October 29, 2013

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Microsoft SharePoint: Product Heading for a Split?

Microsoft SharePoint 2013 is the latest offering from software giant Microsoft. As expected, primary features offered in SP 2013 encompass all the buzzwords right now including cloud, social, collaboration and mobility. Two of the biggest changes are supporting cloud-based architecture and app-driven development framework. As the apps have taken the smartphones and tablet world by storm, Sharepoint 2013 is betting on repeating the same for their platform.

The research firm Gartner1 organized the ITxpo event in Orlando on October 10, 2013. Jeffrey Mann, research vice president at Gartner, presented a study entitled “Should Microsoft Kill Sharepoint?”

This study raised quite a few eyebrows in the Sharepoint and corporate worlds, as Sharepoint is widely deployed and used.

The reason for writing this blog is to try to understand or predict the movement of Sharepoint development as a product in the coming years. Cloud is a huge buzzword, and it came as no surprise that Sharepoint 2013 was released with cloud capabilities (independent or as part of Office 365). This new cloud capability marked the complete transition of Microsoft toward adding new features in their cloud version first, then let them trickle down to the on-premise-based variant.

Most IT decisionmakers are still inclined toward an on-premise variant, which was evident from the study conducted by Forrester Research, Inc.2 This study concludes that:

  • 62%  want to deploy SharePoint 2013 on-premise
  • 08%  Microsoft datacenter (presumably using O365)
  • 04%  Microsoft partner datacenters
  • 26%  Hybrid mode (mix of on-premise and online modes)

Now, we can clearly see Microsoft is more inclined toward the cloud, whereas the customers are not.

We need to explore and understand why there is a difference in perception of Microsoft Sharepoint and its customers. Some of the options I can think of are as follows:

  • Jack of all trades: The industry maintains that Sharepoint is able to solve lot of problems in a good enough way, but it is not the best in any of the specific areas. Because of this shortcoming, lots of customers use third party add-ons. Most of the time the add-ons are not supported on the cloud variant, and hence, these customers can’t make a move to the cloud as they are already too dependent on those add-ons.
  • Cloud not mature enough: Most of the first-time customers have a perception that the cloud is not mature enough, and hence, they are not comfortable in moving to the cloud.
  • Security: Security is a prime concern for the some of the organizations, which include government organizations as well. These organizations want more control over the servers, and are not keen to make the move.
  • Compliance & regulation: For some organizations, the compliance and regulatory requirements don’t allow them to move their data onto the cloud. So, these organizations will never move to the cloud even if they understand and like the idea of Sharepoint on the cloud.
  • Add-ons not supported: As highlighted above, the Sharepoint add-ons that are prevalent in the market are not supported on the cloud. So until these add-ons move to the cloud, the organizations dependent on them will not move.

My point of view after looking at the above scenarios is that Microsoft may have to split their development efforts. There will be two branches for development, one for SharePoint online (cloud), and another for SharePoint Server (on-premise). Organizations should acknowledge this change and start planning toward the change. The planning will include the following:

  • Outline the strategy, whether to move to the cloud or stay with on-premise
  • Based on the above decision, identify dependency on add-ons and any other third-party customizations, and create  alternate plans
  • Communicate the plan within the organization so all stakeholders plan their areas accordingly