative aspects of our community organized."

At Liberty Mutual Group Inc., the Boston-based insurer, SharePoint adoption was the CIO's idea. Two groups started using the software and, "once one guy starts using it, others want it, and it just grew exponentially," said Christopher Knuckles, a software engineer at the company.

Knuckles' group is using WSS to support insurance agencies in the field. As the company moves up to adopt MOSS -- the enterprise version of SharePoint -- it will take on more strategic significance across the company, he said.

Using SharePoint for a competitive edge

At Spokane Community College, WSS is used as one of the means of enticing prospective students to the campus. "We are in competition for students, and the more we can give them the more we can compete against larger universities," said Bob Pebles, manager of network services at the college in Spokane, Wash.

The college uses WSS 2007, which Pebles said is "much better than 2003." The IT department is using it to store a knowledge base, but he envisions students and instructors using SharePoint as a means of giving and receiving homework or as an interactive discussion board.

Experts have watched SharePoint bleed into organizations, particularly in the past several years. "WSS is free and suits their needs," said Peter Pawlak, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash.-based consulting firm.

Pawlak said cost can be an issue. As customers start to like WSS, they want to move up to MOSS, which is the more sophisticated platform used by IT shops to develop corporate applications. MOSS is akin to IBM/Lotus Notes/Domino.

When buying MOSS, there is a server cost, and each customer has to buy a client-access license as well. For a fully featured product, customers need an Enterprise license, so users who love SharePoint and want to do more with this technology will have to pay. That could amount to a hefty price tag, Pawlak said.

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