Microsoft's point man shares SharePoint's history and its future
Thomas Rizzo, Senior Director of SharePoint at Microsoft, took some time to talk about what’s new and what’s coming for SharePoint 2010 with SharePointPro Connections executive editor Sheila Molnar and her colleague Michael Otey, technical director for the Microsoft-focused magazines at Penton.
SharePointPro Connections: Hi Tom. It’s great to have a chance to catch up with you. Before we get started, we understand that you go back quite a ways on Microsoft SQL Server before you moved to SharePoint.
Thomas Rizzo: I’ve been at Microsoft for close to 15 years. I worked in the Exchange Server team. I worked in the SQL Server team for about five or six years. And then I worked in the SharePoint team. So I worked on all the server products. It’s interesting to see Microsoft grow up in the enterprise—starting with Exchange Server, then SQL, and now SharePoint as our big enterprise product.
SharePointPro: So do you see this as natural growth for you to have come over to SharePoint?
Rizzo: SharePoint actually grew out of Exchange, so it’s a little bit of coming home for me. The original SharePoint, code-named Tahoe, shipped in 2001. It was built on the Exchange Web Storage System, not SQL Server, in the first version. It shipped with Exchange 2000. The Exchange and SharePoint team are like one big happy team. And then we decided that the long-term data storage for the company was probably not the Exchange Store, because it’s a very specialized store for email and that sort of thing. At that time I went to work on the SQL Server business. The SharePoint team decided to build on top of SQL Server because it was our enterprise database and business intelligence product. When I came back to SharePoint, it was like coming home. A lot of the same people who worked on SharePoint in 2001 still work on SharePoint even today. The same person who founded the team still works there and runs it—Jeff Teper.
SharePointPro: SharePoint is certainly one of the hottest server products Microsoft has right now.
Rizzo: Yes, it’s the fastest growing. We hit over 1.2 billion dollars last year. 17,000 customers. A lot of people think of SharePoint as just collaboration and intranet search. But we’ve expanded into a lot of other areas. A lot of big Internet-facing sites run SharePoint now. So you may not even know it, but folks like Kraft and Hawaiian Airlines are on SharePoint for their Internet-facing site. Recovery.gov is running SharePoint.
So that’s a big area—growing our Internet business. One of our big bets was the FAST Search & Transfer acquisition for 1.2 billion dollars. We wanted really high-end search because high-end search powers the Internet. We worked to integrate the FAST team and combined it with SharePoint Web Content Management to build a really great Internet business offering. You’ll see in the 2010 release how FAST is an integral part of the SharePoint offering this year. The other area we invested in for the 2010 release is business intelligence (BI). SQL is a major part of the Microsoft BI stack, but so is Office with Excel and now SharePoint with Performance Point Services and Excel Services. It’s interesting to see SharePoint grow from the original three workloads to many workloads.
SharePointPro: Can you explain how SQL Server PowerPivot works with SharePoint?
Rizzo: The way you share your PowerPivot models is with SharePoint. I’d say the relationship between the SQL Server team and the SharePoint team is one of the strongest at Microsoft. Obviously SharePoint is built on top of SQL Server, so it requires SQL Server in terms of the database. But there are several key integration points between the teams—Reporting Services integrates into SharePoint so you could host your reports right inside of the SharePoint environment, and do alerting and notifications. Excel Services and Analysis Services integration with SharePoint is good. And now with PowerPivot you can surface and share your models in SharePoint. Your administration is in SharePoint, so it’s a very tight integration between all the different parts.
SharePointPro: Are there ever any occasions where somebody might choose between using SharePoint or SQL Server?
Rizzo: You know, there may be some scenarios. Obviously on the content management side of the house it’s always SQL Server and SharePoint, unless you want to store your documents outside of SQL Server, which is a new feature in the 2010 product. There may be scenarios where customers may say “I’m going to use SharePoint with some other back end from a BI standpoint.” SharePoint integrates with SQL Server business intelligence, but it could also work with Oracle or DB2 or whatever your backend system is. So it doesn’t have to be a SQL Server back end for the BI operations that you want to do.
SharePointPro: With SharePoint 2010 there are several editions available. What are the different offerings? How did they come about?
Rizzo: We retired some things. We got rid of some products. But we added more than we got rid of.
SharePointPro: What did you retire?
Rizzo: I don’t know if you ever heard of it—Microsoft Office Forms Server. It was our standalone version of InfoPath Forms Services inside of SharePoint. You could take InfoPath Forms in the Office Client and automatically turn them into web-based forms inside of SharePoint. We thought customers would want to not deploy all of SharePoint and just get the forms piece. So the Forms Server was for that specialty forms customer. But all the customers went right to SharePoint; they didn’t want just a specialty server, so we just got rid of it.
We had some name changes as well. We renamed Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) to SharePoint Foundation. We wanted to make sure people understood that it was a foundational product for the rest of SharePoint. It’s also a platform technology so developers could get SharePoint Foundation and have pretty much the full API set of SharePoint. They could start with SharePoint Foundation and grow up to the full version of SharePoint.
SharePointPro: SharePoint Foundation remains free, doesn’t it?
Rizzo: Yes. It’s free. We added new SKUs to SharePoint. Some are specialty-based; some are based on introducing the FAST product line into the SharePoint family. One of the new SKUs is called SharePoint for Internet Sites, Standard Edition. This is part of the investment in the Internet business: Today we have SharePoint for Internet Sites targeted at larger websites. SharePoint for Internet Sites, Standard Edition will be targeted at the small and medium-sized website customer, someone who wants to run a website but who isn’t a billion dollar company. We have a bunch of FAST SKUs: FAST Search for SharePoint for very high-end search on your SharePoint infrastructure or a search for Internet apps. There are probably one-and-a-half times as many products in 2010 as there were in 2007, but it makes sense when you look across the board. Another free product is SharePoint Designer. We have a new version of it. Every SharePoint customer should download and install Designer and take advantage of it.
SharePointPro: What are some of the enhancements in the new version of SharePoint Designer?
Rizzo: We moved the Ribbon into the product, and that’s true across all of SharePoint. We completely changed the user interface beyond the Ribbon. Before it was a kind of Windows Explorer interface that had files and folders and so on. But the typical user doesn’t want to see a website’s files and folders so we made it more entity-based. Or artifact-based, so a user asks “What are all my lists and libraries? What are all of my pages on my site?”
We have a new Workflow Designer built right inside SharePoint Designer, to create simple workflows such as, for example, where an end-user checks out a document and doesn’t check it back in within three days—it’s automatically checked back in. Or a designer could create a workflow that can route a document to five people. End users can build workflows pretty quickly inside SharePoint Designer.
Workflow provides a continuum between SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio. So a designer could start in SharePoint Designer and upsize to development inside Visual Studio.
The last piece of SharePoint Designer is the new business connectivity services (BCS) capabilities. Right inside SharePoint Designer you can connect to an external content source, that could be SQL Server, Oracle, DB2, a web service, SAP, Siebel—whatever that back-end system is—and easily map that into SharePoint, and then automatically map that data into an Office content type. So for example, you could take a Siebel contact and make it appear as an Outlook contact to your end user just by clicking a couple of buttons. Your end user has no idea that they’re actually modifying Siebel on the back end; they’re just opening Outlook and modifying a contact that goes into SharePoint and SharePoint goes into Siebel; it’s just seamless between the end user and the back-end system.
SharePointPro: Are developers excited about the new Visual Studio enhancements for SharePoint 2010?
Rizzo: Totally. I can think of three things developers are excited about. First—the Visual Studio 2010 tools for SharePoint. We did have Visual Studio Extensions for Windows SharePoint Services or VSE WSS; nobody wants to say that ten times fast. They were community-supported tools. But people wanted complete integration with Visual Studio. The Visual Studio team partnered with us and created these excellent tools for SharePoint 2010 right inside of Visual Studio. So you can do one-click deploy and debug, you can do load testing, you can do all of the different things that you wanted to do inside of Visual Studio with SharePoint.
Second—Developer Workstation Support. If you’re an ASP.NET developer you’re already used to this, but SharePoint didn’t have it. Now SharePoint supports Vista and Windows 7; so you load SharePoint onto your developer workstation and you don’t have to run virtual server with Windows Server 2008. It makes it easier for a developer to develop on their local OS.
Third—rich support across all of the Microsoft APIs. Inside SharePoint we support LINQ and REST. So if you want to use the ADO.NET Data Services, you can use them with SharePoint. We have full support for Atom pub/sub, so now you can do RSS and Atom inside of SharePoint. We support Windows Workflow Foundation like we did previously, but now it’s even more extensible inside of SharePoint 2010. Our tight integration with the .NET platform makes developers excited because it’s stuff they already know, and it now works inside SharePoint.
SharePointPro: So are you seeing a lot of uptick with developers?
Rizzo: We are. Probably about a third of our development resources went into SharePoint as a development platform. It was a big investment on our side, and it’s been good to see the developer excitement around SharePoint. We heard from one of the analyst firms based on their surveys that one-quarter of developers identify themselves as a SharePoint developer. SharePoint has only existed as a product for nine years, so that ramp is pretty good.
SharePointPro: So that’s one-quarter of all developers?
Rizzo: Yes. Now SharePoint may not be the only thing they develop on, but at least they’re doing some SharePoint development work.
SharePointPro: How many SharePoint instances would you say are customized as opposed to running right out of the box?
Rizzo: Paul Andrew on our team owns the developer audience, and he does surveys on that sort of stuff. And if I remember his numbers right it’s something like 60 percent are customizing. Customization to us, it’s a pretty low bar—“Did you create a new column?” that sort of stuff. It may not be hard-core developer customization, but the beauty of SharePoint is that it’s both an application and a platform. So we give you the best of both worlds. I’m frankly impressed by the innovation on top of the SharePoint platform.
SharePointPro: Are you seeing a lot of innovation with Microsoft Silverlight in SharePoint?
Rizzo: Yes. There were a couple of Internet-facing sites that just went live with Silverlight and SharePoint. One that might not be everyone’s gig is Winchester Rifles. They actually built a Silverlight “how this bullet will behave” on Silverlight and SharePoint. There’s a mall in Toronto with a mall locator map that lets you do a virtual tour of the mall using Silverlight and SharePoint. I think SharePoint 2010 will accelerate the number of sites being built with Silverlight and SharePoint.
We ship a Silverlight Web Part right out of the box with SharePoint. And we even ship some Silverlight apps right out of the box with SharePoint. We have a media player built on Silverlight that you can just drag and drop a video into and start playing right in SharePoint.
We have an organizational browser built on Silverlight. One of the things people use SharePoint for is trying to see inside a company who people report to in order to understand what they work on. And a lot of times they’ll use Outlook; they’ll browse the Outlook address book to see who a person’s manager is. So now built right into SharePoint is this nice Silverlight browser, and SharePoint has more than the Outlook address book does in terms of properties. We can give you a much richer navigation of that information.
SharePointPro: Do you see picking up knowledge of SharePoint development as a wise career move for a developer?
Rizzo: Yes. If you’re a SharePoint developer you’re not going to be on the beach in terms of consulting or skill set; you’re going to be utilized. One of the big things we still struggle with from a SharePoint standpoint is that there is more work than people.
SharePointPro: Now that’s unusual in a recessionary period.
Rizzo: Yes. I won’t say that SharePoint is recession-proof, but we’ve seen that when it comes to the recession, people seem to think that SharePoint supplies enough value that they want to consolidate all their other products into it so they can reduce their costs. We provide a bunch of TCO enhancements for them, plus we give productivity. So we see a lot of people saying “We want to invest in SharePoint rather than in these other things that we may have been investing in,” and that’s driving a lot more work towards SharePoint.
SharePointPro: What’s the connection between SharePoint and Windows PowerShell?
Rizzo: I’d like your feedback on that! We’ve invested in PowerShell for SharePoint 2010. We still continue to support our old STS ADM—we’re telling people that they can continue to use it, but it will be deprecated over time. PowerShell is a lot more flexible and powerful. We’ll ship with over 350 PowerShell cmdlets in the box to make it easy for people. We’ve been hearing good feedback from our IT community. It depends on where they’ve come from. If they’ve been in Windows Server or Exchange they’re kind of used to PowerShell. Honestly some people we’ve had to drag kicking and screaming from STS ADM over to PowerShell because STS ADM is a single command line. With PowerShell it might take 10 lines of code to do the same thing.
We think it will help in a lights-out operation scenario because PowerShell is much, much richer than our command-line STS ADM; if you don’t want to touch the server, you want to script everything, and you want reporting back and better error handling and that sort of thing, PowerShell is light-years ahead of what we have.
SharePointPro: You’d really want to have PowerShell for an integrated management experience so you’d manage all your different servers using PowerShell. You wouldn’t want something different for SharePoint from your other servers.
Rizzo: Yes. Train your IT folks once on PowerShell, and then they can leverage PowerShell everywhere. With PowerShell, from a management standpoint, we invested in health rules inside of SharePoint as well. We took a little bit of learning from the SQL Server team in terms of self-healing.
SharePoint now will monitor itself, and try to heal itself if there’s a problem. So it will check disk space to make sure it’s not running out of space, and it will check security to make sure that you don’t have super-user accounts across your entire box. We’re trying to get much more friendly to IT and lights-out operations.
SharePointPro: SharePoint 2010 has a new best practices analyzer, doesn’t it?
Rizzo: That’s right. And it’s extensible so you can plug in your own rules if you want to.
SharePointPro: So what’s the migration story for SharePoint 2010?
Rizzo: We support upgrades from SharePoint 2007 to 2010. Service Pack 2 of SharePoint 2007 shipped an Upgrade Checker, so back in April or May of 2009 customers could start running it against their 2007 environment, understand where the gotchas may be, and start fixing those gotchas. We won’t support upgrade from 2003 to 2010—you have to go through 2007. From 2007 to 2010 should be a pretty seamless process for the customer.
SharePointPro: Aren’t there vendors available for upgrades from earlier versions?
Rizzo: We have over 5,000 partners on SharePoint, so many of them would be happy to consult on that, and we have ISVs as well.
SharePointPro: Isn’t SharePoint 2010 64-bit only?
Rizzo: Yes. It’s 64-bit only. Windows Server 2008. Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and above. Requires SQL Server 64-bit. We’re following Exchange there. Exchange went 64-bit only in 2007. We just found a lot of customers ran into problems with 32-bit. They weren’t giving enough memory to SharePoint, and they expected to do amazing things in the 3GB memory space that we had, so 64-bit will make it a lot more performant. Unfortunately, we had to cut support for IE 6 from the browser. IE 6 is ten years old and it’s not compliant with XHTML, and not strict in terms of the checking it does of HTML. So to meet modern standards, we had to remove IE 6.
SharePointPro: Isn’t that painful for some customers?
Rizzo: It’s painful for customers that have lots of desktops running IE 6. But moving to XHTML, we can now be much more accessible in terms of people with disabilities as well as better at supporting browsers like Firefox and Safari.
SharePointPro: Firefox was just added in, right?
Rizzo: Yes, Safari and Firefox 3 and above were added, and IE 7 and IE 8: Any that are XHTML-compliant will be supported.
SharePointPro: Shifting gears. How would you describe SharePoint’s role in social networking?
Rizzo: That was another big investment area for us. We’ve had MySite since 2003, so we had Facebook-like sort of stuff. In 2007 we added a whole host of new social features.
Customers have been slow to adopt it. People on the Internet are more forgiving around Facebook and MySpace and those sorts of things. But bringing Internet technology to the enterprise—customers have to worry about security, privacy, and so on. So a translation takes place. We’ve seen good adoption of the MySite technologies—folks like Accenture and Electronic Arts run MySite. They personalize sites for all their employees. In 2007 we invested even more in things like blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, activity feeds—so you know what’s happening in your social network, like birthdays or changes in office numbers or phone numbers or information on document tags. You’re being told what’s happening in your social network rather than having to go and query to find out.
We support activity feeds and also taxonomies—folksonomies, as well as corporate taxonomies. We support both a top-down corporate taxonomy where an IT department says “Here’s the 50,000 tags you can use inside of our company so we can quickly find things,” and a folksonomy where you use Digg or Del.icio.us, for example, to do a social tag. You can have both folksonomies and corporate taxonomies and move between the two. So you can have bottoms-up tagging, and then promote those tags to a corporate tag once you find lots of people are using that tag. Things like social bookmarks and organizational browsing are supported within the SharePoint 2010 platform.
SharePointPro: What does the future look like for SharePoint? You’ve come so far so rapidly. What does the next decade look like?
Rizzo: You can see where we’ve made our investments, so that’s no surprise. We’ll continue to invest in enhancing across all the workloads of SharePoint. We’re not done in Search or in Enterprise Content Management. We’ll keep turning the crank on social and portal—that will be a definite. The other big investment for us is moving to the cloud.
We do have SharePoint Online. It’s doing well. We only released it a year and a bit ago—the multi-tenant version. We’ve had the dedicated version of SharePoint Online where customers like GlaxoSmithKline use it. You outsource your IT to Microsoft pretty much. The multi-tenant version targets more, smaller customers. The larger customers tend to go with dedicated. And we’ve been adding tons of customers in the multi-tenant space. And in 2010 we’ll add more functionality into the multi-tenant space.
One of the nice things for developers is that we do support development on-premise and online the same. So you can write what we call sandbox solutions and they can run either on-premise or in the cloud. You’ll see us continue to invest in the online space trying to make it easier for customers to either run in hybrid environments (where they have some stuff on-premise and some stuff online) or to make the move to all online. The other piece of online is that we’re going to invest in the platform in the cloud. So you may want to use SharePoint not just as the app, but also write to the platform called SharePoint inside the cloud.
SharePointPro: So will there be a SharePoint Azure?
Rizzo: Yeah. It’s called SharePoint Online. What else will come? Lots of ideas. Now that we’re closing down the 2010 product, we’re thinking about what will go in the next release. It’s all blue sky. There’s lots of thinking around search: The way that search affects the way that people work.
One of the things we think about is how does search change the way that you navigate your content, so that navigation is no longer static? It becomes dynamic based on search queries. We talk about that as query-less search or search-driven navigation.
And how does social play into that? In 2010, SharePoint will pop you a list of what’s popular based on either search queries or page views, and we use our analytics engine to actually discover all of that for you. So right on the page you can say “Oh, ten people are viewing these ten pieces of content—it might be good content.”
We implemented social search in 2010. We take your search results, look at your colleague network, ask what they clicked on, and rank that higher than just based on the algorithm that we have. We think people in your social network are similar to you, so we’ll surface content based on that social network. We make sure SharePoint is completely search and socially aware no matter where you are in the product.
SharePointPro: And SharePoint for developers?
Rizzo: 2010’s a big release. It would be tough to top it. For developers there will be a lot of cloud-based stuff. The Visual Studio team did a lot of investment around tools for the cloud. We also look at designers, not just the pure developers. How do we make the Expression Studio Developer really productive on SharePoint? And how do we marry the design experience of SharePoint with the developer experience of SharePoint? We have some things in the works on that. There’s a lot we can do for developers; it’s still early in the game.