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In-Depth

8 Third-Party SharePoint Vendors To Watch

More than 200 partners showcased tools aimed at extending the Microsoft team collaboration platform at its annual SharePoint Conference. Here's a snapshot of eight that caught our eyes.

The Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2011 in October was the largest SharePoint event in Microsoft's history, a point that was underscored by the significant number of third-party vendors introducing new tools aimed at enhancing or simplifying the administration of the popular collaboration platform

There were "more than 200" Microsoft partners on the exhibit floor at the event, held in Anaheim, Calif., according to Kurt DelBene, president of the Microsoft Office Division, who provided that stat during his keynote address.

We spoke to several partners at the conference who were rolling out new SharePoint products. Here's a snapshot, in alphabetical order, based on a few quick trips to the exhibit hall, which was well attended. (Note: We didn't rank or categorize the vendors by function, but a July survey of 510 IT professionals by Forrester Research did conduct such a poll. See those results here.)

Click on a vendor's name to jump to that section.
Colligo
GSX
Idera
Neudesic


Colligo for SharePoint Line
Vancouver-based Colligo Networks already has a successful line of SharePoint products in its Colligo Contributor suite. According to CEO and President Barry Jinks, the Contributor line -- consisting of Contributor File Manager, Contributor Client and Contributor Add-In for Outlook -- has 4,000 customers worldwide, with "hundreds of thousands of seats sold" in 55 countries. "It's been very highly adopted by the SharePoint community," he said.

Contributor File Manager is a document management product that links folders in Windows File Explorer to SharePoint. Contributor Client enables SharePoint access for mobile or remote users. And Contributor Add-In for Outlook lets users access SharePoint and manage documents via Outlook. All three products are aimed at driving SharePoint adoption, according to Jinks. "The idea is to get user adoption up by making SharePoint an evolution, not a revolution, for users," Jinks said.

At the SharePoint conference, the Silver Certified Microsoft ISV announced the launch of three new SharePoint products to further promote user adoption: Colligo Administrator, Colligo Email Manager and Colligo Briefcase. Along with the Contributor family, the new products comprise the Colligo for SharePoint line.

Colligo
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Screenshot of Colligo Briefcase, which lets users automatically synch SharePoint content to their iPads.

Colligo Administrator provides a single point of management for organizations "that integrates all of Colligo's desktop and mobile applications," according to a release from the company. The product is designed to free users from having to configure SharePoint access. Colligo Email Manager lets users manipulate SharePoint documents via Outlook. Whereas the Add-In for Outlook product found in the Contributor suite allows offline access to SharePoint, "this is a product that works just online," Jinks said.

Finally, Colligo Briefcase, currently in beta and scheduled for release in November, enables users of Apple's iPad tablet to synch and access SharePoint content, whether or not they're offline. "It's intended to be a simple application, but highly secure," Jinks said. He added Colligo is working on a similar app for other tablet OSes, including Android and the forthcoming Windows 8. [Back to vendor list]


Cybozu SP Apps 2010
Tokyo-based Cybozu Inc. is breaking into the U.S. market after achieving success in Japan with their user interface shells for SharePoint. The company recently opened a new office in Irvine, Calif., according to Koji Matsuda, sales and marketing manager with the Cybozu Global Business Division. The company claims to have 3.2 million users worldwide across 30,000 companies.

Cybozu's SharePoint products are offered in two different bundles: "SP List Kit" or "SP List Apps." The SP List Apps include a scheduler that displays the agendas of individual team members to enable project coordination. There's also a discussion app that consolidates text discussions in one place with the aim of avoiding unwieldy e-mail threads.

The SP List Kit contains six shell user interfaces for SharePoint. It includes a bulk updater that lets users set up search criteria using text boxes with drop-down menus. Users can replace, update or delete the field values of list items in SharePoint. SP List Kit also includes a feature to help copy list items. A search shell with fields and drop-down menus facilitates searches using Microsoft's FAST search engine technology in SharePoint. SP List Kit also includes a toolbar navigation solution, a menu for jumping to the custom list page or library page, and a sidebar feature that offers filtering capabilities. [Back to vendor list]


GSX Monitor and Analyzer 10.0
Geneva-based GSX showed off version 10 of its Monitor and Analyzer product for SharePoint at the event. The company has been in existence for more than 15 years, with market presence in the United States and the United Kingdom, plus a research lab in Nice, France. GSX's SharePoint solution was launched on September 28, and is designed to work with SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010.

GSX Monitor and Analyzer is an agentless solution that allows system administrators to monitor SharePoint performance based on the user experience or "natural rate data," according to Jean-François Piot, vice president of sales and business development at GSX Groupware Solutions. If it takes five minutes to download a document, SharePoint is not working from the user perspective, he said, even though other indicators may show no issues with SharePoint's performance. IT pros can chose what to test as a user, and they can set up alerts. The product also can create reports fairly quickly. "In five minutes, you can make a report," Piot said. "It's impossible to do that in SCOM [Microsoft System Center Operations Manager]."

GSX Analyzer
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The GSX Analyzer, showing SharePoint Server uptime and downtime stats.

GSX Monitor 10.0 can be used to monitor SharePoint performance and availability on Internet, intranet and extranet sites. It also can monitor SharePoint Web services and provide alerts on various management criteria, including index success, the availability of the SQL database, disk space and log errors. In addition to targeting SharePoint, GSX offers enterprise collaboration and messaging monitoring products for Microsoft Exchange, IBM Lotus Domino and BlackBerry Enterprise Server, among others. [Back to vendor list]


Harmon.ie Social E-Mail for SharePoint
Milpitas, Calif.-based harmon.ie demonstrated its add-in to Microsoft Outlook that streamlines the use of SharePoint. The company's various Enterprise Edition products also work with IBM Lotus Notes and Google Docs to enable collaboration and "social e-mail" capabilities. Harmon.ie moved into the Microsoft space after working as an IBM partner. The company helped to integrate Microsoft SharePoint with IBM WebSphere "and we decided to embrace SharePoint," explained Yaacov Cohen, CEO and cofounder of harmon.ie.

The company's approach is to combine social networking, presence and federation (called "aggregation" at harmon.ie) all into the e-mail client. The Enterprise Edition for SharePoint pulls its user profiles from SharePoint into the Outlook client and can even see user profiles in documents. Users can share documents by simply dragging and dropping them into the e-mail client. The e-mail just sends a link to a document that is centrally stored via SharePoint -- an approach that can cut down on the e-mail message-storage requirements of organizations. Only users authorized within SharePoint can open the documents, with security enforced through SharePoint settings. The company claims that its product boosts SharePoint use and productivity.

Harmon.ie
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Screenshot of harmon.ie's Microsoft Outlook extension used with SharePoint.

Harmon.ie for SharePoint 3.0 Enterprise Edition works with Microsoft's collaboration solutions too, such as Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 R2 or Microsoft Lync 2010. It enables Office Communicator or Lync sessions to be launched via a SharePoint profile or via a document.

The product works with Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 or Outlook 2007 on the client side. On the server side it requires SharePoint 2010, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, or Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. Microsoft's hosted solutions also are supported, such as SharePoint Online or Office 365. [Back to vendor list]

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Idera SharePoint Backup and Diagnostic Manager
Idera, a Gold Certified ISV and provider of SharePoint management solutions for Windows server systems, announced several products at the SharePoint conference. The first was SharePoint backup 3.1, designed to "provide quicker [SharePoint] backups and quicker restores," according to Wayne Washburn, director of SharePoint products and solutions at the Houston-based company.

Washburn noted that the backup-and-recovery process in SharePoint can be cumbersome: "Often, you have to follow the 50 steps [outlined] in some MSDN article, or something like that. [SharePoint backup 3.1] really tries to hone in on that pain point."

Based on anecdotal reports, Washburn said the backup product can be two to four times faster than comparable products. Besides enabling faster recovery times, version 3.1 features the capability to restore the search index after an outage, as well as protection coverage for more SharePoint farm components, including IIS settings and the SharePoint root. The product is priced at $995 per server.

Idera
[Click on image for larger view.]
The management console of Idera's diagnostic manager for SharePoint.

The company also announced SharePoint diagnostic manager 2.6, which lets users manage SharePoint performance on the farm, page or server level. "It's a great tool that consultants use because they can load in on a laptop, sit down and point at a farm and go through a discovery process, and then quickly help you pinpoint where the problem is," Washburn said. The new version lets administrators set rules for how it responds to specific alerts. It also has improved SNMP support that enables administrators to forward alerts to monitoring products such as Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager. Pricing for diagnostic manager 2.6 is at $1,995 per server. [Back to vendor list]


Neverfail Continuity Protection for SharePoint
Neverfail Inc., with an office in Austin, Texas, talked about its failover recovery and continuous availability solution for SharePoint at the event. The company, which is a Microsoft and VMware partner, also recently released its Virtual Availability Director product that extends the management capabilities of the VMware vSphere Client to help avoid application downtime.

Neverfail for Microsoft SharePoint 2010 includes a Continuous Availability Director dashboard view for monitoring the status of a SharePoint Server and services. The software can be used to ensure high availability on local servers. It can also be used on remote sites for disaster recovery. It also has a WANSmart feature that enables the replication of SharePoint over long distances, with the aim of overcoming bandwidth obstacles.

When failover occurs, the service can take as long to restart as it takes a secondary server to start, which is about 20 seconds to 40 seconds, explained Holly Fuller, marketing programs specialist at Neverfail. The cloning technology is fast too since the replication technology copies only the changed data. Fuller said that Neverfail has been a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner for about seven to eight years. In addition to its SharePoint solution, Neverfail offers business continuity, high availability and disaster recovery solutions for Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft SQL Server, as well as IBM Lotus Domino and RIM BlackBerry Enterprise Server. [Back to vendor list]


Neudesic Pulse 2.0
Irvine-based national system integrator (NSI) and Gold Certified ISV Neudesic launched a new version of its enterprise social networking product, Pulse, during the conference. According to Neudesic CEO Parsa Rohani, Pulse was designed to address the shortcomings of traditional methods of communication within organizations -- e-mail, telephone and instant messaging.

"When you looked at the platforms that are available for communication, none of these mediums lend themselves to sharing of knowledge broadly and on a regular basis," he said during an interview. "They are very private forms of communication. When you call somebody, there's only you and that other person, or four others in a conference call. When you e-mail somebody, you choose who you e-mail to [but] you may have missed people who are interested in your e-mail.

"We looked at the paradigm of Facebook and Twitter and said, 'How do we take that, learn from what they've done, and create a platform that is...tailor-made for the enterprise?'"

Pulse is Neudesic's answer to improving that paradigm. Neudesic touts Pulse as an enterprise social software that works with SharePoint to facilitate rapid and broad communication throughout an organization. Essentially, it is designed to make SharePoint My Site pages more social. As with Facebook and other consumer-oriented social network sites, Pulse lets users "follow" people or groups within their organizations, make and rate comments, and start discussions. All the activities are "surfaced" in SharePoint. For mobile workers, it also works with all major smartphone platforms.

Neudesic
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Neudesic Pulse integrated with SharePoint My Site and with a SharePoint document.

Version 2.0, released during the SharePoint conference, features deeper integration with SharePoint. Users can now follow any entity in SharePoint, such as a document, and view its full activity stream. The Social Embed feature allows conversations to be accessible via any application the organization uses.

Pricing for on-premises deployments of Pulse 2.0 varies, but hosted implementations start at $12 per user per month. [Back to vendor list]


Quest Migration Suite for SharePoint
Quest Software's portfolio of SharePoint products, particularly products aimed at migration, is not slim, a point that Bill Evans, Quest's vice president of the SharePoint business unit, alluded to during an interview at the conference.

"Historically, we've had a number of different products to do [SharePoint] migrations. Different products, different purchases, different schemes," he said. "But we've done away with all that. Right now, we have one tool to rule them all."

That tool is the Migration Suite for SharePoint, which the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based ISV is touting as the first "all-in-one" agentless migration product to meet what Evans called Quest's "two-plus-two" principle: Products should be installable in two minutes, and users should be able to derive value from them in two minutes. "Migration Suite meets those goals," he said. "You can go online, download the eval, and it'll install in two minutes. And if you have two SharePoint sites, you can move stuff in two minutes."

Quest
[Click on image for larger view.]
The Project Mode view in Quest's Migration Suite for SharePoint.

Migration Suite lets users migrate to and from any SharePoint deployment, regardless of whether it's on premises or cloud-based, or a combination of both. Users can also migrate their Exchange Public Folders and Windows Files to any implementation of SharePoint. Basically, Evans said, "it doesn't matter what you're migrating, and it doesn't matter what you're migrating to or from."

The "two-plus-two" quality of the suite would appeal to SMBs, but Evans added that it also has a robust feature set suitable for enterprises. "It has the enterprise features. You want to add metadata, you want to schedule, you want project management -- it'll do all that," he said. [Back to vendor list]

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