In-Depth

Microsoft's 2010 Product Roadmap

Redmond will be releasing an arsenal of new enterprise technologies this year including upgrades of Office, SharePoint, SQL Server, Dynamics and more.

The refresh cycle of Microsoft's core product lines kicked off last year with the long-awaited upgrade of Windows -- both the client and server versions. While the release of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 were momentous events in 2009 for Microsoft partners, consider that the calm before the storm.

Of course Windows is the foundation of everything Microsoft has to offer and the upgrades, by all accounts, delivered plenty to build on. Also with the release of Windows Server 2008 R2 late last year, Microsoft shipped a much improved version of its core e-mail server platform, Exchange Server 2010, which adds improved storage capacity, enhanced unified messaging, role-based permissions and a much improved Outlook Web Access client.

Now comes the icing on the cake. As the year progresses, look for key upgrades of Office, SharePoint, BizTalk, SQL Server, the various components of Dynamics and a bevy of others. These products all build on the new versions of Windows. More importantly, many of the new releases are designed to interact with each other, hence offering cross-selling opportunities. For example, the release of Office 2010 and the new Outlook interface will enable many of the new features included in Exchange Server 2010.


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Perhaps no new product in the pipeline offers more ties to other Microsoft new offerings than SharePoint. Whether the subject is a new release of Dynamics, Office, SQL Server, BizTalk or Visual Studio, partners all talk up the respective product's new SharePoint connectivity features, shared workflows and programming interfaces.

SharePoint Server 2010

   

Arguably Microsoft's fastest growing product, SharePoint Server 2010 will offer some key new features including the aforementioned integration with Office, BizTalk, SQL Server and Dynamics, which are all set for major upgrades this year and covered later in this article.


"There's a lot of added functionality in SharePoint Server 2010; it seems like Microsoft has done a really good job of taking the complaints that we've had about the previous version and moving forward on it," says Todd Klindt, an MVP and senior consultant with SharePoint911, a solution provider based in Maineville, Ohio.

Klindt, the author of several books on SharePoint, says the new release for 2010 addresses some key issues customers had with the current version, SharePoint Server 2007. For example, the shared service provider introduced in that release didn't allow administrators to provide more granular control of who had access to what services, Klindt says. "In the 2010 release, they broke it down into individual services rather than one large chunk," he explains.

SharePoint Server 2010 offers improved search. "Search in 2007 was good but it's even better in 2010," Klindt says. "It scales better." For those with money to spend, partners can upsell FAST Search Server 2010 for SharePoint, Klindt adds. In beta now, the FAST add-on will offer high-end enterprise search, which allows for more refined and forensic searches, among other capabilities.

Also new in SharePoint Server 2010 is support for user profiles, social data and enhanced enterprise content management. The upgraded ECM support offers improved document management via Document Sets, which allows users to manage entire sets of documents, spreadsheets and other content types as a common set of work, according to Microsoft. It also adds support for audio, video and images.

Also new in SharePoint Server 2010 is Business Connectivity Services, previously known as the Business Data Catalog. BCS offers both read and write access to data from legacy systems, Web services, databases and other external sources in SharePoint Server 2010 and Office 2010. Microsoft partners will be able to access many of the SharePoint Services via Visual Studio 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2010.

While SQL Server 2008 R2 will introduce some key business intelligence (BI) features, SharePoint Server 2010 will also support the creation of digital dashboards, which can provide key performance indicators of a business. That's been enabled through PerformancePoint, a product that Microsoft last year said would be integrated into SharePoint.

Microsoft also is extending Excel Services in SharePoint Server 2010. Introduced in SharePoint Server 2007, Excel Services lets users run Excel within SharePoint as a Web Part accessible from a browser. Added in SharePoint Server 2010 is support for the ECMAScript object model that supports JavaScript and an API that provides support for REST-based Web services.

Office 2010

   

SharePoint may be the glue that binds individuals and enterprise content both internally and externally but Office is the tool that continues to let individuals generate and share that content. With the Microsoft Office franchise under siege, Redmond is betting big that the newest upgrade this year will reinvigorate its business. The stakes are high. Sales of Office were flat last year but at $17 billion, that accounts for nearly 30 percent of the company's $58.4 billion in fiscal year 2009.

Meanwhile Google Inc., IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and others have lower cost alternatives that for some enterprise users may be adequate. Microsoft is hoping partners will drum up interest in Office 2010 when it ships later this year. Key to fending off Google and others is Microsoft Office Web Apps. As the name implies, Office Web Apps will let individuals store Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote files onto the Web, allowing users to view and edit the documents within a Web browser.

Chad Kempt, owner of Certified Partner Fast Computers in Hagersville, Ontario, Canada, believes the majority of his customers will stick with Office. When customers do complain about the price, he does install OpenOffice. But, he notes: "Every time, I find we're scheduling an install of Microsoft Office within a few weeks because they're not happy with the little differences [in OpenOffice]."

Along with that is Microsoft Office Mobile 2010, which will allow access to those files from smartphone devices. Other key features in Office 2010 include the ability for multiple people to simultaneously edit a file from dispersed locations and a new file manager called Backstage, which replaces the original File menu. Backstage provides a common location for all file management tasks such as saving, sharing, printing and posting files. An upgraded Ribbon will appear in all components of Office, allowing individuals to customize the interface.

Office 2010 is also aimed at making it easier for users to manage large volumes of e-mail, allowing them to manage entire threads and conversations, a favorite with Kempt.

SQL Server 2008 R2

   

When it comes to enterprise databases, Microsoft SQL Server has always played third fiddle with Oracle Corp.'s namesake database server platform and IBM's DB2. Yet for several years, Microsoft SQL Server has been the fastest growing database server offering, according to industry analysts.


Due out by June is SQL Server 2008 R2, the first major upgrade since late 2007. With SQL Server 2008 R2, Redmond is looking to up the ante by introducing new self-service business intelligence (BI) capabilities and master data services, which allow database administrators to manage and audit data records as data is altered.

The self-service BI will be offered by a new technology called PowerPivot (formerly code-named "Project Gemini"), which will allow users in Excel to load data sets of any size from any source, according to Microsoft. Users can then create their own online analytical processing (OLAP) cubes. A version of PowerPivot will also be offered for SharePoint Server 2010.

PowerPivot will let business users create their own BI solutions in Excel with a new in-memory analysis engine that Microsoft says will work on millions of rows of data. "Users can manipulate the data in new ways to create BI solutions and then publish them to SharePoint to collaborate with other users," explains Fausto Ibarra, Microsoft's director of SQL Server product management.

"PowerPivot will be a great product that a lot of Excel power users will really like and, over time, learn to use very effectively," says Andrew Brust, director of new technology at twentysix New York. "The version of Reporting Services that will ship with SQL Server 2008 R2 will be very popular -- its component library feature alone makes it a fantastic advance in self-serve BI capabilities. Its enhanced data visualization capabilities put it over the top."

With SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft is also adding two new SKUs, one edition called Datacenter and one named Parallel Data Warehouse (formerly code-named "Project Madison"). The two represent the most scalable database servers offered by Microsoft to date.

Based on the technology it acquired from DATAllegro, Parallel Data Warehouse will be offered as appliances by partners IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Bull SAS and Dell Inc., among others. Datacenter and Parallel Data Warehouse will cost $57,500 per processor. Those two SKUs will not be offered with a server and CAL combo.

While he sees Parallel Data Warehouse as an important entrance into the large-scale data-warehousing field, Brust questions whether there will be significant uptake for it. "As the cloud becomes more and more data warehouse-ready, I question how big the market will be for on-premises, scale-out appliance solutions like Madison," he says. "[A Windows] Azure implementation of Madison could be a killer cloud app, though."

Windows Azure and SQL Azure

   

Enterprises running large-scale applications on Unix servers are rapidly looking at moving off those platforms as Windows and Linux offer performance and more affordable infrastructure. For its part, as Microsoft looks to bolster its key platforms -- SQL Server and Windows Server -- it's also hedging its bets that the future of computing will be in the cloud.

Starting this month, Windows Azure and SQL Azure are available for businesses. For now Windows Azure provides subscription-based Windows compute hosting for developers. It's hosted in Microsoft data centers but Microsoft is promoting it for developers using Visual Studio. The cloud platform is designed to let developers build and test .NET applications, although Microsoft is quick to point out that Azure supports other open protocols including SOAP, REST, XML, Java and PHP.

Currently Microsoft offers Windows Azure and SQL Azure direct. Microsoft promotes Windows Azure as a platform to run "commodity processes" in the cloud. Specifically that means developers should use it to program in situations where substantial compute resources may be needed. Windows Azure offers developers a platform to test, debug and distribute Web services on the fly without having to acquire or reserve the underlying infrastructure.

"Customers are going to do small things and experiment," predicts IDC analyst Al Gillen. "Maybe they will have a brand-new deployment that isn't necessarily business-critical and they may try deploying it in Widows Azure to see how it works. And if it works well it will of course continue to live there, but a lot of those traditional things that are the meat and potatoes of their business are unlikely to move to Azure very quickly."

Meanwhile, SQL Azure is built on SQL Server and provides a cloud-based relational database platform. Again, it's primarily targeted at developers. Microsoft is positioning it as a multi-tenant database service that allows developers to build and provision database-oriented applications without having to install their own instances of SQL Server. Like the core database, SQL Azure supports Transact-SQL, or T-SQL, allowing database developers to use the same programming procedures.

Beyond developers, Microsoft says early adopters of Windows Azure and SQL Azure will be users who are building Web 2.0 and other collaborative applications. "I believe extranet applications and collaboration scenarios will move to the cloud first," says Microsoft distinguished engineer Yousef Khalidi. "If you're a company that works with suppliers, all of these companies have these scenarios, and many of these are amenable to moving to the cloud sooner than others."

Microsoft is playing catch-up to Amazon Web Services on the platform side and Salesforce.com on the application side, but most agree it's early days. At the outset of the release of Windows Azure, this is more likely to be a service that allows channel partners to build and test applications they offer either for their own managed services offerings or for applications they deliver to their customers.

BizTalk Server 2009 R2

   

Microsoft's core middleware offering for integrating cross platform systems and applications using both Web standards and proprietary connectors will also get a facelift this year. BizTalk Server 2009 R2 boasts a much improved Mapper, new B2B adaptors, an improved dashboard and extended support for event processing and filtering, specifically for events triggered by RFID applications.


The new BizTalk release also adds an FPTS adaptor, intended to provide FTP-based exchange of data between trading partners. It also adds support for the rest of the upgraded platform offering from Microsoft, including SQL Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Visual Studio 2010.

Gold Certified Partner MPS Partners LLC, headquartered in Chicago, is seeing increased interest in BizTalk thanks to a growing number of SharePoint customers looking to bring in non-Microsoft data sources such as SAP AG and even information residing on mainframes.

"We've been seeing a lot of interest in BizTalk, especially with our expertise in the SAP arena of surfacing back-end data to SharePoint," says Chris Kabat, a vice president at MPS. "Because people have grabbed onto SharePoint, the're looking for ways to have their regular users that don't always go to their ERP systems start to see some of the data back there and integrate with those business processes."

Although he has not yet tested BizTalk Server 2009 R2, Kabat says the new intelligent Mapper is an important new and long-awaited feature. It adds support for search, re-usable parts and is said to offer improved user productivity.

"The Mapper tool allows you to take data from one system and transform data to another system," Kabat says. "That's been talked about for years. It looks like they're finally releasing some of the capabilities in that mapping tool that will make BizTalk developers' jobs a lot easier."

System Center and Forefront Protection

   

In addition to upgrading its key application portfolio, Microsoft is looking to improve its systems management and security offerings this year. Coming later this year is System Center Service Manager, currently in beta. Service Manager will offer change and configuration management, based on data pulled from System Center Operations Manager, System Center Configuration Manager and Active Directory.

It will allow administrators to offer a portal that will offer self-service provisioning and help via templates and rules-based notifications. It will also offer decision support by tying organizational goals to changing business conditions, according to Microsoft.

On the security side, Microsoft last quarter began rolling out pieces of its Forefront Protection Suite 2010, with components for Exchange Server, along with the release of Forefront Threat Management Gateway 2010 and Forefront Unified Access Gateway 2010. In the first half of this year, Microsoft will release Forefront Protection 2010 for SharePoint and Forefront Identity Manager 2010.

The base Forefront Protection Manager 2010 platform is also due out in the first half of this year. It is designed to let administrators create and manage security policies for various technologies from a single console. In the second half of the year, Microsoft will add Forefront Endpoint Protection (FEP) 2010 to the suite. FEP 2010 is anti-malware for Windows desktops and servers that Microsoft late last year decided to build on top of System Center Configuration Manager.

Partners may encounter some resistance on the security front, says David Corbin, an MVP and president and chief architect of New York-based Dynamic Concepts Development Corp. "I'm seeing a lot of skepticism," Corbin says. "There are many who feel Microsoft doesn't know how to do security. People are going to need to see it out there for at least four to six months with impartial third-party data."

Dynamics 2010

   

Microsoft's hodgepodge of packaged applications comes from a variety of acquisitions over the past decade from Great Plains Software to Navision, among others. All of those offerings now fall under the Dynamics banner, but they remain separate products with different features and target customers.


Two core components of the Dynamics portfolio are set for major new releases this year: CRM 5 and GP 11.

Though it lacks the installed base and functionality of larger CRM suites from Oracle and SAP, Dynamics CRM 5 will look to bridge the gap. Microsoft now claims there are 1 million Dynamics CRM seats from a customer base of 20,000 installations.

A new release of Dynamics CRM is expected in the second half of this year, which will take on a significant new look. Code-named "Dynamics CRM v.Next" but also referred to as CRM 5, the new release will incorporate the Microsoft Office Fluent UI (the Ribbon) and the navigation model that was introduced in Office 2007.

"I know that has gone under a number of iterations and experimentations and studied by user groups to ensure the behavior was as seamless and as intuitive as possible, the final result of all that is very positive," says Sean Gocher, CEO of Ten Digits Software Inc., a Gold Certified Partner that builds Dynamics-based applications for smartphones.

Like BizTalk and Office, CRM v.Next will boast tighter integration with SharePoint. "Having it embedded or engrained with the CRM experience is going to be a huge boon to users," Gocher says.

Before the release of Dynamics CRM v.Next, it appears Microsoft will release Dynamics GP 11 as early as March, though Microsoft is only confirming it will be sometime this year. Microsoft had initially intended to release GP 11 last year. It will offer improved interoperability with Office and an enhanced user interface and will be better suited for reacting to change, thanks to extended connections to portals via Web services. GP 11 will also tie to the Microsoft Unified Communications platform, according to Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solutions, who posted a five-minute video last year summarizing the company's plans for GP 11.

At press time, Microsoft was just kicking off webcasts to give partners Go-To-Market plans and training for the suite of financial, supply chain management, HR, project management and manufacturing applications. By providing closer linkages with Office and SharePoint, Dynamics GP is becoming a more attractive alternative to larger scale platforms from Oracle, Lawson Software and SAP, says Michele Juliana, business development director at Gold Certified Partner RSM McGladrey Inc.

"Microsoft is focusing on continuing to better utilize their full suite of products by tying SharePoint with Dynamics GP and by utilizing Microsoft Office they're really blurring the lines between Excel and Word and the ERP system," Juliana says. "That's a big area of focus from an end-user standpoint because traditionally ERP systems have been kind of separated from those types of products. It's appealing because people who are familiar with traditional Microsoft products like Office don't have to learn a whole new set of tools, while they can use SharePoint to access their data."