|SharePoint 2007 Tweaks Portals, Administration|
|Mar. 12, 2007|
New templates and Web Parts for portal sites and improved administration strengthen SharePoint Server (formerly SharePoint Portal Server) as a platform for corporate portals. Corporate portals, Web sites that provide organized access to corporate information, remain an important way to deliver applications and data to employees and external business partners. However, upgrading large, customized existing SharePoint portals to the new version will be complicated, existing hardware may need to be upgraded, and customers might require help from systems integrators for planning, customization, migration, and training.
What Is SharePoint Server?
Among other functions, SharePoint Server is Microsoft's strategic platform for the creation and management of corporate portals. Although the term is broad, corporate portals are typically Web sites that give workers an entry point to corporate information and applications. For example, a corporate portal could provide access to (or even house) a self-service human resources application that helps employees look for new jobs in the organization and allows managers to add or update job descriptions.
SharePoint Server 2007 assumes a variety of new roles, including records management, centralized spreadsheet management, Web content management, and business intelligence (BI). Because of this expanded scope, Microsoft has dropped the word "portal" from the product's name; the previous version was referred to as SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) 2003.
What Does SharePoint Provide for Portals?
SharePoint Server 2007 layers a variety of Web applications, services, utilities, and programming interfaces on top of several Microsoft products and technologies, including Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0, a Windows component geared to team collaboration sites; the SQL Server database management system; and the .NET Framework 3.0 application development platform, which includes ASP.NET 2.0 and the Windows Workflow Foundation workflow engine.
For corporate portals, SharePoint Server 2007 and the WSS 3.0 platform provide the following:
(The main services and applications provided by SharePoint Server 2007 and their relationships to WSS 3.0 are outlined in the sidebar "SharePoint Server Builds on WSS 3.0".)
Fast Portal Creation, Improved Personalization
SharePoint Server 2007 does not introduce sweeping changes in its features for portal sites—most major changes focus on the product's new functional areas, such as records management and BI. Nonetheless, several incremental improvements in portal features and administration tools could convince holdouts to adopt the product and existing customers to upgrade. New site templates will speed creation of portal sites, improved personalization will help target site content to different groups of users, and new administration features address shortcomings in SPS 2003.
Portal Templates Speed Site Creation
One of SharePoint Server's biggest draws is quick creation of professional-looking Web sites with little or no coding. Site templates are the heart of this capability—with several mouse clicks, portal managers can select from one of several site templates to create the basic structure for various types of sites.
SharePoint Server 2007 includes several new templates for common portal sites. A template called the Collaboration Portal includes the basic structure for an organization's top-level portal site or portal sites for major divisions or departments (such as human resources or research and development). In addition, the new Publishing Portal site template provides the structure for an organization's Internet-facing corporate portal.
For an illustration of the top-level page in the Collaboration Portal and a description of its components, see "Anatomy of a SharePoint Site".
Better Profiling, Content Targeting, Authentication
SharePoint Server 2007 extends the profiling and personalization capabilities introduced with SPS 2003, which allowed portal managers to import and extend user profile information stored in Active Directory (AD) and to tailor site content to specific audiences.
Improved profile import. As did its predecessor, SharePoint Server 2007 provides services for storing and managing user profile information. Among other uses, profiles allow administrators to define site privileges for users and tailor content to specific user audiences. To simplify creation of profiles in SharePoint, SharePoint Server 2007 can import existing user profile information from a variety of sources, including AD and other Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directories. SPS 2003 could import user profile information only from AD.
More flexible targeting. As was true of the previous version, SharePoint Server 2007 portal managers can personalize SharePoint pages by making content on them selectively available to user audiences. (Individual workers can similarly tailor content on their personal sites.) With SPS 2003, administrators could define audiences that included groups of users in the product's profile store. SharePoint Server 2007 expands this capability, allowing administrators to define audiences based on other types of groups, such as distribution lists imported from Exchange or AD security groups. This could greatly reduce the work required of portal managers to personalize sites by allowing them to leverage already defined group and membership information rather than having to re-create that information in SharePoint by hand.
Support for non-Windows authentication. SharePoint Server 2007 also provides more flexible options for authenticating users than SPS 2003 did. For example, SharePoint Server 2007 can authenticate users stored in LDAP directories, such as the Linux-based Fedora directory server. The feature takes advantage of ASP.NET 2.0's versatile support for authentication providers. Support for LDAP directories will particularly benefit extranets and Internet portals, where such directories are commonly used as the central store of user and group information.
More Usable Personal Sites
New Web Parts will help individual workers create more useful personal portal sites sometimes called "My Sites." One of SharePoint's more popular features with users, personal portal sites provide a convenient locus for storing and accessing important documents, tasks lists, and contacts, and for linking to other relevant information, such as other Web sites or applications. Users can also make selected information on their personal sites searchable and visible to other users.
Among the new Web Parts are the following:
Improved Site Management and Administration
Portal managers and IT administrators get better control and visibility of site collections (top-level Web sites that contain multiple subsites) in SharePoint Server 2007. This will particularly benefit corporate portals, which often have large site collections. Specifically, a new utility called Site Manager makes it easier to examine the overall structure of a collection, change how subsites are organized (rearranging the hierarchy of sites, for instance), and bulk-delete old or unused sites. A separate tool allows administrators to scan a site or collection of sites for broken links.
(For an illustration of the Site Manager utility, see "New Tool Improves Site Management".)
In addition, SharePoint Server 2007 gets several other enhancements in administration tools courtesy of WSS 3.0, including the following:
Upgrade Could Be Difficult
SharePoint Server 2007 is built on ASP.NET 2.0, the .NET Framework 3.0, and WSS 3.0, all of which are major revisions. Also, some features from previous versions of the SharePoint products have been eliminated. Consequently, customers might face some of the following problems when upgrading to SharePoint Server 2007:
Microsoft provides tools to help ease migration woes—for example, it supplies a utility to help upgrade customized site templates to work with the new version. In addition, an upgrade advisor tool will scan existing SharePoint sites and report potential upgrade problems. Nonetheless, customers with portals and team sites built on the previous versions of SharePoint—particularly those with large, heavily customized sites—will want to move cautiously. While it is possible that some small, relatively simple sites can be upgraded in place (i.e., all data and content is upgraded at once), most customers will likely choose a more gradual approach, upgrading select sites or groups of sites after thorough testing in the lab.
It is possible to run old and new versions of SharePoint side by side on the same server, which in principle makes migration more palatable by allowing organizations to gradually migrate sites and content without the need to purchase and install separate hardware. However, such an approach may be impractical. According to Microsoft's TechNet Web site, "a more robust server environment is needed to maintain the performance benchmarks" customers have established with SPS 2003. Thus, unless a customer's current hardware environment has spare capacity, new hardware will be needed to support the greater resource demands of SharePoint Server 2007.
Because upgrading a large SPS 2003 infrastructure to SharePoint Server 2007 could prove daunting, systems integrators and other partners will likely step in to help. As SharePoint Server 2007 adoption begins to ramp up, those partners will find opportunities to help customers identify and address potential upgrade problems, plan for and set up physical infrastructure and required software components, assist with migration, and learn and take advantage of the release's many new features.
Requirements, Pricing, and Resources
SharePoint Server 2007, which was released in Nov. 2006, requires Windows Server 2003, WSS 3.0, and the .NET Framework 3.0 (which includes the Windows Workflow Foundation and ASP.NET 2.0). In addition, the product requires either SQL Server 2000 SP4 or higher or SQL Server 2005 SP1 or higher. (Microsoft recommends SQL Server 2005.)
The features described in this article are available for users with the purchase of SharePoint Server 2007 Standard Client Access Licenses (CALs). The Standard CAL starts at US$94 (volume discounts are available) and is bundled in the Core CAL suite, which also includes CALs for Systems Management Server, Exchange, and Windows Server.
The home page for SharePoint Server 2007 and WSS 3.0 is www.microsoft.com/sharePoint/default.mspx.
The Office 2007 Web site is www.microsoft.com/office/preview.
The new Excel Services spreadsheet engine in SharePoint Server 2007 is described in "Excel Server in SharePoint 2007" on page 22 of the Nov. 2006 Update.
SharePoint Server 2007 BI features are outlined in "SharePoint 2007 Expands Business Intelligence" on page 16 of the Dec. 2006 Update.
SharePoint's new document management features are described in "Document Management with SharePoint Server 2007" on page 12 of the Feb. 2007 Update.
Records management features are covered in "SharePoint 2007 Automates Records Management" on page 12 of the Mar. 2007 Update.
Updates to SharePoint's search capabilities are described in "SharePoint 2007 Improves Enterprise Search" on page 8 of the Mar. 2007 Update.
Features for Web content management are covered in "SharePoint Server Delivers Web Content Management" of the Apr. 2007 Update.