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Exciting times ahead for the SharePoint ecosystem – highlights from this year’s SharePoint Conference

Earlier in November I was fortunate enough to attend my second Microsoft SharePoint Conference, this year in Las Vegas, Nevada.

SharePoint Conference 2012

Being the first conference since the RTM of SharePoint 2013 was announced it was understandable that this was the key focus.

It is very clear that Microsoft is betting heavily on the cloud, with many of the changes introduced with this version of the product being intended to support and improve the offerings available in Office 365. Jared Spataro, Senior Director and Product Marketing for SharePoint, announced that this would be that last of the big multi-year version increment cycles and we could now expect to see updates to the Office 365 offering every 90 days! This alone is a compelling reason to be looking at the Office 365 offering for many customers.

Microsoft is investing heavily in Enterprise Social, from the wider reach of the Yammer product, which I’ll come back to shortly, to the massive improvements in the social features offered natively in SharePoint 2013. The SharePoint social story is now very complete, allowing easy sharing, following and aggregation of the things that you care about into an easily consumed Newsfeed. Search can then consume this Newsfeed to tune search to improve result relevancy for you personally!

If you watch the keynote presentation, available on the conference site http://www.mssharepointconference.com/Pages/default.aspx or YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLsIjvIyAxo, you will see great demonstrations of the Enterprise Social capabilities of SharePoint and Yammer. As I sat there watching those demos I was left thinking: “What is the value of Yammer – it’s everything that was just shown inside SharePoint.” After a bit of pondering it struck me: SharePoint Social is bound inside the walled garden of SharePoint – now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, however for many organisations the larger reach of Yammer is going to be more appropriate. Yammer is deeply integrated into the next version of Dynamic CRM and I’ll bet that we see Yammer tightly integrated into more and more Microsoft products.

The other fundamental change is the introduction of the new App Model. This is again driven out of the learning which Microsoft has done with the Office 365 product. The idea being to provide an extensibility mechanism which is decoupled the from the SharePoint platform in both a logical and physical sense. Apps do not have to run on SharePoint servers any more thanks to the greatly improved client APIs. As such, there is now very little that is not achievable from a client application. Because apps don’t have to run on the SharePoint servers any longer this approach reduces the potential performance impact on the SharePoint servers themselves. Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Developer Division, showed a great demo building an app to interact with SharePoint data using standard .NET development practices leveraging Azure, ASP.NET MVC and the new client APIs. No specialist knowledge required; it’s so simple even those in the “don’t do products” camp of James Newton-King could manage it!

It’s worth talking about the App Model a little more here. This shift makes it easier for any developer regardless of background to use SharePoint in compelling ways. Industry standards such as REST, oAuth and oData are finally first class citizens in the SharePoint development story and the cludgy old SOAP web services are now deprecated. I’m excited for the future as a developer in the SharePoint ecosystem.

Following the keynote there were four days of breakout sessions. When I attend conferences such as these I try to attend outside of my development specialisation to help me expand my understanding and improve my ability to provide appropriate responses to customers, so I attended session across the IT Pro, Developer and Business tracks.

Some of the most impressive and interesting things that I saw were:

Web Content Management: There have been vast improvements to WCM with SharePoint 2013, particularly with regards to Mobility and support for all modern browsers. The removal of the FIS licence now reduces the cost of having a SharePoint-based web presence and will allow customers to get more from their SharePoint investment.

The Upgrade Story: Microsoft has invested heavily in improving both the guidance and mechanisms around upgrading to 2013. In fact it is possible* to run 2010 site collections as is within a 2013 farm until they are upgraded. One of the interesting approaches that was suggested was to create a 2013 services farm as a first step which is then consumed by your existing 2010 farm. This provides a nice stepping stone mechanism to start the process of migrating to the new platform while being able to differ upgrading of content sites.

Microsoft Dynamics & E-Commerce: The Dynamics team are launching an E-Commerce module for Dynamics AX that provides mechanism to connect an internet store front which integrates into the ERP backend to handle order fulfilment, stock management and so on.

Search: There is now only one search product and it is the FAST engine that was previously an expensive add-on to the Enterprise SKU. Innovations such as continuous crawling of content new web parts which build off the search infrastructure to serve content are very powerful.

Development improvements: I could go on for hours here, seriously, as if all the Azure/ASP.NET MVC/oData /REST/oAuth goodness isn’t enough for you, the client APIs for JavaScript are now very rich and on par with their managed code counterparts allowing developers to leverage jQuery/Knockout/Node/TypeScript and almost any other JavaScript framework to increase productivity that they desire. What’s more, these innovations can be harnessed from Windows 8 applications, Office applications or even in some fruity Rails or PHP application if you’re that way inclined!

As a Microsoft MVP it was vastly useful to connect with other MVPs from around the world to grow those relationships so I am able to draw on a much wider global pool of expertise. The MVPs represent a vastly useful resource to draw upon to troubleshoot issues, verify approaches and best practices.

It is an exciting time to be involved in SharePoint, as the launch of SharePoint 2013 really is ushering a new and improved way of proving services to our customers.

*YMMV, depending on the level and nature of the customisations within your environment.

Posted by: Gavin Barron, Solution Architect | 26 November 2012

Tags: SharePoint, Cloud, SharePoint Conference, Microsoft, Yammer, SharePoint 2013, Social, .NET

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