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SharePoint 2013 To 'Supercharge' Enterprise Social Networking

Microsoft officials kicked off the company's annual SharePoint Conference this week with a few announcements.

The company's keynote talk on Monday offered a "reimagined" SharePoint vision to 10,000 IT pros, developers and partners at the Las Vegas event. Microsoft designed SharePoint 2013 to offer parity with its Office 365 cloud counterpart. Social networking is being embedded into its entire SharePoint feature set. In addition, the new release includes extended business intelligence (BI) capabilities, improved synchronization of documents and other file types, and a new application model based on the Apps for SharePoint 2013 marketplace.

SharePoint Growth
SharePoint has become one of Microsoft's fastest-growing products. Company officials recently described it as a $2 billion-per-year business, a milestone that few Microsoft products have achieved. However, Microsoft rarely provides revenue breakdowns for specific products in its financial earnings reports.

After the release of SharePoint 2010 two-and-a-half years ago, Microsoft split the SharePoint engineering team into two groups. One was charged with building the SharePoint Online service of Office 365.

"Our goal was very simple -- to build the largest-scale enterprise cloud service in the industry, to be able to take the billion Office users and be able to run the full back-end services in the cloud with Office 365," said Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper, known as the "father of SharePoint," speaking during the opening keynote on Monday. "A lot of work went on from provisioning, to telemetry to disaster recovery, building out datacenters [with] hundreds of millions of dollars [of] investment."

Teper
Microsoft Corporate VP Jeff Teper at the SharePoint Conference keynote. (Source: Microsoft)

The other team was focused on the user experience -- building the social networking capabilities, revamped search engine and broader BI capabilities. The addition of social networking tools could spur organizations to upgrade to the new release, should workers and managers take to them.

A Forrester Research poll of 153 clients who already have SharePoint found 68 percent of respondents planned to introduce the new version within two years (37 percent within the first year and 31 percent within the second). What's interesting about that finding is 70 percent of that sample said they already have upgraded to SharePoint 2010, which is unusual since organizations typically skip subsequent releases to amortize their investments.

"This is conjecture here but it could be around the social experience," said Forrester analyst Rob Koplowitz in an interview. "The feedback on the social facilities in SharePoint 2010 was pretty dismal. That might be the driver but others include the need for improved document and records management. Also, it could be they're trying to move to a more stable development environment."

Yammer Integration
Microsoft also announced it will integrate Yammer Enterprise into SharePoint 2013 and Office 365. Microsoft acquired Yammer in July for $1.2 billion and brought it into its Office division.

With the new SharePoint release, customers can connect Yammer via Yammer Web parts and Yammer's new Enterprise Graph feature. Launched last month, Yammer Enterprise Graph connects data, people and conversations across business applications.

"The goal is to create a universal social layer that can span all the applications you're in so that conversations don't become siloed and fragmented," said Adam Pisoni, Yammer's CTO and a co-founder, who spoke in Monday's keynote session.

Enterprise Graph uses the Open Graph specification, originated by Facebook to allow any Web page to become a rich object in a social graph, allowing for the use of SharePoint and Yammer as it exists, while providing the integration. In the future, Microsoft said it will add tighter integration via unified identity to allow single sign-on, integrated document management and feed aggregation. Also in the pipeline is a native Windows 8 app that will make content accessible from any device, Pisoni said.

Targeting Yammer to the Masses
Microsoft will continue to offer Yammer's free social networking service and is also looking to make the paid offering, which offers better enterprise management, more appealing. To that end, the company is slashing the price of Yammer Enterprise from $15 to $3 per user per month. The company will also offer Yammer Enterprise free of charge with Office 365 customers with Enterprise Agreement plans.

"Every SharePoint Online customer will get Yammer for free," Pisoni said. "What we are trying to do is give you Yammer inside SharePoint and SharePoint inside Yammer so we can supercharge social networking in the years to come."

In addition to social networking, Microsoft made a strong push for customers to give the cloud-based version of the offering, SharePoint Online, a try.

"We really recommend moving to the cloud for the best experience overall," Teper said. "We understand not everyone is there yet. This will take time. People who want to run their own servers -- that's great. We have the best server release we've ever done in SharePoint 2013. The thing you should take away from our cloud focus is all we've learned about optimizing the system and deployment and monitoring. We've put [that] into the server product and put into the deployment guidance."

SharePoint Designer Is Optional
Microsoft also talked up the new app model and the fact that developers are no longer required to use the SharePoint Designer. SharePoint introduces a new feature called Design Manager that lets designers upload design files to SharePoint, which converts the HTML to a SharePoint Master Page. "You can use any design tool once you've created the design assets," said Richard Riley, a director on the Microsoft SharePoint team, who demonstrated the Design Manager during the keynote.

By allowing the use of any design tool, including Adobe's Dreamweaver, Microsoft is hoping to broaden the base of developers and designers that build apps for SharePoint. With the new app model, applications don't run within SharePoint but rather invoke standard Web capabilities such as HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS. SharePoint users can also opt to build apps in Java, Python, Perl and other programming languages.

SkyDrive Pro Extends Document Synchronization
SharePoint Online requires this new app model but perhaps one of the most noteworthy cloud features in the new SharePoint release is SkyDrive Pro, which replaces the SharePoint Workspace, a SharePoint 2010 feature that evolved following Microsoft's acquisition of Groove Networks, the company founded by former Microsoft chief software architect Ray Ozzie. SharePoint Workspace is the tool that allows for offline document access and file synchronization.

SkyDrive Pro is a centralized cloud storage service which works much like the consumer-based SkyDrive service, except it's designed to be controlled by IT. Enterprise administrators can provision and manage the service that lets users store, synchronize and share business tasks. Users can store files either in private and/or shared folders, and can synchronize them with the PC they are working on and have them updated on other devices and with others in a group.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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