When Microsoft presented the customer preview of Office 2013 as well as SharePoint 2013 and Project 2013 in July, CEO Steve Ballmer made a point of personally presenting the strategy underlying the new versions, calling the 2013 releases the most ambitious projects Microsoft has undertaken in the last decades.
A glance at the product pipeline of the software company helps to furnish a little perspective regarding that statement: The next generation of operating systems is waiting in the wings with Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Windows Server 2012. Microsoft has announced that it will (re-)enter the highly promising tablet market with the Surface. The rebranding of the Hotmail e-mail service in Outlook.com moves cloud services and client software closer together. The idea behind these concerted efforts: Microsoft wants to create a uniform user experience — beginning with the operating system, to client and web applications right up to cloud applications for all types of end devices (desktop, phone, tablet) and for private and business customers alike.
Due to its widespread use in private and professional environments, the Office suite constitutes a major component of Microsoft’s economic success. The same goes for SharePoint in the area of business customers, which has morphed into a cross-company IT platform. SharePoint is the presentation layer for business data via the business connectivity services; in addition, it can connect ERP systems to the Office world, for instance.
SharePoint 2013 - Four key investment areas
The new version of SharePoint 2013 is the response to current IT trends. Microsoft is more an early adopter than a trendsetter in this context. Major developments here concern leading-edge forms of collaboration that have been established via social media such as Facebook and Twitter yet also through apps and corresponding digital marketplaces like Apple’s iTunes Store. Cloud services and the usage of mobile end devices are already common practice, especially with private customers. Microsoft takes up such trends with SharePoint 2013, focusing on four key investment areas:
- Cloud readiness: The architecture was geared to efficient interaction within and with the cloud.
- Social collaboration: Functions for modern forms of collaboration were provided.
- Mobile devices: Collaboration when using mobile end devices is supported.
- Web content management: The focus is on the efficient provision and user-friendly presentation of contents in the intranet and internet.
Microsoft has systematically carried forward the basic SharePoint functions, so that from a user’s point of view SharePoint 2013, like SharePoint 2010 8, is more of an evolution than a revolution.
Major changes in the architecture
Although Microsoft already offers SharePoint 2010 in the cloud, the system has been hardly suitable for complex scenarios. The reason: In order to be able to guarantee efficient cloud operation, the functionality of the architecture had to be limited. Microsoft tackles this problem with SharePoint 2013, systematically banking on modular and service-oriented architectures as well as open web standards. Services have been outsourced to their own servers such as the Workflow Server or Office Web Apps Server. Other functions have been bundled in their own services, like the App Management Service for the provision of additional features. The data transfer has been further optimised: on the one hand, by separating BLOBs (binary large objects) and transferring only the deltas between the database and web frontend. On the other hand, by way of a new request management that makes it possible to grant priority to requests that are critical to system performance. End users profit from it by tangibly improved response times.