October 2009, Las Vegas: Microsoft unveils the latest version of SharePoint—rebranded as SharePoint Server 2010. Significant architectural changes for services and authentication. Major investments in business intelligence (BI) and social networking. Customers wonder if SharePoint is ready for prime time for enterprise content management and whether BI will be easier than it was. Some ask, “Why would I want Facebook-like features in my enterprise?” The few Microsoft Online customers ask when BPOS will be upgraded to SharePoint 2010. Analysts expect strong adoption of SharePoint Server 2010.

October 2011, Anaheim: The company throws possibly the biggest (my guess, as of press time) SharePoint event in history—the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2011. Adoption of SharePoint 2010 is overwhelming. SharePoint is worth well over $1 billion, and Microsoft claims sales of more than 20,000 new CALs for SharePoint per day.

Two years later, and my, how things have changed! The conversation is no longer “Is SharePoint ready for enterprise content management?” It became “Why does Microsoft arbitrarily limit us to support of a 200GB content database when we have terabytes of content we want to migrate to SharePoint from our file servers and [name your favorite competitive content management system]?” Well it wasn’t arbitrary—Microsoft had to ensure it had done enough testing to stand behind higher levels of support, and this year it had the resources to focus on that task. Now the limits are sky high, as long as performance requirements are met (.25 – 2 IOPS per GB stored) and architecture and tools to support SLAs has been considered.

And the conversation continues: “What about records management and compliance with [name your favorite regulation or policy]?” Several ISVs have stepped forward with solutions to fill the gaps. As enterprises realize that SharePoint has become, or is rapidly becoming, a mission-critical content repository, the conversation has changed: “How do we reduce costs of storage and provide IT assurance for this service, so that this content is recoverable in [name your favorite data corruption or disaster scenario]?” Other ISVs stepped forward with solutions for infrastructure management and IT assurance, including solutions that leverage Remote BLOB Store (RBS), which after quite a bit of drama, debate, and in-fighting within the community and within Microsoft itself, Microsoft has now firmly stood behind as a real solution—when applied and architected correctly—to storage management.

Along the way, enterprises extended their collaboration on SharePoint—to distant and disconnected users, to customers, to partners, to vendors, and to the general public. Huge pain points still exist in some of these scenarios, but one of the many solutions is the cloud. In June 2011, Microsoft finally updated its online offerings to include SharePoint 2010, rebranding it as Office 365, with huge improvements but some painful gaps that Microsoft will be filling with each update and, eventually, with “Wave 15” (SharePoint vNext).

The conversation is now, “Is the cloud enterprise-ready?” and, in the case of Office 365, the answer is mixed and highly dependent on both your business requirements and the specific application you’re talking about. Exchange—probably yes. SharePoint—in limited scenarios, maybe, but not quite yet. Office 365 is—according to Microsoft itself—really about providing a heretofore-absent solution for SMBs. Wave 15? Watch out! If Microsoft succeeds in boosting SharePoint vNext the same way it boosted Exchange 2010 SP1 for the cloud, we’ll be looking at a really amazing, enterprise-ready story for public and private cloud, and (most importantly) “hybrid” SharePoint.

BI? What I see in customers is adoration for PowerPivot and Excel and less enthusiasm about everything else. I claimed that MOSS 2007’s BI features were a diving board into an empty pool (using a metaphor from another MVP). SharePoint 2010 seems to have filled the pool with water, but not many are swimming. That’s partly due to economic and business-culture reasons, but perhaps it’s also because we’d rather sit at the beach—the sandy, expansive beach called Excel, where we all do our real analysis. I bet Microsoft has noticed now.

And social? Ha! Even I am flabbergasted at the conversation now, which is far less “Why” or “We’re scared of [name your favorite fear of social networking]” and is far more, “We get it and we can’t get enough of it!” Even stodgy, conservative companies and verticals are charging forward and, in some cases, leading the charge. Clever ISVs have stepped in to add critical missing social features—microblogging, better communities—and I’ve seen customers doing very cool things with MySites, including moving traditional “My Documents” data to users’ My Sites, which instantly enables web-based, device independent (iPad, anyone?) access to data.

Two years ago, we were handed an envelope stuffed with new features that were, in some cases, half-baked (UPS war stories, anyone?) and in other cases were not yet relevant to many. Today, we’ve torn into that envelope, and we’re pushing the envelope further than Microsoft really envisioned—or at least faster.

I’ve observed Microsoft listening—to its customers, to analysts, to partners, and to its own innovators. We’re being heard. I’m highly optimistic that this time next year we’ll all be testing a version of SharePoint that not only answers many of our concerns but also advances the conversation further. Here at SharePoint Pro, we carry on the conversation with great articles. You can also follow the conversation online or through our weekly newsletter at www.sharepointpromag.com.