With the recent release of the SharePoint 2013 Preview, Microsoft has yet again improved its offering in enterprise content management, collaboration, social computing, enterprise search and the business intelligence space. There have been significant investments into each of these areas, and in this whitepaper we will uncover the following new or updated features and how they are going to impact existing SharePoint customers:
SharePoint 2013 Search
- Social Computing
- “Apps” (The Cloud Application Model)
- Web Content Management
- Business Connectivity Services
The great news is that Microsoft has vastly improved SharePoint Search architecture by blending what was previously known as FAST Search directly with SharePoint 2013 Search. The days of maintaining two different farms – one for FAST Search and another for content collaboration – are gone. Search is now one service and it’s everywhere in SharePoint. Search in 2013 will be more tightly integrated with various “Out of Box” (OOB) functionalities like filtering in Document Libraries and lists.
Important benefits from Search architectural changes are:
- Continuous crawling option
- Language detection and entity extraction in iFilter
- Phonetic name variations for People Search
- Remote SharePoint Servers and Exchange Content Sources
- OOB Query Building Tool
- Keyword query language enhancements
- Entity extraction through Term Store (Managed Metadata)
- Export and Import Search Configuration options
- Customize “Did you mean …” feature using Query spelling correction
- Query Rules Engine
- ResultsScriptWebPart with document preview
- Refreshed User Interface (UI) of Search Center
- Search REST Service for remote execution of queries from client applications
SharePoint 2013 Remote API
Why is it important?
As search becomes more and more integrated in the overall architecture of SharePoint services, site navigation based on search will become the norm rather than the exception. Being able to use search for content querying, analytics, navigation, filtering and searching will make content more easily discoverable in less time, with more accurate and precise results. It behooves SharePoint customers to start envisioning and evaluating Search-based approaches to content navigation.
Some of these improvements will also make SharePoint’s search capabilities easier for an IT staff to administer. As an example, continuous crawling should reduce helpdesk calls related to recent uploads not being in the content index yet. As an additional example, better search of Exchange data stores will improve SharePoint as an e-discovery tool.
Authentication and Authorization
A very important and impactful change in SharePoint 2013 has Claims Mode as the default mode of authentication for a web application. Classic mode is still present and supported, but only if configured directly with PowerShell commands. In fact, Microsoft has made this point more concrete by removing the Classic mode option from the web interface for web applications in Central Administration.
Internally, the architecture has been improved to track federated authentication cookies in the new distributed cache service.
Microsoft discourages the use of Classic mode of authentication in SharePoint 2013 because the application services authentication is internally dependent on Claims authentication itself.
Embracing more open source technology, SharePoint 2013 now supports OAuth, the open standard for authorization. This is clearly a step ahead in the authorization area and is particularly useful for the new apps framework in SharePoint 2013.
Why is it important?
Microsoft’s clear direction towards Claims authentication and Open authorization promises better cloud integration and seamless single sign-on for the web and cloud, as well as federated identity for SharePoint applications. It opens the SharePoint platform to a myriad of integration possibilities and allows authentication to extranets using partner credentials.
Building Internet sites and extranets that rely on external identity providers such as LiveID or Facebook will become more common. IT departments that support these sites need to become knowledgeable in implementing and managing federated identity systems and their inherent security implications.
This is one area where changes were highly anticipated due to Microsoft’s marketing pitch that promised big investments in social computing earlier this year. The SharePoint 2013 preview shows promising additions, including:
- Ability to follow people as well as sites, documents and tags
- Company feeds
- Preview of documents directly in the news feed
- Use of @ and hash tags for group collaboration and sharing
- Full integration of social features with Windows Phone 7, and therefore Windows Phone 8
- New site definition for Communities which has various promising features like discussions, moderation, discovery, membership and reputation model
- Security trimmed site and document activity updates in the feed
- Ability to follow data integration with consolidated feeds web part
- “My followers” control showing following and followers’ information
- Improved discussion forums
Why is it important?
Many customers have been willing to go the 2010 route from SharePoint 2007 but have previously been forced to look into third-party add-ons if they were serious about the online social experience for their users. The new version of SharePoint brings many of those features directly into the product. Social is an enterprise strategy which requires heavy planning and a cultural shift for organizations that have yet to explore this area. SharePoint 2013 is here to ease that experience with the tools which are familiar in the space.
Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Yammer is a clear indication of upcoming social enterprise capabilities which will be uncovered with tight integration of Yammer into SharePoint.
High-Level Workflow Infrastructure
When it comes to business process automation and SharePoint, workflow capabilities have received a major boost in productivity with a couple of highly anticipated features since SharePoint 2007:
- The ability to design a state machine workflow
- The ability to have looping in a workflow out of the box
SharePoint 2013 has now baked both of these features into the product. With the state machine workflows capability, SharePoint workflows have matured to another level in the business process workflow area. In SharePoint 2013, a new concept of stages has been introduced, allowing a workflow to have many stages and allowing movement of that workflow from one stage to another using a defined mechanism.
The workflow story does not end here, though; the biggest workflow change of the 2013 preview is the new workflow model with Windows Azure. New SharePoint 2013 style workflows can be hosted by the new product called Windows Azure Workflow. This means the workflows are no longer limited to being hosted in the same server as SharePoint, which had the potential for significant scalability issues. Users will now be able to install or setup a Windows Azure Workflow farm of multiple servers and connect the SharePoint farm to the Azure workflow farm.
All workflows are declarative in SharePoint 2013. Workflows that require custom code need to be created as custom WCF services and called using the newly available HTTP activities. Being able to use workflows as the business logic for the new apps in the SharePoint 2013 app framework will help rapid application development efforts significantly.
Why is it important?
With state machines, loops and Windows Azure integration, SharePoint workflows have overcome the most critical limitations of workflow offerings in 2007 and 2010. Users can think of designing real business process workflows directly in SharePoint designer. Stages allow users to switch from one stage to another and then back almost effortlessly, which is exactly what most of real life business processes demand. The scalability issue which has bitten consumers of SharePoint workflow hard in the past should be resolved, as workflows no longer need to be hosted in the SharePoint servers. Instead, they can be hosted separately in Windows Azure Workflow.
Apps - The Cloud Application Model
As a new way of developing and providing extensions for SharePoint, Apps redefines the model of customizations with the ability to work on the hosted SharePoint platform, in a public cloud setting, or in an onsite SharePoint deployment.
Here are some of the key features of the new App Model:
Apps for SharePoint 2013
- The code for an app runs in different places depending on where the app is hosted.
- The new app model isolates the app from the main domain, thereby reducing the security threats to the main site and its data.
- Apps hosted in the cloud can authenticate to SharePoint using either client-side code with a cross-domain library or server-side code with OAuth.
- Resource allocation to the apps can be monitored by tenant administrators or site collection administrators.
Apart from this, Microsoft is making available an App Store which will have apps for download using a purchasing platform. The good news is that the App Store concept is also available as an internal service which will allow corporations to provide apps targeted specifically and available exclusively to their organizations.
Why is it important?
With the emergence of App Stores as a widely accepted, easy-to-use method of extending software platforms, it’s not surprising to see this model show up in SharePoint 2013. IT departments will need to develop governance around this capability, making decisions about the availability of the public App Store and laying ground rules for the corporate App Store.
SharePoint Extension Types & APIs
Web Content Management
With MOSS 2007 and SharePoint 2010 publishing features, the Microsoft SharePoint platform took off in the web content publishing space, bringing down the costs and pains of intranet web content management. However, although many impressive Internet-facing sites have been built on SharePoint 2010, key areas of functionality around uniform cross-site collection navigation, search engine optimization, and URL shortening were lacking. With SharePoint 2013, Microsoft takes some serious steps in making SharePoint a more competitive platform by having on-page SEO tools; URL control and localization management; automatic Site Map creation and optimized HTML; Search-based user experiences; and catalog management.
Additionally, SharePoint 2013 will introduce the Machine Translation Service, a service for converting content from one language to another.
SharePoint 2013 Content Model
Why is it important?
It’s now time for companies that use SharePoint as an internal collaboration tool to consider the benefits of running Internet sites on the same platform as their intranets.
The SharePoint team has clearly listened to the industry demands and has filled gaps in the product architecture to make sure that SharePoint is able to run large public-facing sites in a way that further reduces the need for third-party add-ons.
For companies that lack multilingual content managers or the budget to pay prohibitive translation costs, the Machine Translation Service can provide a major leg up.
It should be noted that this service is similar to those online that translate a web page on the fly and will likely suffer some of the same cultural/grammatical nuances that are addressed by full service translation agencies. Still, for the general audience of most multinational organizations, the benefits of this feature are significant.
Business Connectivity Services
In SharePoint 2010, Microsoft took a step forward in business data connectivity services by enabling the read/write support to external systems, but neglected some key features.
SharePoint 2013 comes up and fills those gaps with a new concept of Event Receivers for External lists. The event-handling infrastructure in SharePoint 2013 has been improved to allow subscriptions to notifications from external systems about any data change. Businesses can now leverage the notification capability to automate and streamline existing business processes. With SharePoint 2013, as in past versions, it’s not necessarily about removing humans from a business process, but making their involvement in it easier and more efficient.
Also, SharePoint 2013 now supports the OData (Open Data) protocol, which enables connecting to and pulling data from sources that support OData using HTTP, Atom, and JSON. To make the developer’s job easy, Visual Studio 2012 automatically generates OData external content types given the REST endpoint of the external data source.
Why is it important?
With support for OData protocol, business data integration is now easier and more flexible than ever. For existing SharePoint clients who are planning on integrating with external systems, the new version of SharePoint provides flexibility and better control with event receivers, sorting and filtering capability as well as REST support.
This is the easiest that data integration has ever been with SharePoint. Businesses with external data silos can now re-evaluate SharePoint as a data integration tool.
One common deterrent from using SharePoint has been the limited support for mobile views in previous versions. SharePoint 2013 has taken a step in the right direction to improve the mobile rendering capabilities.
SharePoint 2013 now offers a Channels capability which allows developers to target specific master pages to specific devices, creating a tailored experience on different devices. SharePoint 2013’s user interface has been written in HTML5, and SharePoint 2013 natively supports iOS on the iPad. Users are able to add, delete, or edit documents directly from the iPad.
SharePoint 2013 provides a wide range of benefits over SharePoint 2010. Businesses that are already leveraging SharePoint 2010 should consider how SharePoint 2013 can further improve their investment. The following “benefits list” should give users a starting point to help determine next steps: