What you need to know about Microsoft's Groove Server

Groove collaboration software is a new part of the Microsoft Office suite, and its raising a lot of eyebrows, both on a higher level given Ray Ozzie's employment at Microsoft -- Ozzie was the creator of Groove -- and at a lower level, with businesses asking, "just what is this application?"

IT departments are taking that questioning a little further by wondering how Groove Server fits into the picture. Groove on the server end is built with Microsoft enterprise infrastructure in mind. It's a fairly lightweight installation, and the environment itself integrates tightly with Active Directory. The hooks between Office, SharePoint and Groove are probably the reason corporate IT shops might consider Groove as a collaboration solution.

Office Groove Server is a "container" product, meaning it's an umbrella for three subcomponents of Groove on the server: the Office Groove Server Manager, the Office Groove Server Relay and the Office Groove Server Data Bridge. In this article, I'll take a look at these three components, shed some light on their function and then touch on some deployment and licensing notes that you should be aware of.

Office Groove Server Manager

Simple management is key to any large-scale deployment, and the Office Groove Server Manager (OGSM) is built to give administrators sufficient control over the clients and servers that make up the Groove infrastructure in their businesses. While Groove is designed as a more free-form, ad-hoc and less "centralized" tool for team collaboration -- as opposed to SharePoint, for example, which is server-based and centrally controlled -- OGSM introduces a way for administrators to retain at least some control and some policy mechanism to manage an enterprise adoption of Groove.

OGSM is Web-based and presumably can be accessed from anywhere -- subject, of course, to access rules on your local network. OGSM integrates with Active Directory (AD) and allows you to federate Groove account creation with the AD database, so users have single usernames and passwords to access Groove services. Groove domains, similar to NT-style domains, allow you to define policies and restrictions to Groove clients and servers residing within that realm. Monitoring features allow you to audit access and activities within the Groove system. OGSM brings an administrator-style view and feature set to a tool that traditionally has been user-defined and user-managed.

Office Groove Server Relay

A big part of corporate collaboration these days involves working with contractors, vendors and other business partners. These third parties could benefit from a common collaborative space when they have to work together on the same task or project. Of course, effective IT and effective business and team management don't always follow the same means to an end; thus, the Office Groove Server Relay (OGSR) exists.

OGSR is a sort of "middleman" for Groove client users across a security boundary and acts much like a traditional SMTP mail relay. It accepts data from machines within one boundary, acts as an intermediary and forwards the mail to another machine or group of machines, where the data is handled and delivered, eventually, to its final destination.

OGSR stores and forwards workspace data and acts like a scratchpad -- the data it hosts is stored very temporarily while transmission occurs, but each Groove client maintains its own workspace so there isn't any permanent storage cost. All transmissions are securely encrypted, and distributed using an algorithm Microsoft claims is more efficient for large files being sent to a group of distributed users.

In short, OGSR connects two collections of workers together across boundaries.

Office Groove Server Data Bridge

Chances are that your company has a variety of data sources -- retail point-of-sale databases, Web sales databases, product inventory, Web site traffic data archives, employee and human resources data, ERP data from a trusted source like SAP, and so on. Equally probable is the chance that many teams are working together to make sense of the data obtained from these disparate sources, and to find new trends that haven't yet been identified. If these teams are working together with Groove and are creating their data, work products, presentations and reports within a Groove workspace, then the Office Groove Server Data Bridge (OGSDB) can help them out.

The OGSDB can connect to and retrieve line-of-business data from all of these sources and pull it together in a format that Groove users can digest. Databases, portals, LOB applications, ERP systems and more can all integrate with Groove using the Data Bridge, so all Groove users have instant access to the latest data. Groove is also extensible enough that IT workers can develop rules and workflows to automate retrieving and updating this data and to create new ways in which those goods are displayed within Groove. And since the Data Bridge product is server-based, all clients will be in sync with the latest data. Think of it as a dashboard on steroids, one that's fully customizable and usable at the employee level.

Administrative and deployment notes

A few notes on licensing: For one thing, if you decide to use Office Groove 2007 as a separate client application, or if you receive it as part of the license for the Office Enterprise edition suite, you'll need some way to acquire the Groove Server components. The client doesn't give you any benefit if it isn't represented on the back end.

So how do you acquire the server components? If you have an enterprise agreement or other volume licensing arrangement with Microsoft, you'll be able to receive Office Groove Server (and its three components), or the hosted version of the server pieces, known as Office Groove Enterprise Services, for what Microsoft calls an "incremental" cost -- this varies according to your agreement. If you don't have any sort of volume acquisition agreement, Groove Server is not available to you; it is not a product sold through standard retail channels. You must choose either the Groove Enterprise Services or Office Groove Server, not both.

Office Groove Server creates the functional magic between Groove clients and extends management, communication and data integration benefits to employees who produce the drafts of their work products within a Groove workspace.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor at Apress Inc., a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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