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Microsoft veteran talks good and bad of new SharePoint

Ex-Microsoft specialist Ian Morrish looks at the enhancements and limitations of SharePoint 2013

The 2013 upgrade of Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration environment has significant enhancements over the previous -- 2010 - version, particularly in enhanced search and working in the cloud, but it still has its limitations, ex-Microsoft specialist Ian Morrish warns.

Morrish was the star speaker at a recent series of seminars by consultancy Information Leadership. He was with Microsoft for 10 years and became a recognised SharePoint expert; he is now senior solutions consultant with IL.

The seminars, in seven major and provincial centres around the country during February and March, attracted more than 250 attendees.

SharePoint 2013 puts a lot of emphasis on the cloud and there is advantage to be gained in this mode, Morrish says; but this leads customers to a weighing-up exercise between safer more controllable and versatile local cloud versus more cost-efficient international cloud service provision.

Going for Microsoft's own public cloud environment, Office 365, with SharePoint Online, means taking on Henry Ford's philosophy of "any colour so long as it's black", Morrish says. In other words, there is little scope for local customisation -- "at least we haven't found a way of doing it yet." This limits its usefulness for the most pressing records management task confronting a lot of local organisations -- compliance with New Zealand's Public Records Act.

The cost of a customised private-cloud solution "is a bit higher, because you'd be the sole 'tenant' with your particular instance," Morrish says. Microsoft can operate in multi-tenancy mode, "shoehorning" a lot of customers onto one platform, he says.

With a locally based cloud "you don't get the benefit of international scale, but you do get other benefits," he says. NZ Walking Access has hosted with local provider AppServe and uses IL's iWorkplace records management application installed on that environment, he says. "We manage the SharePoint environment for them and the host manages the infrastructure. They were pleased they could achieve PRA requirements without having to run ICT infrastructure."

Latency is the biggest problem of overseas-based cloud "And if you're storing it overseas you have to keep a copy locally [to satisfy NZ tax laws]. You'll have to face the risk of getting the internet connection cut or the consequences of other geo-political disturbances."

Morrish expresses particular enthusiasm for the capabilities of SharePoint's new search capability, sourced from Fast, a Norwegian-headquartered search specialist that Microsoft took over in 2009.

Fast was added on to SharePoint in 2010, but with the 2013 is a fully integrated part of the product, with less-costly licensing. Not only is it faster at search itself, but it has a number of refinements to render the documents it finds more relevant.

Ideas of relevance can be individually tuned for business units in the company which rate different factors more highly. Fast may alert the searcher to associated material that clearly bears on the topic through its inclusion in the same document set, even though it does not contain the specific search terms.

"Extraction of information from the documents is a lot more accurate than SharePoint 2010's search engine, which was 10-year-old technology based on well-published ways of working our relevance," Morrish says.

The physical quality of the document can be specified - for example, Fast can be asked to provide only documents good enough to be used in a presentation.


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