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Microsoft SharePoint add-ons offer tantalizing system tweaks

Dec 15, 20098 mins
Data Center

Six SharePoint tools showcase what's slick as 2010 version waits in wings

SharePoint 2010 won’t come until next year, but third-party vendors have add-ons available now that sharply enhance the feature set of the existing versions of the popular Microsoft server application.

SharePoint 2010 may be on Microsoft’s immediate road map, but users churning away on the current 2007 platform can still juice their rollouts with a host of add-ons that make the existing version seem new again.

From administrative tools to storage options, life-cycle management and migration wares, the task of pushing SharePoint to another level doesn’t mean eyeing 2010’s feature set, which includes a new platform theme, along with integration of Visual Studio development tools, a revamped SharePoint Designer, new social computing features, a more secure runtime environment for application components and a set of cloud-based APIs that open SharePoint to technology’s hottest trend.

Bots, bombs and weird science: The wackiest stories of 2009With 2010’s ship date not until May at the earliest, here is a look at a half dozen tools that can make SharePoint 2007 (or earlier) sing. And not to leave 2010 completely out of the equation, the vendors of these tools have provided a stay-tuned peek at what they plan to do on the new platform.

BlueThread (Storage)

BlueThread offers a storage add-on for SharePoint to improve content management by moving data off the platform’s traditional SQL Server storage repository.

BlueThread’s StoragePoint for SharePoint plugs into the Microsoft server and lets users configure endpoints by site collection or Web applications so they use different storage nodes located either on-premises or in the cloud.

StoragePoint offers an interface to redirect where Binary Large Object (BLOB) I/O are stored. Traditionally, BLOBs are stored in SQL Server (SharePoint’s back end).

From a SharePoint perspective there is really no operational or functional difference,” says Rob D’Oria, CTO of BlueThread. “Uses can move content that is not mission critical off to second or third tier storage” that is less expensive.

The only thing stored in the SQL Server database is metadata, which ensures that indexing and other functions are not interrupted.

D’Oria says StoragePoint can reduce the size of an SQL Server database by 95% to 98%, and the technology offers compression and data encryption.

In 2010, BlueThread will tap into the SQL interface coming in SharePoint 2010 called Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) to provide a second interface for externalizing content.

Colligo (client integration)

Colligo takes SharePoint add-ons to the client side, offering tools that integrate with Outlook, Windows Explorer and SharePoint content.

Colligo has a synchronization engine that keeps data on the client in sync with SharePoint, says Barry Jinks, Colligo’s CEO and founder. The company’s claim to fame is its rich support for content types and metadata.

The most popular Contributor interface is the add-in for Outlook, which takes SharePoint libraries and lists and puts them in folders within the folder tree of the e-mail client. Users can drag-and-drop content into those folders from their in-box or their desktop. And the add-in works online and off and can convert attachments to SharePoint links as part of its attachment management capability.

The other Contributor interfaces are available in the pro client or individually. The pro client has a stand-alone interface with offline support, Windows Explorer integration and the Outlook add-in.

Jinks says 2010 with bring lots of new functionality in the content management and records management area. In the first half of the year, Colligo will offer new functionality around those capabilities. Also Colligo will offer support for all the 2010 desktop applications, including metadata editing in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Metalogix (Migration)

Metalogix’s SharePoint Site Migration Manager is designed to help users who are evolving from more ad-hoc or basic deployments of SharePoint to a more enterprise structure.

The tools help users migrate between SharePoint servers or between versions of the technology. “Since SharePoint is still a novel collaboration platform, when most companies deployed it they did it in an experimental fashion,” says Rasool Rayani,  product management director at Metalogix. Rayani says now those users want to reorganize their content and structure.

Metalogix also is branching out to migrations from on-premises deployments to the cloud, which is becoming one of the most popular migration paths, Rayani says. In addition, Site Migration Manager can help migrate SQL Server from one version to the next.

Metalogix has a cut-and-paste interface and migration encompasses sites, libraries, lists, Web parts and permissions. For cloud migrations, Metalogix has a Windows client that installs on XP, Vista, Server 2003 or 2008 and connects to SharePoint using Web services.

In 2010, Metalogix plans to support migrations from the 2003 version to the 2010 version of SharePoint. The technology also will support migrations from 32-bit to 64-bit versions of the server. Metalogix also will add server consolidation features and tools to move existing metadata into the SharePoint 2010 repository.

Nintex (Workflow)

Nintex Workflow for SharePoint lets users create workflows to handle everything from top-down corporate business processes to minor workflow chores that save money and time.

The server-based software adds a Web-based interface to SharePoint via a set of extensions. The result is new menu options for creating or managing workflows. The interface provides a WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop environment built on HTML and AJAX.

The tool uses standard Windows Workflow Foundation activities and builds a visual XML description of a workflow, according to Mike Fitzmaurice, vice president of technology for Nintex.

SharePoint runs the workflow using its own native workflow engine with Nintex enhancing the capabilities of that platform. Nintex fits between the limited capabilities of SharePoint Designer and the complexity of Visual Studio development.

“You get 90% of Visual Studio’s power and 90% of the simplicity of Designer,” Fitzmaurice says. He says the strength is the design environment and the ability to track workflows across server farms.

Nintex has a feature called “lazy approval” that lets users complete a workflow task simply by responding to an e-mail and without having to click on a link.

In 2010, Nintex is putting some focus on SharePoint 2010’s new document assembly services, which will let Nintex compose, manipulate, print and render documents in unique ways entirely from server-side workflow processes.

“That was really hard before,” Fitzmaurice says..

He also says there are data access features coming in Nintex Workflow for 2010 that can grab data from different locations and mix them together via a SharePoint process.

Quest Software (Administration)

Quest’s Site Administrator for SharePoint is all about control once SharePoint begins to take hold across a company.

“The strength of Site Administrator is the ability to set policies,” says Joel Oleson, senior product architect at Quest.

A popular feature is the ability to centrally block users from creating sites under SharePoint’s My Sites. The features prevent levels of management from getting too deep and complex. Also, the Security Explorer controls provide insight into permissions and security related to SharePoint sites, and adds a unique cloning feature for permissions.

Core to the tool is a set of reporting capabilities through a Web-based information portal that lets administrators delegate rights for users to see specific reports. SharePoint’s native controls restrict that sort of access to administrators.

In 2010, Quest will add to Site Administrator the ability to manage external lists, and a set of 50 wrappers for PowerShell cmdlets that give them a GUI interface.

Quest is also looking to online services to help SharePoint customers. On Dec. 16 it will release to select beta customers a Windows Azure-based service called Site Administrator Reports on Demand. The full beta opens in January and the free service goes live before the end of March.

RepliWeb (Life-cycle management)

RepliWeb’s Operational Synchronization for SharePoint (ROSS) manages deployments to development, test and production SharePoint environments. It also supports multi-farm replication for corporate SharePoint deployments.

RepliWeb concentrates its efforts around the development of SharePoint-based Web sites, portals and applications, which is where increasingly more corporate SharePoint deployments have their focus.

“This is well-known life-cycle management,” says Ted Orme, director of European operations for RepliWeb. “The key is being able to keep these environments separate but also being able to move assets between them.”

RepliWeb’s focus is around environments with a large number of sites, collections and large amounts of content spread among development, test and production sites.

One of the most important features of ROSS is Roll Back, which lets users return to their original configuration after making an update. Governance is another key that provides controls on who can do what on the system and who is allowed to update different sites or applications. The defining feature is delegation to users via a Web interface.

The other important feature is that users can take content and code that is in deployment and move it back into the development realm.

For 2010, Microsoft is pushing SharePoint as a development platform and Orme says that change suits RepliWeb. He says  the company is very optimistic about the 2010 platform, but did not provide specific details on RepliWeb’s future products.

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