sharepoint moss saas It was back in September of last year that Microsoft first announced that it was going to offer SharePoint (MOSS) as a service (SaaS). When first announced, the offering was available as a limited beta and restricted to organizations with over 5,000 users. We're now onto the next phase and the broader market is being invited to stroll in the fields. At the recent SharePoint Conference 2008, Gates announced that the hosted services would be opened up to organizations of all sizes, coming to a node near you, so it was said, in the second quarter of this year. Now considering how well Microsoft has be able to sell the "Be all you can be with SharePoint" dream, this announcement has surely inspired everything from cheers of joy to cynical snickers to shivers of fear. The online collaboration and content management space is heating up damn fast. And being the nosy CMS'ers that we are, we rung up Tom Rizzo, Redmond's Director of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, to see if he could add a few nuggets of detail to the story. CMSWire: Why is Microsoft making the move to on-demand solutions for SharePoint at a time when sales for the product are so high? Tom Rizzo: We are developing hosted services to address partner and customer needs. The biggest reason for the interest is the ability to reach new customers and grow revenue more efficiently. We’ve already seen products like Live Meeting and Exchange Hosted Services fulfill that need and reach additional potential customers. Microsoft Online Services -- comprised of hosted versions of SharePoint Server, Exchange Server and Office Communications Server -- is a natural extension of this strategy. Microsoft will continue to innovate and develop products and solutions that adapt to technology trends and meet customer need. Microsoft Online Services is a prime example of Microsoft’s software plus services strategy in action. Microsoft will continue to provide its customers with options in how they manage and access software -- whether it’s online, on-premises or both. CMSWire: There are two versions of the hosted service: Standard and Dedicated. Can you briefly describe the difference and if you expect one to be more utilized than the other? Tom Rizzo: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to providing enterprise-class communications and collaborations services -- so the benefits in using Microsoft Online Services depends on several factors. Some businesses require communications services that are suited to just a few hundred employees and take little IT management. That’s where services delivered through the web -- Exchange Online and SharePoint Online for example -- are a good fit. However, the bigger the company, the more the software is expected to scale to help manage a communication and collaboration infrastructure. Microsoft supports those demands as well. Please see the below table for a comparison of features in the SharePoint Online offerings. MOSS SaaS Feature Matix
MOSS On Premise vs. SaaS Feature Matrix CMSWire: Is there integration with MS Office 2007 like there is with an on-premise solution? Tom Rizzo: Yes. For the standard offering of SharePoint Online, Microsoft will initially offer a subset of the features found in SharePoint Server (see chart above). Over time, the standard offering will reach feature parity with the server features through service updates. The dedicated offering aligns more closely with the features and functionality found in the server software. The integration with Office is rich. For example, you can open and save to the service using the Office applications. You can synchronize your calendar, tasks, discussions or documents offline with Outlook or Groove. You can even customize your sites with SharePoint Designer. CMSWire: We've heard there are no customization capabilities now. Is all functionality purely out of the box? When do you expect to provide customization capability? Tom Rizzo: For SharePoint Online, Microsoft will be able to support customization that does not require code definitions. Using the SharePoint terminology, SharePoint Online will be able to support “site templates” but not “site definitions”. The main difference is that “site definitions” has specific code that the standard service cannot support today due to multi-tenancy issues. In the dedicated offering, Microsoft will be able to support a broader set of customizations but is evaluated based on a case by case basis. While the new beta of SharePoint Online cannot run custom code today, partner options will only increase with time. Microsoft is investing heavily in this area. CMSWire: You trialed this solution with a limited group. What was the top benefit/advantage they found using the solution? What was one recommendation for improvement and did you implement it? Tom Rizzo: We are still trialing the Microsoft Online Services offering with a limited group of businesses of all sizes. We will have more to share about this trial when the products become generally available in the second half of this year. Current customers including Autodesk Inc., Blockbuster Inc., Ceridian, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Energizer Holdings Inc., Ingersoll-Rand Company Ltd., PFT-Medway and XL Capital group of companies are all using Microsoft Online Services and frequently share with us their experiences with the products. CMSWire: Can you compare this solution to Office Live Workspace? Tom Rizzo: * Microsoft Online Services: Hosted service offerings for businesses with more advanced IT needs where power and flexibility is critical and the ability to control access to data, manage users, apply business and compliance policy, and meet high availability standards may all be important considerations. Microsoft Online Services are designed to provide the performance, scalability, security, management features, and service level capabilities to support the mission-critical applications and systems used by businesses that have more rigorous technical requirements. Today these services include Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online, Office Live Meeting and Exchange Hosted Services. * Microsoft Office Live Workspace: Microsoft Office “Live” is tailored to users that value ease-of-use, simple access and flexibility. Live services will be optimal in situations where users don’t have access to professional technical expertise and don’t require high levels of system management. Broadly speaking, Microsoft Live offerings are user-managed services, without IT mediation, spanning entertainment, communication, productivity and more. Existing Live Service offerings include, Windows Live, XBOX Live, Dynamics Live CRM, Office Live Small Business and Office Live Workspace. CMSWire: Why per-user subscription based pricing? Many of the SaaS vendors I've seen have a monthly pricing scheme per set of users and space/newsletters used. Tom Rizzo: Microsoft Online Services will be offered on a per-seat per-month subscription-basis. The customer is required to prepay the first year of the subscription and can purchase additional seats at any time. One key benefit of Microsoft Online Services is the ‘evergreen’ nature of the service. Customers pay an on-going subscription, but are kept up-to-date with the latest features and functionality. CMSWire: Does this on-demand solution enable both intranet and internet sites in a single implementation (service). Is the pricing different if a company wants both? Tom Rizzo: We are not public with pricing for Microsoft Online Services dedicated or standard offering today. If customers are interested in purchasing the dedicated offering they should contact their Microsoft account manager. Microsoft will make Microsoft Online Services pricing information available closer to the availability of the standard offering in the second half of 2008.

The Growth of SaaS Services

The availability of SharePoint as an On Demand solution should help many companies get up and running quickly with their content and collaboration infrastructure. It's certainly a viable alternative for organizations of any size, or might be, once we see what the pricing structures are. The model is no longer in question, but the shape, ease and price certainly are. As we've seen, the growth of Software as a Service Content Management is increasing as the market has broadly accepted such an approach to IT and many vendors are recognizing that this space is lucrative and, increasingly, fiercely competitive. With this On Demand service offering, we expect that Microsoft and the global partner community will continue to sell their professional services for architecture, integration and design. As great as the technology is, it's only as good as the design it is based on and the way it's been molded to fit your enterprise. Even Microsoft understands that.

Final Thoughts from Bill

We thought we would leave you with a quote from Bill Gates given during the SharePoint Conference earlier this month -- it demonstrates that Microsoft is clearly planning to take SharePoint to new levels. And we will just have to wait with baited breath to see what those new levels will be. “There is an incredible demand today for solutions that help businesses to harness the power of a global work force and tackle the challenges that come with the explosive growth of digital information,” Gates said. “The spectacular growth of SharePoint is the result of the great combination of collaboration and information management capabilities it delivers. I believe that the success we’ve seen so far is just the beginning for SharePoint.” Inspired? We bet. Sign-up for a free trial here.