I’m a big fan of SharePoint Online along with over one million other users out there. It’s a reliable, convenient service that allows companies to take advantage of SharePoint without having to host it themselves. It’s software-as-a-service at its best.  

SharePoint Online today, based on SharePoint 2007, does a good job providing some of the core SharePoint capabilities. In the second half of this calendar year, SharePoint Online will be updated to SharePoint 2010 at which point it will be even more powerful & provide even greater parity with SharePoint 2010 “On-Premises”. This is largely due to all the investments we’ve made in the 2010 wave around multi-tenancy and extensibility.

Timeline
SharePoint Online is available today. The current service is based on the SharePoint 2007 platform. A limited beta of SharePoint Online on the 2010 platform is expected to be available at the end of this half (CY10H1); final release is expected in the second half of this year (CY10H2). 

Multi-Tenancy
The team has done a lot of work focusing on “hosting” as a core scenario in the 2010 wave. With SharePoint 2007 today, a site collection serves as a tenant boundary delivering some of the core WSS 3.0 features along with some of the MOSS 2007 features such as web content management. However, when it comes to MOSS 2007 especially, not all of the features are optimal for multiple tenants. For example, BDC, Excel Services and many of the other Shared Service Providers (SSPs) are not easily manageable by different site collection owners.

In the SharePoint 2010 wave, we have made changes and focused on making sure the features are multi-tenant. This also includes a tenant administration site to allow you to centrally manage the various sites & configuration. From a functionality perspective what this means to customers & partners is that they’ll be able to get all the goodness of SharePoint 2010 such as social computing, web content management & enterprise content management, just to name a few, with SharePoint Online. I expect a very high % of end-user feature parity from an end-user perspective (I talk about extensibility next) between SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-Premises. Of course, this depends on what SKU you are looking at!

Extensibility
Multi-tenancy investments in SharePoint 2010 mean more end-user feature parity between SharePoint Online and SharePoint On-Premises; add to this the improved extensibility & developer story for SharePoint Online and you have a really great SaaS offering that customers & partners can bet their business on.

Extensibility is important for any solution. Whether it’s heavy customization or last mile touch-ups, whether you are Microsoft, IBM or Google, customers & partners need to be able to customize their solution. And almost always, cloud solutions provide less flexibility than on-premises solutions; that’s one of the trade-offs organizations must make. With the 2010 wave, the extensibility/developer story for SharePoint Online has significant improvements and enables a wide range of scenarios from small cosmetic changes to custom code solutions:

  • SharePoint Browser UX . The new SharePoint UX allows end-users to very easily modify the site theme, switch the site chrome (master page) and modify site content (web content, rich media and documents). The new wiki-like interface and new SharePoint Ribbon really make it easy to interact with and make SharePoint look and work the way you want. New web parts like the Media Web Part and Silverlight Web Part allow end users to easily add media & rich Silverlight applications to SharePoint.
  • Improvements in SharePoint Designer (SPD) 2010. SPD 2010 allows non-professional developers to very easily make customizations. The new ribbon interface in SPD surface features in a very intuitive & contextual way. Improved workflow, improved data views, support for InfoPath forms and entity modeling are just a few of the enhancements in SPD.
  • Web Services. This builds on the existing extensibility we have with SharePoint 2007. SharePoint 2010 will continue to expose web services that external applications can call into.
  • Business Connectivity Services (BCS). New to SharePoint Online, with SPD 2010 & BCS, you’ll be able to model business entities by connecting to WCF end points. This will allow you to connect your SharePoint Online application to external systems.
  • Client OM. New to SharePoint 2010, the client OM allows developers to develop solutions that don’t run on the server. This becomes a powerful way to develop .NET applications that integrate with SharePoint. A really great example of this: Silverlight applications. With the SharePoint Client OM & Silverlight, developers will be able to create really rich applications on top of SharePoint Online that run on the client, interact with the server (SharePoint Online) and are accessible across multiple browser technologies.
  • Sandbox Solutions. With the new Sandbox Solution feature, developers can now upload custom code into the SharePoint Online environment. Specifically, developers can use the new Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint Tools to develop partially trusted code (Sandbox Solutions), package them up as a WSP and upload them into SharePoint Online. Examples include custom web parts and event receivers. While full-trust solutions will not be supported, this goes a long way to extending SharePoint Online with custom business logic. For some complex scenarios, I even envision developers developing hybrid SharePoint Online Sandbox Solutions with Windows Azure.

SKUs
The below slide comes from a session on licensing from the SharePoint Conference and does a good job summarizing the various SharePoint Online SKUs in the 2010 wave. It’s worth calling out the new SKUs. The Enterprise USL is self-explanatory as it provides Enterprise CAL functionality; the Internet Sites offer provides a public facing website portal with underlying web content management (WCM); the Partner Access offer enables company employees to collaborate with authenticated external partners within SharePoint Online.

Fore more information, you can also check out a recent podcast I did on SharePoint Online @ http://www.sharepointpodshow.com/archive/2010/01/13/sharepoint-online-and-sharepoint-2010-ecm-episode-41.aspx

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