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Four At The Core: SharePoint Online

Microsoft’s BPOS: Cloud Computing’s Silver Lining?

Most users, even home-based consumers, have at least some acquaintance with Outlook. Not as many people have had occasion to work with SharePoint. Traditionally, this application was aimed more at businesses large enough to need a way for geographically disparate employees to collaborate on projects. However, the world has grown more mobile, and today’s five-person company may not even have a central location. Yet the need remains for everyone to stay on the same page when it comes to where documents and data should reside. Even school kids know the problem. “Which drive did I put that on? Is the version on my flash drive more current than the one on my C: drive?” Trouble gets compounded by the usual practice of attaching documents through email across multiple participants. It’s chaos.

By making the cloud the authoritative location for all files, though, such problems vanish. Users simply “check out” a document to work on it, then, check it back in when finished. There’s no more confusion over which version is current because only one user can have modification rights at any given time, and as many historical versions can be saved as needed.

What we’ve described here are document libraries, but that’s only one of the many things SharePoint Online tackles. On a broader scale, SharePoint is meant to help define, organize, and manage collaborative groups. Admins can create cloud-based group workspaces and grant individuals access to only the workspaces they belong in. These workspaces can take on a host of forms and functions, and SharePoint helps reduce the creation time of these spaces to only a few minutes thanks to a wide selection of templates.

Essentially, SharePoint gives you a slew of site building blocks with which to populate these workspaces. These could be file repositories, blogs, wikis, task lists, shared calendars, surveys, RSS feeds, or many other items. One of the coolest capabilities in the application is workflow management. This essentially breaks down a task into a series of steps and if/then operations, and at each point, users who own each step can indicate the status for that element. Visualizing how this could apply within a workgroup, such as in preparing a batch of press materials for a product launch, is fairly easy. But consider other applications. Some could be less serious, such as organizing the company picnic, while other applications could help improve operations even outside the company.

For example, consider a small firm, Company X, with several vendors. Company X’s accountant decides to use SharePoint Online to help organize the invoicing and payment processes. The accountant gives one of the company’s 10 or 20 BPOS licenses to the payables rep at one of the vendors. With this, the vendor can tap into Company X’s SharePoint workspace for accounting and check off the various tasks at hand, such as receiving an invoice, getting it approved for payment, and issuing a check. With the process visible via SharePoint, there’s no more need for time consuming phone calls or emails between the two parties, and both can cooperate more efficiently.

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  • 1 Hide
    cadder , June 1, 2009 10:23 PM
    Web-based apps have very poor performance, even for something as simple and basic as email. Software on your own computer will always perform better and be more responsive, as well as have many more capabilities. Not to mention eliminate the continual problems almost all users have with internet access and remote server reliability. I will continue to purchase software to run on my own computer independent of web access.
  • 2 Hide
    wicko , June 1, 2009 11:30 PM
    You know, when I first read the title, the first thing that came to my mind was "Microsoft's Big Piece of Shit". ME, is that you?
  • -2 Hide
    bob boblaw , June 2, 2009 1:28 AM
    Can Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) reignite our hope-strewn love affair with cloud computing?

    Who is the "our" in this? I don't recall ever liking cloud computing. Or is that thoughtcrime?
  • 3 Hide
    descendency , June 2, 2009 6:14 AM
    cadderWeb-based apps have very poor performance, even for something as simple and basic as email.

    Poor application design. Actually, your own example is the worst you could have picked. ANY application you use for email could be easily written to use the same UI as a Silverlight application. While the software is not local to your machine, the computing will be. So, the only real loss will be at loading time for the application (which if done well will be minimal). The rest would be identical (as a matter of fact, if the code is written in a .NET language already, it could be nearly directly ported to Silverlight... so saying it would be identical would be dead on.). Just because the install isn't local doesn't mean the processing can't be.

    Gaming will require a major boost in internet speed before it can be offloaded successful (because sending huge amounts of textures, models, and other media just isn't possible across the average cable connection yet). The only applications that can't be ported are ones where massive data transmission is required constantly. However, applications like MS Word will be easy to port especially if the files are all stored local.

    Let me give you an example of a RIA (rich internet application) you use without even realizing it... If you do any online shopping, you use a RIA. How many desktop applications do you own for shopping on the internet? Zero? Yea. That's because when a RIA is designed well enough, the "desktop applications are better" mentality is foolish.
  • 1 Hide
    matt2k , June 2, 2009 7:04 AM
    is it just me or does this just look like a business version of google wave?
  • -3 Hide
    Heyw00d , June 2, 2009 10:55 AM
    I'm with wicko = BPoS = Big Piece of Shit!
  • 1 Hide
    NeatOman , June 2, 2009 4:26 PM
    The matter of fact is simple... Right now you don't own you OS or the Software on it, and it can (has been) change at any time without your consent. That is because like stated in the article, you do not own the software and as with any license it can be taken away. This is just the next step where they want to get you to give up you physical computer and only give you a terminal.

    The reality is that there really is very little if no benefit from "cloud" computing, and the only reason no one could figure out what the benefits were is because there are non for the user.
  • 2 Hide
    lordfisch , June 2, 2009 5:44 PM
    NeatOmanThe reality is that there really is very little if no benefit from "cloud" computing, and the only reason no one could figure out what the benefits were is because there are non for the user.

    Other than, you know, costing a small fraction of local versions. And never having to update. And never having to deal with a hijacked license. And not having artificial "install limits." And not carrying around countless boxes of install CDs. And not, and not, and not...
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , June 2, 2009 6:38 PM
    in order to support cloud for ALL applications and games,the internet needs to change and become at least 10 times, if not 100 times faster than it currently can.
    Also limitations of 15GB/month need to go. bandwidth limitations need to go in order to get cloud working.

    I see only cloud computing working in lower performing apps,not in games or video.
  • 1 Hide
    erichlund , June 2, 2009 9:54 PM
    Performance and quality may be issues today, but cloud computing will mature over time. However as a user in a classified environment, and even for users in a sensitive business environment, there are times when you just don't want your information attached to the internet. That means dedicated apps. So, where the author cannot think on one reason, I certainly can.
  • 0 Hide
    descendency , June 2, 2009 11:07 PM
    NeatOmanThe reality is that there really is very little if no benefit from "cloud" computing

    No piracy.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 3, 2009 1:00 AM
    I good concept, but realistically it has already been achieved, maybe not in the same way, but close to it. Think of Google groups,basically it is like share point services. You can chat with members of your group, get access to Email using Gmail and use Googles online apps, like its version of word, excel and so fourth, which can be posted and accessed through the google groups module. I think the real benefit here is no piracy, which works in Microsoft's favor and in the future will probably eliminate it, when and if they go all online with there office software suits. Realistically I think it won't work to well especially in country areas, where Internet Infrastructure doesn't have the best reliability. Relying on an Internet connection alone for any Business is a risk and some can't afford down time and that is where Microsoft can't guarantee the up time. Personally I wouldn't out lay IT support to Microsoft or any other online resource, simply because you don't know who has access to it or controls where the data is kept and you can't be certain that backups will occur and will restore properly if a disaster does occur. A cheap and cost effective option is definitely correct.

  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 3, 2009 12:48 PM
    I was thinking that BPOS actually stands for Big Piece of s***. :D 

    I mean seriously, in the day of every corporation selling your information to other corporations and Chinese hackers getting into everything, the last thing you want to do is to move all this stuff online and into someone else's trust.

    I mean seriously, what is everyone's malfunction? CPU power is increasing far faster than bandwidth, why the hell do you want to put everything you do with computers in the cloud? The only reason they are spinning this idiotic crap as a good idea is because it makes them richer, gives them more control over usage and allows them to steal your content. Get a grip, cloud computing is not in your best interest as an end user.
  • 1 Hide
    onesloth , June 3, 2009 6:42 PM
    CloudNinerCPU power is increasing far faster than bandwidth...

    Which means either more powerful computers for the same price OR cheaper smaller computers that can still run all the hosted software.
  • 1 Hide
    ThePatriot , June 3, 2009 10:28 PM
    The cloud can now be defined as a local cloud and an external cloud. Virtualization in combination with cloud computing is already happening with specific cloud providers. Mostly large multinationals are usin and developing it. It is here and it is here to stay. And with 120Mbps now available for consumers (in the EU) for about 60 euros per month and no caps, the cloud is coming to you, well in the EU that is.
  • 0 Hide
    grenet , June 5, 2009 1:06 AM
    I wonder if consumers truly understand the what paying a monthly (or yearly) fee to "rent" the use of software means for THEM?

    Have they thought of what happens if they need to write a letter and their ISP is down?

    What about if they decide they no longer want to pay through the nose every month for an Office application that they use occasionally - surprise! They can no longer read any of the documents they created while "renting" the use of the application.

    Sure it's great for businesses - they can keep their hands permanently in your pockets - a steady income stream for them, but its a really, really BAD idea for users.

    It's like with Vista and Windows 7 - people are talking about all the wrong things. The IMPORTANT thing about all Microsoft OSs after XP SP2 is that they are Spyware and Controlware (even XP SP3, which was a desperate effort to sneak some spyware/controlware onto XP when MS realized that people were opting to keep XP instead of buying into the Vista boondoggle).

    Windows "LIVE" anything is the same song - spyware and controlware. It gives MS an entry into your computer.

    People get caught up in silly "how fast is it" and such trivia as that - they seem to ignore the fact that Microsoft CEO's goal is to move money from their pockets into Microsoft's and to wrest control of the PC from the user and put it into Microsoft's (and "cooperating vendor's" hands.

    Wake up people! Forget the trivia - look at the BIG PICTURE! Your privacy, autonomy, and control of your own PC and software is at stake.

    I will use XP SP2 as long as I can, but when XP SP2 ceases to serve me, I'm moving to Linux - I refuse to put MS spyware/controlware, in the guise of an operating system, on my PC. And so-called "cloud computing" is a joke on the user. And software vendors are laughing all the way to the bank.

  • 1 Hide
    Marcus52 , June 5, 2009 6:51 PM
    Bleh the 'current economic climate' is temporary; just as with every other recession, Americans and the world will go back to SUVs and 12 mpg high-end hot rods.

  • 1 Hide
    blackmancer , June 6, 2009 2:15 PM
    /input Microsoft BPOS
    /output Microsoft Big Pile Of Shizenhauzen
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 9, 2009 1:23 AM
    It's funny how negative people are about something like Exchange Server hosting. While it does give me a bit of pause to put my information up on a server, I know how terribly expensive Exchange is, what a resource hog it is, and how much babysitting it requires. It's why Exchange Hosting was done before. And it's why there are web hosting services.

    Not everyone wants to be responsible for hosting IIS or Apache, and Exchanger Server or sendmail, and having to be constantly, vigilantly paranoid 24/7. Small businesses generally don't have dedicated IT managers, and sometimes hosting solutions make sense. I really do wish people would pull the "cloud" out of what's basically a mail and webdav hosting solution.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 12, 2009 1:34 PM
    This is a fantastic tool for corporations, I am in charge of help desk for a company with 1000+ employees, 95% of the are technically inept. I could only imagine having the ability to just open a browser and they have microsoft office, instead of having to install it locally, with registry and services you have a lot of room for failure. Corruption is really easy right now. With a hosted application you just keep the server up, and if it's anything like Sharepoint and Exchange, it's going to be a set it and forget it, if a service fails restart it and it works again. And with ALOT of business getting 100/1000mbit to the internet now this totally makes since. My building gets 1000mbit for $2500 a month. And it's only going to get cheaper. This is a very smart move on Microsoft's part.
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