Q&A: Microsoft Talks SharePoint, BCS and Office 365

The senior director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft takes some time during this week's SharePoint Conference 2011 to discuss what's coming for the Web application platform.

Jared Spataro
Jared Spataro, Microsoft senior director of SharePoint product management.

Nuances from the SharePoint Conference 2011 event were explained by Jared Spataro, a senior director of SharePoint product management at Microsoft.

During Microsoft's Monday keynote address, Spataro and other company representatives had described a new Business Connectivity Services (BCS) capability in SharePoint 2010 that's expected to arrive at end of this year. Microsoft also announced the launch of a Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) program for SharePoint. Finally, Microsoft made the case for tapping Office 365 to get SharePoint as a service. I spoke with Spataro on Tuesday at the event, which was held in Anaheim, Calif.

What's the Microsoft view on public cloud, private cloud and hybrid deployments with SharePoint? We saw a demo during the keynote where Office 365 takes care of things such as failover clustering, for instance.

Jared Spataro: I would say that this idea of a hybrid deployment is one of the biggest differentiators in the enterprise space. Our perspective is "the cloud on your terms." We're not trying to push you to the cloud or stay on prem[ises]. We want you to make the right decision for your business. I think that's very different from the way our competitors have approached it. If it's important for you to run this in your own datacenter, SharePoint 2010, as it's architected, can go do that for you. It can do amazing things; it can scale in ways that no other system can out there. But if that's not what you're interested in, if you'd rather focus on other parts of SharePoint -- whether it's business applications or whatever you want to do -- we can take care of those problems for you, and that's what we call "Office 365."

Some surveys show Web site and document management as top uses for SharePoint. What is Microsoft seeing?

Spataro: We see a lot of different uses. [First,] we see a lot of people who are doing document management. The next one down was project management, so managing specific projects with an outcome and an end date. The third one down was enterprise search, so using it not just to search SharePoint but to search outside SharePoint. And that's become a bigger and bigger thing. People start to think of SharePoint as an information hub where they can manage not only the information that lives in it but the stuff that lives outside, which is pretty revolutionary. And the fourth one is publishing business intelligence, which makes a lot of sense if your close enterprise customers are kind of moving in that direction. There are a lot of others. To characterize what we found, it didn't drop off from there. In fact, business intelligence was used by 44 percent of customers, and from there, it looked in the forties and high thirties for the rest of the use cases. So the big takeaway from us is that SharePoint can do a lot, people are using it for a lot, and those top four were clearly the leaders, but beyond that, there's just a lot of capabilities.

What about compliance issues in moving to Office 365? An analyst told me that the hybrid solution currently isn't ready if an organization wants to keep the data local.

Spataro: The announcement that we made about BCS (Business Connectivity Services) actually opens up that scenario for the first time in a very wide type of way. So that's why that announcement was so significant. Prior to that announcement, you could have what you could characterize as an island of information -- a nice island, a very functional island, but you had to decide to put your information in the cloud in order to use the capabilities in the cloud, or you were going to move them on prem. This BCS announcement means that we can now create a connection between the cloud and any other data source -- other cloud data source or any on-prem data source -- and that means we can do what you are suggesting, which is the ability to tap into data. It is most useful in data than in documents. We don't have an equivalent that is sophisticated in what you'd call federated document management -- that's a pretty sophisticated use case.

Can you explain BCS?

Spataro: It stands for "Business Connectivity Services." The easiest way to think of it is that it is a mapping between an interface -- a "list" is what it is, actually, in SharePoint -- and data that lives someplace else. And it allows you to have a read-write connection between the lists in SharePoint and the data that sits in the back. So, pretend you're a sales organization and you wanted to get a list of customers. And you wanted to present that listing to your sales portal. And maybe say, I'm' showing up and I'm Jared and I get my list of customers just for me. I'd be able to use BCS to go down to my customer relationship management system to pull the list of customers just for Jared and display them up in a list so that it would feel like an integrated part of the experience. And if I then want to do something with that list of customers -- like update their status, change the spelling of a name -- because BCS is bidirectional, I can also write that back to the customer relationship management. So, what a lot people use it to do is they will create a kind of blended experience, where someone gets everything they need to work -- documents, list of their customers and other capabilities like social capabilities -- and get a really nice blended experience without having to open up separate applications. And that's kind of the best-use case scenario.

We saw a lot of sessions on SQL Server code-named "Denali" at this SharePoint event. How does Denali and business intelligence fit in with SharePoint?

Spataro: Perhaps it's something that we haven't been as clear on in the past, but when we think of Microsoft's business intelligence strategy, it really has three components. There's the underlying management of the data -- and that comes from SQL. Then there's the collaborative environment, and that's SharePoint, where we are able to surface up the information in dashboards and in other ways. And finally, there is the rich client in Excel. And all three of those components really define and differentiate what is Microsoft BI. And our link with both other components -- with the Excel component and the SQL one -- has always been really strong and will continue that way. As an example, when we specifically look at BI, the Denali release will include Crescent, which has been public, and that Crescent capability actually surfaces itself right into SharePoint. So as a SharePoint customer, you are actually going to feel that you get net new capabilities that will come up through the way the experience renders itself in SharePoint.

So we'll see this come together via the dashboards?

Spataro: That's exactly right. Dashboards typically will sit up in SharePoint, and that's where you access them, but they typically will go back to something like SQL Analysis Services or SQL Reporting Services or other kind of deeper SQL capabilities.

Some surveys show that there is a lack of SharePoint skills out there. How is Microsoft addressing this?

Spataro: In training almost 100,000 people in this last year, we are trying to target at the individual level. We have found that we certainly can work with our partner companies, but they are so busy doing SharePoint work that it's actually tough for them to take a step back. And so we've had to go down to the individual level and say, if you're interested in a career, we think there's a great career in learning SharePoint going forward. So it is certainly something we are trying to address very actively.

I've bumped into people at the conference that were working with IBM WebSphere and made the switch to supporting SharePoint. Any thoughts on that?

Spataro: I bumped into someone just like that who had been working on Lotus Notes and he said he had been a Notes guy for 10 years and "this year was the year I made the switch and I'm really excited to be here." So, I do feel like there is this turning point in the market where people are starting to recognize that this is a shift you'll want to be associated with. There wasn't new product news [at the conference] but when we took a look at where the market was, we recognized that this is a time for us to really double down on the goodness out there. And that goes to how the ecosystem itself is building up. So the partner ecosystem, from our perspective, is a really important part of making sure that customers get what they want. So when Jeff [Teper, corporate vice president of the Office Business Platform at Microsoft,] cited the 700,000 developers or the 93,000 trained partner individuals in the last 12 months…I don't think he cited the stat, but just about 50 percent of .NET developers had actually targeted SharePoint in the last 12 months. That's a really big deal for us.

The announcement that we made around the MCA [Microsoft Certified Architect for SharePoint] -- that really was us, more than anything, saying that we recognize the demand out there for having highly skilled partners and to even differentiate between those who have some SharePoint experience and those who have almost like the black belt of SharePoint. We hear that [need] consistently from both customers and partners.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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