Microsoft Jumps on the Development Fasttrack with SharePoint, but Risks Leaving Some Users Behind

Brad Shimmin
Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

  • The future of software development lies in the cloud, where rapid release cycles and easy upgrades are possible.
  • The present reality for many premises-centric customers, however, is much slower and more painful.

Prior to last week’s Microsoft SharePoint conference in Las Vegas, I was of the mind that faster was always better. Not just for cars and planes, but software development in particular. I felt that lengthy software development cycles were getting in the way of innovation. The prototypical 18 month product update schedule for on-premises, perpetually licensed software, where bug fixes take precident over the introduction of new features, seemed extremely antiquated when compared to current cloud-based development models capable of rushing new features to market every 90 days or less.

Well, I still feel that faster innovation is better for a given industry, but I’m also now convinced that the transition to this new worldview will not be easy for individual companies.  Case in point: Microsoft SharePoint. Prior to the release of SharePoint 2013, Microsoft customers had to endure a seemingly painful upgrade cycle that often would span three years. Now though, Microsoft has effectively moved SharePoint to the cloud with the 2013 release, promising to adopt the quarterly update cycle espoused by its newly acquired enterprise social networking vendor, Yammer. The key here is that these updates will favor cloud-based deployments of SharePoint 2013 via Office 365 rather than traditional SharePoint 2013 Server installations on premises. As a matter of fact, during the Las Vegas conference, Microsoft boldly declared that while they’d probably always have a premises rendition of SharePoint, the superior experience for customers and users would come from the cloud.

That seems like an incredibly good reason to move to Office 365. The trouble, however, is that many Microsoft SharePoint customers are currently in the midst of, or have just completed, arduous upgrade efforts to reach SharePoint 2010. Microsoft has gone to great lengths to simplify the move to SharePoint 2013 by enabling customers to migrate their database schema without actually changing anything users will see in their browsers. But none of that changes the fact that many existing customers are in no position to make this move. When you’re looking at migrating thousands and thousands of users in an on-premises world, there is no such thing as instant upgrades, let alone 90 day innovation cycles. Even moving from one premises server to another requires a significant investment in training, testing and likely development (i.e., upgrading existing SharePoint applications). And of course there are potential server hardware investments to be considered as well.

All of this adds up to lengthy upgrade cycle that will likely push the adoption of SharePoint 2013 well into that same year, even perhaps 2014. That is, unless customers take the plunge and move to the cloud, but there again, the only cost offset by this option revolves around capital expenditures on hardware. The bottom line is that the cloud is fast, but getting there is very slow.

What do you think?

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