Rob LaMear, founder and CEO of Fpweb.net, the world's first SharePoint hosting business, spoke on the topic of SharePoint as a service in his Sharing the Point session. Before getting into the cloud, however, Rob said of the SharePoint community that it's "about all of us, sharing information … it's special [and] it's why we're traveling."
Rob showed a slide featuring a diagram which represented "the future of the cloud, the future of SharePoint." Talking through the diagram, Rob said that "on the left side is Microsoft with Office 365, in the middle are groups like Fpweb.net who allow customization, on the right is you with your own cloud … the challenge is securely connecting the three." Rob explained that "We do this today with ADSL2, or federated services."
Rob stated that "SharePoint is a powerful tool, [and] you can do anything you want with it," going on to say that it "allows you to help people in ways that are amazing, you just need to think outside the box." As for why you might want to put SharePoint in the cloud, Rob said that, "For the user, it becomes easier to use," but allowed that "it becomes more complex for administrators as it becomes easier for end users." Rob went on to say that once the "why" has been covered, questions that still remain include: "Who will manage it?"; "What are the latest security standards?"; "Where will I house the server?"; and "How will I stay focused on my core business?"
Rob then moved on to discussing "SharePoint as a service, SharePoint out in the cloud … what is SaaS and who's using it?" Rob provided Salesforce.com, Twitter, and Google Mail as examples of SaaS offerings, and showed a slide demonstrating "Where we were just a few years ago, kind of where we are now, and the cloud," or, the future. Rob said that "Five years ago, you had to take care of everything," then about three years ago, servers were put in data centers, and co-location became the norm. Most recently, about a year and a half ago, with managed services, it became possible to "let someone else take care of it." Rob says of SharePoint in the cloud that "it just works," and uses electricity and the power company as an analogy. "I think electricity is SaaS … it's operated as a service … I don't want to crank the generator and make electricity." Most importantly, Rob said that, "As a company, being in the cloud … allows you to focus on your core business."
Rob also candidly said that "Cloud is not for everyone… self-assessment is necessary, [and there are] questions to take back to your team and ask yourselves." Such questions include: "Do you have the money to put a server in?"; "Do you have the skills or do you need a consultant?"; and "Do you have the resources to make it work?"; Will you be able to "optimize it to work at its best?" (Stating here, by way of example, that "Joel [Oleson] can make SharePoint dance."); do you have the expertise to combat security threats? ("We have 42,000 attacks per day in our network [at Fpweb], half from china, another third from Russia, and the rest from all over."); and, again, "Do you have time to focus on your core business?"
Discussing what you should look for in a provider of hosted SharePoint, Rob pointed out several key areas to focus on: "Does it just work?" (Again using his electricity analogy, Rob asked, "When you flip the switch, does it work?"); Quality of customer support; Knowledge ("Do they know the product as well as you do, or better?"); Regulatory and compliance requirements; Scalabilty; and "managed hosting." In addition to Fpweb, Rob mentioned Office 365 and Rackspace as recommended providers of hosted SharePoint.
In conclusion, Rob asked "Where is this going?" and answered by saying that "We think in the next two or three years, you'll be able to go out to a website , click and sign up for a site, and have it in a few minutes… we also think you'll be able to go on that site and drop in a Bamboo Web Part … and, like electricity, it will just work [and] you'll also be able to connect that Web Part to another data source, and it will [also] just work."
In Q&A which followed his session, Rob was asked, "How does Fpweb fit with Office 365?" Rob responded that "Office 365 is pretty well defined, and will be perfect for about 70% of users [as is], [whereas] Fpweb.net sits right in the middle of the stack, [and] we allow customization, allowing companies like Bamboo to upload Web Parts… and [we] provide full server control." At its core, Rob explained that "Fpweb is about customization of SharePoint in the cloud."
Another question Rob fielded had to do with the current state of security in the cloud. Rob's response was that "Right now it is secure. It takes more time, but it can be done. The key is it has to be easier to do if we want more people to use the cloud… when ADSL3 comes out, we'll be there."