Stay Tuned For More Microsoft Server Changes

The company is moving toward converging SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) and Content Management Server (CMS) functionality into a single "server system," due in 2006, CRN has learned.

Microsoft officials have discussed the plans so much that some partners thought the move had been definitively announced. It has not.

SPS, the focal point of Microsoft's collaboration strategy, hosts departmental collaboration sites and deals with Web content. CMS is more geared for traditional content management.

"CMS and SharePoint are merging, and it makes sense," said one source close to Microsoft. A solution provider in the Northwest concurred that the rationale is sound: "We're doing a lot of point integration between CMS and SPS. I don't think we have one CMS deal that does not also include the portal," he said.

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Despite the buzz, Microsoft remains officially mum. "It's too soon to comment about the future of SharePoint products and technologies or Content Management Server," said Erik Ryan, product manager of Microsoft Office Sharepoint, via email. The company remains committed to its "Office System approach," which will provide programs, servers and services to improve productivity, he said.

But several sources said the plan is a go for 2006, with the new server system to be part of the Office 12 product wave. Office 12 is the planned successor to Office 2003.

Microsoft's server plans have been fluid for some time. Three years ago the company announced, and then nixed, plans for an e-business suite that would have melded functions offered by its content management, e-commerce, and BizTalk servers.. Since then it has worked to tighten both organizational and technical ties between SPS and CMS.

For example, just over a year ago, the company moved the CMS group into the SPS group, which is part of the company's broader Information Worker business unit. That, in theory, moved it out of the Server Applications group, led by Paul Flessner.

Partner sources said Microsoft is building more servers with tight ties to Office front-end applications in hopes of driving more Office revenue and upgrades. There are even plans for server versions of some of the Office desktop applications, including an InfoPath server.

A Midwestern partner with knowledge of the plans said customer feedback to Microsoft-conducted research showed that CMS/SPS integration needs improvement. "The result is they're doing a server system that will offer collaboration, portals and content management," he said.

While SPS does rudimentary content management for posted pages, it does not build on the core content management expertise that flows into products such as Interwoven, solution providers said. CMS, on the other hand, builds on domain knowledge Microsoft acquired along with nCompass four years ago.

A Southeastern VAR said even the latest, year-old "Spark" connector linking CMS and SPS leaves much to be desired. "CMS is clueless about interactive content that's not embedded in a page. SharePoint services must be much better integrated into CMS," he said.

In fact, Microsoft has already moved some core collaboration services into Windows Server in the form of Windows SharePoint Services. It is now working on a similar shift of key orchestration and workflow services into the infrastructure software as well, sources said.

The melding of the offerings will come under a Microsoft "Document Lifecycle Management" rubric, other partners said.

This is just the latest example of Microsoft shifting technologies around between various product groups and even generations of products. In an attempt to keep customers happy, Microsoft has pulled much of the functionality promised for the delayed Longhorn operating system forward for use with older operating systems, observers said.