Is SharePoint 10 worth the punt?

No doubt Microsoft thinks it can't lose with SharePoint 10. If past revenues are anything to go by, SharePoint's strengths as a collaboration environment have made it one of Microsoft's shining stars with sales of $1.3 billion, growing at about 25 per cent a year.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising. SharePoint 10 is tightly coupled with Office 10 and drooling with tempting features. The shiny new platform delivers a broad set of capabilities which address a wide range of different needs. End-users can do much of what they need for themselves without necessarily involving IT. Companies could buy best-of-breed products in each category and integrate them together, but this is expensive and difficult to maintain.

"It's far better to leave this to the world's largest software vendor. SharePoint has proved that an eighty per cent fit is good enough for most to get started, customising and extending where needed," says Derek Miers, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

But according to Simon Lappin, UK country manager for leading Enterprise Web 2.0 company Jive Software, SharePoint is a huge platform and the way in which it enables social solutions is not out of the box: "In fact, it can be quite complex. Our customers often tell us that end-user adoption is critical, and that their SharePoint instances have struggled with this".

It’s true that SharePoint’s open architecture means that you can use third party add-ons to plug most functionality gaps or custom develop what is needed. However, as we all know, all products – especially very complex ones – have their own strengths and weaknesses, and this is where things start to get messy.

Miers also maintains that while SharePoint appears easy-to-use and accessible for both users and IT, setting up the environment appropriately is far from straightforward. "Given that it will only grow as users add more and more applications and types of content, SharePoint requires a degree of discipline to establish the correct policies, ensuring that the needs of the different user constituencies are catered for effectively," he says.

The subject of governance also seems to come up more often in regard to SharePoint than just about any other application. Without proper governance policies, a SharePoint deployment can quickly spiral out of control.

Of course, all this debate about business users wanting blogs, wiki, or other Enterprise 2.0 tools is a little fatuous. What they actually need are solutions to their problems. SharePoint 2007 may have been a great success for Microsoft, but this doesn’t mean it spelled nirvana for business customers. Many gleaned great value from the environment, using it as a better way to share information for example, but others found that it didn't quite meet their needs, especially as a development platform.

So, if you've been hampered by the functional shortcomings in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (often referred to these days as MOSS 2007) and these have been addressed in SharePoint 2010, consider upgrading. If you've held off implementing social networking within your organisation and SharePoint 2010 meets your needs, upgrading is a no-brainer. But if you're a non-SharePoint shop, 10’s feature set may be overkill and you should consider it as you would any major strategic move – very carefully – before implementing the system.

Another consideration when looking at mission-critical applications like SharePoint 2010 is how to keep them continuously available. This might sound like a granny-sucking-eggs scenario, but there is additional pressure on companies today to provide strategies that protect tier-one applications. SharePoint 2010 is no exception, especially as its increased functionality allows organisations to collaborate on new levels, allowing workers in different locations to work together on a variety of projects.

"If SharePoint suffers any downtime, a business must be prepared in how it responds and consider the financial implications of any downtime," says Andrew Barnes, senior vice-president of corporate development at Neverfail. "Look at ways of protecting SharePoint at the application level, making sure that if a problem occurs, a second copy of the service is available and that users can be seamlessly connected without interruption."

Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? But he has a point.