I was in the midst of research around BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite) when I saw fellow AIIM SharePoint blogger Rich Blank’s post on Microsoft’s online services offerings and thought, I guess the push to BPOS has started. I won’t go into detail as to what BPOS is, as Rich did a great job of outlining that (for details check out his November 25th posting: Gobble Gobble BPOS is no Turkey) but I did want to espouse my views on what we should be thinking about if we’re considering BPOS… so here it goes.
I’ve been watching this market for online services, software as a service (SaaS), Webapps, software in the Cloud, or whatever we’re calling it these days, for around 15 years… I kid you not. And finally it seems organizations feel as though the cost benefits of these solutions outweigh the functional superiority and more 9’s dependability of on-premise solutions. We’ve seen Google, for example, get some big wins in the hosted email arena recently with 10,000 plus seat deployments, and I think this scares Microsoft a bit – I’m being facetious of course. With that said, here comes BPOS.
I think it would be fair to say we’re in a 'version one' situation, even though there have been a couple of iterations of BPOS, which is the model right? Online services should get updates on a regular basis because in theory it’s easier to extend new capabilities and functions to customers because they don’t have to load any software – it’s constant and automatic. As Rich points out, the current incarnation of BPOS for SharePoint comes in a few flavors but primarily organizations will look to support either the Standard licensing (multi-tenant or shared version) or the Dedicated version (which is pretty much what the name indicates, a services infrastructure dedicated to one organization).
As far as the standard version goes, it is exactly what is required; a simple stripped down version of SharePoint providing users with the key capabilities they would use most often. This is a great fit for the small organizations out there because it hits the mark on price point and brings structured collaboration capabilities without the IT overhead. Mind you this is a ‘you get what you pay for solution’ and there have been some noted issues with up-time… we’re watching you Redmond.
The dedicated version is the one I’m really interested in discussing. This is the version geared for larger organizations, like those Google has been outfitting with Google Apps to much notoriety. BPOS-D (as it has been dubbed) comes with substantially more capability and the promise of 99.9% up-time. Three nines? Not bad. It isn’t the on-premise five nines we’ve come to know and depend on, but hey, if it ain’t in your server room what do you expect?
So what should we be thinking if we’re a large organization looking to deploy, or enroll, in a hosted version of SharePoint? Well, a lot of the same things we would and should be looking at if it were on-premise, plus a few additional considerations.
First off, how will this get deployed and what if you have existing on-premise deployments of SharePoint? How will (or can) they work together? Migrations of any sort are always fraught with complexities, and in this instance you will have to detail a solid plan to get all of the content you have in your on-site deployment and transfer it to the Microsoft hosted environment that will support you. Or you could leave it in place and simply write a connection to the on-site solution, but in my mind that sort of defeats the purpose of an online service. This is a relatively huge hurdle that will involve complex custom services, and we all know what that mean$.
Once we’ve figured out our way around deployment and we’re ready to actually use the solution for all its benefits and promises of improved productivity, we should probably start to consider how this might fit into our existing infrastructure… I mean, if you want to connect to processes and leverage content living outside of SharePoint. As a person who supports solutions that extend SharePoint’s native capabilities, and who understands that the only reason my company does this is because there is a huge market demand, I’d have to surmise that extending the capabilities of the hosted version of SharePoint through third-party add-ons may become popular as well. As an example, what about information governance? Should we be archiving old inactive content, and if so how and to where? Do we need to connect to a records management solution already in-place? Make all the content available for eDiscovery? In this day and age of regulations and litigation, if you’re a big company this should be top of mind. Regardless, we'll need to figure out how we're going to connect SharePoint in a hosted environment to content repositories, applications, processes and workflows that do not exist in a hosted environment.
Normally I would also be concerned about performance and storage optimization, because as we all know SharePoint drives information growth, but with BPOS, I’m not really that concerned. One of the big and overly obvious benefits of a (I’ll say it) solution living in the Cloud is that the expectation is for infinitesimal storage capabilities. In terms of costs, the dedicated license includes 200 GB of storage supporting up to 20 team site collections. And of course overage can be accommodated for a fee.
Obviously there is a lot more to consider, and I suppose I could ramble on all day, but the truth is BPOS is here now and it is being heavily promoted by Microsoft to stave off competitors and to retain existing customers. So to answer the question is BPOS for SharePoint is ready for primetime, I’ll use a football analogy:
The team itself won the Super Bowl in the previous year, and the starting quarter back (on-premise SharePoint) who has had a hall-of-fame worthy career has just suffered a concussive blow to the head, and the talented but unproven rookie (BPOS for SharePoint) is taking the field. The rookie will struggle for the first few plays and scramble around until he settles down, finds his footing and starts to run the plays the coach has outlined and has a better understanding of the defense he is playing against. Regardless of the outcome, the rookie IS taking the field, but as part of a team that has the necessary pieces to win it all.
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