Decision Maker

To SharePoint or Not to SharePoint?

Don Jones walks you through what considerations to take for a possible SharePoint transition in your organization.

I've watched the SharePoint saga since the very beginning, when the product was little more than a hacked-up version of Exchange Server with public folders and a fancy search engine. Now that it's a full-fledged content management and collaboration system, everyone's leaping aboard. The forthcoming release, SharePoint 2013, promises to make the product more "social" -- which is either exciting or terrifying, depending on how you feel about social networks. And there's no question that Microsoft customers are shifting to SharePoint in droves.

Should you? Probably, yes.

It's hard to imagine an organization that couldn't benefit, in some way, from using SharePoint. Obviously, its main claim to fame is its document library, where you can store,access and share documents in a secure, version-controlled fashion. What you can also do is design -- without programming, in many cases -- powerful workflows for document submission, modification, approval and publication. For any kind of formal document -- brochures, process documentation, policy statements, press releases, you name it -- this is pure gold.

The ability to create forms with SharePoint is also well known. It provides a great way of collecting data to drive all kinds of processes. With relatively easy back-end connectivity into other database-driven applications, SharePoint can provide a way to deal with expense reports, collecting new employee information, kicking off requisitions and a lot more.

The integration of SharePoint into a Microsoft business intelligence (BI) strategy is often overlooked -- but it shouldn't be. The ability for Excel jockeys to store and share secured PowerPivot workbooks right in SharePoint is just brilliant, making SharePoint an easy way to get some BI moving inside your organization without massive infrastructure investments.

But Not All the Way
Don't overdo it. The push in some organizations to replace all file servers with SharePoint might be a bit misguided. For one, SharePoint has a massively higher overhead per file than a file server, as SharePoint has to dump the data into a SQL Server database. Despite what some folks seem to believe, SQL Server is not a file server and it doesn't do a particularly great job of impersonating one. In fact, smart SharePoint admins don't store files in SQL Server; they use a technology called Remote BLOB Storage, or RBS, to pass files through SQL Server and right back onto a file server. SharePoint essentially keeps file metadata in the database, and leaves the file itself on a file server. So you're still going to have file servers. You need to decide if the files on those servers can really benefit from being accessed via a SharePoint document library, rather than being accessed through a file share.

It's Not Cheap
Unfortunately, SharePoint is one of Redmond's more expensive propositions. You've got to buy SharePoint Server licenses, but its Client Access Licenses (CALs) are often included in Enterprise Agreements (EAs) for larger organizations -- that is, if you're using SharePoint strictly internally. If you don't have an EA, you'll need the server license as well as CALs. Put your server on the Internet and you'll see Internet Server licenses.

You'll also need SQL Server licenses, which are incredibly pricey these days. Planning to use SharePoint to index your intranet and provide fast search results for non-SharePoint resources? Be sure you have more money. A business with 1,000 users could, for a relatively small installation, spend close to $200,000 pretty quickly -- and that's before Software Assurance.

So the bottom line is, if you aren't using SharePoint to some extent, you probably should. But you might not need a full-scale deployment.

Use SharePoint where it makes sense. And, especially if you're a smaller organization, perhaps begin with an outsourced SharePoint service to get started.

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.

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