I recently read a post by Peter Campbell titled “Why SharePoint Scares Me”. Now being a Microsoft SharePoint MVP, you might think I’m about to go into a scathing criticism of Peter’s post. But I won’t. In fact, you may be surprised when I say that I liked his post very much.
Peter’s post was an honest and objective view on SharePoint from the perspective of someone who is neither a Microsoft zealot nor an oppositionist. Peter seems to be someone who doesn’t really care that much about the tech but is looking for something to get the job done with minimal upfront and ongoing investment. I run into similar conceptions about SharePoint very frequently. This is exactly the type of person we (the SharePoint MVPs) and Microsoft need to educate.
To summarize Peter’s post, it conveyed concerns about SharePoint’s complexity, costs, learning curve, and operational impact. Unfortunately a lot of people share Peter’s viewpoint. I wanted to share my perspective on some of his points…
"advanced programming and integration with legacy systems can get really complicated"
This is true of all technologies, not just SharePoint. SharePoint actually has several tools that can make the job much easier. For example, many times you can implement a no-code integration with an external / legacy system using SharePoint Designer 2007 and the DataForm (aka DataView) web part. This does not require the more expensive SharePoint enterprise CAL.
"MOSS is actually two major, separately developed applications (Windows Sharepoint Services and Content Management Server) that were hastily merged into one app"
CMS was integrated, but the integration is better than one would think. It works very well for intranet and extranet scenarios. SharePoint for Internet sites can still be a challenge, but a fair amount of large Internet sites use SharePoint today. Check out this impressive list of public Internet sites using SharePoint from wssdemo.com.
"Without careful planning, Sharepoint can easily become a junkyard"
This is true of any content repository. The integrated search helps a great deal with content discovery, especially for new users, and the content expiration and records management features help to keep archives from cluttering up the works.
"Licensing for use outside of my organization is complicated and expensive"
Check with your MS sales rep. Microsoft has many programs to help smaller organizations qualify for better pricing, including BizSpark. BizSpark offers relatively new and small business free software for a period of three years! it’s a fantastic program.
The unlimited license is typically used only by public Internet sites that don’t want to or can’t track individual users. Intranets and extranets should use the per-user license. You may even get a volume discount as well. You can also start with Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) for core collaboration and document sharing, and move to MOSS later, if you need to. WSS is included with the Windows Server license.
"Compared to most Open Source portals, Sharepoint’s hardware and bandwidth requirements are significantly high"
The great thing about SharePoint is that you can start small and scale out as your needs grow. Start with a small pilot group of users. If more people want to join in (and they will once they see what SharePoint has to offer), add hardware then. You can even scale up servers without taking the farm offline.
While bandwidth can be an issue, especially for transferring large documents, this is true for any CMS.
Black Blade Associates (my company) has a product called SharePoint Zip. SharePoint Zip allows users to transfer files between SharePoint and their desktops as compressed Zip files. Users can transfer individual files, folders, or even a complete document library with a single click. Users can also upload multiple files as a compressed Zip file, which will be expanded into the document library. No additional client software, ActiveX, or plug-ins required.
"The database stores documents as database blobs, as opposed to linking to files on disk, threatening the performance of the database and putting the documents at risk of corruption."
This actually works better than storing the documents on disk. You are able to leverage database transactions, load balancing, backup, maintenance, and failover to guarantee uptime and ensure disaster recovery. SQL Server has made great gains in storing BLOBs, and SharePoint continues to benefit from those gains.
"I’m much better off with apps like Drupal, KnowledgeTree, Plone, or Salesforce, all of which do big pieces of what Sharepoint does"
I began my IT career doing enterprise application integration. I can tell you from experience that getting multiple applications to talk to one another in a way that is meaningful to your end users is always much more expensive than procuring one, integrated application. You’re generally looking at a 3X cost increase for the labor costs to do the integration. Also, don’t forget to budget extra time on top of deploying the systems to do the integration work.
"I might lose all of that out of the box integration with my MS network"
Don’t underestimate the costs of losing integration with the Office desktop applications with which your users are familiar. User productivity loss and user training costs are two very high hidden costs to deploying any CMS or collaboration system. SharePoint minimizes those costs by leveraging the expertise and familiarity users already have with the Office desktop applications.
All that said, I don’t want to give the impression that SharePoint is perfect or that Peter’s points are not valid. SharePoint is not perfect, and Peter has definitely done some due diligence before implementing a core business capability for his organization. However, when compared to the alternatives, SharePoint is a very capable and cost-effective offering, especially when you factor in comparing the hidden costs of user training, user productivity (you know, the reason you’re planning on deploying a collaboration or CMS in the first place), ease of scale-out, and general management features. Even CMSWire, a site typically critical of SharePoint, posted a lengthy reference to a Gartner report positioning SharePoint 2007 in the “magic quadrant” for enterprise CMS. Considering that SharePoint is sharing the position with products that have much higher price tags that is a high praise indeed.
By the way, if you have not already done so, you should really check out the SharePoint 2010 videos Microsoft just posted. They show many improvements to the underlying SharePoint infrastructure and development experience, and the videos address many of Peter’s concerns.