Microsoft has introduced some extremely appealing software lately. New versions of Office and Outlook will integrate cleanly with newer collaborative applications like SharePoint Portal Server, Project Server, and Live Communications Server, which in turn will support the emerging ERP and CRM applications. Microsoft promises to fill the gap between the desktop and the enterprise, bringing worker productivity in line with enterprise performance, largely by using the .Net framework and SharePoint Services as part of the Windows Server 2003 operating system. As attractive as that notion is, many companies see filling that gap as a threat to their ability to choose.
The Bottom Line: Fact is, steering the upgrade path for Microsoft portals and related technology (and everything seems related), even for companies devoted to Microsoft, may prove confusing. Licensing issues aside, Microsoft’s appealing product enhancements will come at a migration price--a lamentably unavoidable one.
What It Means: Everything seems to be working fine for now, so why do anything? The most compelling reason is simply to keep in step with Microsoft and its other customers, defraying possible cost or obsolescence issues when you inevitably upgrade later. Any assurance we might have had that Microsoft applications and infrastructure would be backwards-compatible seems to have vanished.
And, even for Microsoft shops, determining what to upgrade and when reads like a logic question on the SATs. Those slick collaboration features you see in Microsoft Office require Windows Server 2003. While the soon-to-come 2003 version of SharePoint requires Windows Server 2003 as well, most of what you’ve built on the SharePoint 2001 runs only on the older operating system. Meanwhile, good news: recently released Server Packs allow Content Management Server 2002, Commerce Server 2002 and BizTalk Server 2002 to run on Windows Server 2003. But you’re running NT Server, with Windows 98 and Office 2000 on the desktop. What will you do?
A) Upgrade the whole stack immediately.
B) Start with Windows Server 2003, leaving the old stuff in place for now and migrating piece by piece.
C) Switch to Java and open source products for everything. Maybe Sun’s Star Office or Mac OS (that’s a joke).
D) Do nothing.
E) All of the above.
Yes, Microsoft will kindly offer tools, advice, and facilities to move from one application and architecture to the next, and lately it’s been more forthright about its product release dates, so you can somewhat reliably plan upgrades according to schedule (of course, leaving a good deal of lag time for the bureaucracy and bugs to work themselves out).
- The correct answer is B. Develop a considerate, deliberate plan for upgrading. For now, it appears that the best place to start is with Windows Server 2003. You’ll have to let older systems run in place and devise a careful plan for upgrading. Despite the short-term appeal of a coexistence strategy, companies will save money by removing redundancy over the long term.
- If you’ve got a large investment in SharePoint Portal Server already, especially with sophisticated Web Parts, customization, and integration to back-end applications, you’d best sit tight for now. Version 2003 is on the way, and while the upgrade is substantial in terms of scalability, improved personalization, integration with other Microsoft applications, and numerous features, migration will be costly until tools are available.
- On the other hand, there is pressure to move forward. Microsoft and its numerous partners will be offering applications that run in Web Parts or other mechanisms atop the portal server.
- If you have yet to implement a portal, the news is much better, the advice much easier. Wait for SharePoint 2003 or look to the likes of Plumtree, Vignette, or Open Text (with its Corechange acquisition), all of which have proven to work well in Microsoft environments.
- If you’ve got another portal framework product, while you may lack the seamless integration with Microsoft, you’ll likely also lack the migration headaches. Look to Web services and emerging portlet standards as a way to invoke Microsoft applications and as a means to insulate yourself from the problems.