It’s new year (2013) and a fresh start for a lot of us on a lot of fresh initiatives. So here’s wishing you all folks out there a Very Happy and Progressive New Year and good luck with your new initiatives. Starting with this blog I will try sharing my experiences and thoughts with SharePoint 2013 in non-technical terms with the intention of enabling business engineers / system analyst / people wanting to learn SharePoint the non-technical way and SharePoint newbies understand this new version of a versatile and feature heavy platform.
Having fiddled with SharePoint 2013 for a while, SharePoint 2013 could very well be the inflection point of SharePoint as a platform. There are a whole new plethora of features that hopefully excites organisation to move to this platform which I believe has found its maturity model. Five key points that kind of sticks out among the various direct and indirect cost benefits that an organisation could derive by migrating to SharePoint 2013 in no particular order of importance are
1. Search built into the platform
2. Incremental storage for documents
3. Mobile space
4. Social computing
5. User Licensing
Let’s explore each one of them in detail.
Search built into the platform now
The advent of SharePoint2013 saw the demise of FAST as a product that’s available separately. With SHAREPOINT 2013 Microsoft has integrated the features that were available in FAST into SharePoint platform itself. For those wanting to know what FAST is, FAST is a super search engine that Microsoft made available for organisation that had loads (typically running into millions of documents and contents) of artifacts to search through and wanted some top end features like people search, visual search, context based search, tunable relevance model to suit individual organisation needs . Microsoft’s own search engine BING users FAST. If FAST search excites you have a look here.
It was good thinking on part of Microsoft to understand the importance of getting the niceties of FAST search to a larger audience and include it as part of the platform itself. This should really jump start an organisation in leveraging on the niceties of search which is the most important and complex feature of SharePoint. Things like thumbnails preview, browsing an entire document in a search result’s preview are now available out of the box making it a really rich set of features that were previously not available to organisations not subscribed to FAST search.
Having said that it still remains that organisations have to tread a fine and difficult path of good discipline and standards to fully reap the benefits of these new features of search in SharePoint 2013. If search enhancements in SharePoint 2013 excites you feel free to read more here.
The weakest link for SharePoint 2010 or the Achilles' heel of SharePoint was its lack of decent support for mobile devices. With mobile computing growing at a bizarre rate and showing no trends of cooling off in the near future it was a shame that SharePoint as a platform was quite weak in the this space. Glad that Microsoft took a hard look at this and have done something noteworthy to talk about.
SharePoint 2013 offers good support for mobile platforms now with facility to render sites depending on the user agent. In other words depending on what device (user agent) is requesting a site, SharePoint 2013 will render a contemporary, classic or full desktop view of a site. The contemporary view is rendered in HTML 5 and is optimised for mobile browsing experience. Of course this requires that the requesting agent is a smart device and also the Mobile browser redirection feature be activated. This feature is by default is not activated.
Another good feature is the push notification. When this feature is activates SharePoint can now send alert notifications to applications on mobile devices that have subscribed to alerts/notifications in a site. Also possible is the ability to send SMS (Short Messaging Service) notifications to mobile devices.
One other exciting feature albeit limited to only being available programmatically is the location feature. SharePoint allows for applications to use geolocation data and thus now becomes aware of user location data and can leverage this on say Bing maps. Geolocation is now a new data type in SharePoint that opens a new flavour of applications on SharePoint. This means with SharePoint 2013 organisations no longer need to make special effort and development robust support for SharePoint. To read more about mobile computing changes to SharePoint visit this place.
Social features in SharePoint 2013 has been enhanced and now has some laudable features. To begin with SharePoint 2013 has a new site template for Community sites. In other words it now allows for a dedicated site that has features built specifically for social communities like discussion threads, allowing for building community members to build reputation based on their contributions to the community, earn badges that indicate the level of reputation a community member carries and a whole lot of other features. What this means for organisation is that with SharePoint 2013 they can launch a fairly feature rich community site and enhance their workplace social computing infrastructure without additional cost. In areas like tagging the experience is similar to twitter and adoption is much easier. To know more about social computing changes in SharePoint 2013 visit here.
Over the last few years having observed various SharePoint ecosystems, the following seems to be the trend that not every user in an organisation using SharePoint would use all the features of SharePoint (like the case of Microsoft Office, only 20% of the users of Office use 80% of the features the rest use only 20% !). But organisations even though were aware of this fact were constrained to buy either the standard or enterprise user CALs (Client Access License).
Lets illustrate this with an example. Assume that if 50% of the users in an Organisation used the Enterprise edition features of SharePoint and the other half used only the features in standard edition the organisation still had to buy Enterprise license for the entire user base as SP2010 did not allow for mixing of these licenses within a farm (a SharePoint installation is usually called a farm) . The only other option was to set up a separate farm for the Enterprise user base and the standard user base defeating the very purpose of using SharePoint as a collaboration tool and also incurring additional cost for the SharePoint server licenses.
All this changes dramatically with SharePoint 2013 in which Microsoft has re-architected the User License Enforcement capabilities. What this means is now within a single farm organisations can mix licenses and assign users to a license group. So in our example we would have two license groups “Enterprise” and “Standard” and organisation would buy only as many as they need of the Enterprise and Standard licenses. This feature is not turned on by default but needs to be turned on explicitly at the time of installing SharePoint.
A lot of Organisations will lap up this feature and hopefully saving a lot on license cost and budgeting the savings to do more on their SharePoint ecosystem. To have a full immersion of this feature have a read here.
Incremental / Shredded storage for Document storage
Organizations typically start with SharePoint to leverage its Document Management System(DMS) features. SharePoint as a DMS allows for version control, publishing, content management and much more .
Before we start discussing Incremental / Shredded storage let’s have a quick look on how SharePoint stores documents. SharePoint maintains multiple versions of the document and each change to the document creates a new version. Each new version is actually a new complete copy of the document/artifact itself. To illustrate this concept let’s look at an example. Say you have a document of 4 MB size and you edit and save the document twice. SharePoint would have three physical copies with different version numbers. In essence SharePoint would need a minimum of 4 MB * 3 times (we saved three times) 12MB of space. Note that the numbers are for illustrative purposes only. Also by saving three times I mean you would want to have three versions of the document from a version control perspective.
With SharePoint 2013 the way artifacts are stored has changed and is now incremental or shredded. What this means is the document is shredded into pieces and stored as XML and any changes in a new version of the document are captured and only the changes to the document are stored instead of the entire document. This would mean much lesser storage requirements. While storage costs might not be a big part of the budget for a SharePoint farm this new feature does significantly reduce the storage requirements. More detailed information is available here if you want to know more on DMS related changes in SharePoint 2013.
While not all changes mentioned above might lead to a direct and significant cost savings for an organisation albeit it does add to an IT budget “radar blip-able” number. The migration to SharePoint 2013 makes even more sense to organisations that are entitled for an automatic upgrade to SharePoint 2013 as part of their license agreement. This year I expect to see quite a significant part of the organisations running SharePoint 2010 wanting to migrate to SharePoint 2013 considering the huge benefits an organisation could reap. Also, I believe Microsoft has done enough justice to this product for an Organisation’s SharePoint teams to cost justify and show better ROI in migrating to SharePoint 2103.
Having said that the SharePoint 2013 migration project is not without its own set of challenges or pitfalls. Intending to write a separate blog on migration as a logical continuation of this blog next. Feel free to leave your comments and your experiences with SharePoint 2013 in your organistaion.