Microsoft partner releases hosted version of SharePoint Server 2007

Portals starting at about $15 a month available for small-company end users

Just a month and a half after Microsoft Corp. shipped the 2007 update to its heavily touted collaboration software, SharePoint Server, a Massachusetts company introduced a hosted version designed for smaller companies seeking a cheaper alternative to buying and installing SharePoint.

Burlington-based GroupSpark today announced the availability of its hosted service, which offers all of the features of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007. GroupSpark operates the service on behalf of service providers and consultants, who turn around and resell subscriptions to small companies or corporate departments, according to GroupSpark's CEO, Ravi Agarwal.

For a single SharePoint site with 200MB of storage and 20 users, GroupSpark's prices for resellers start at $8 a month. Resellers typically double the price to end users, Agarwal said.

By allowing users to avoid both Microsoft's license fees and the need to dedicate IT staff to support SharePoint, the hosted route ends up being "much cheaper than buying and administering yourself," Agarwal said.

GroupSpark has offered a hosted version of SharePoint 2003 for several years, and that offering has attracted several hundred customers. Its largest SharePoint 2003 customer is a publicly held drug company that has about 400 employees around the world who use its SharePoint 2003 hosted portal.

Uptake of GroupSpark's SharePoint offering has been somewhat slow, Agarwal said, and he blamed in part poor marketing by Microsoft. Moreover, he noted that users have the choice of a free version of SharePoint, called SharePoint Services, as well as the many Web 2.0 collaboration tools that have sprung up in the past several years offering free or inexpensive wikis and document collaboration.

Agarwal was optimistic that uptake will improve with SharePoint 2007, thanks to greater interest among smaller companies in features such as document sharing, version control and intranets and to greater interest overall in features that are new in 2007, such as wikis and blogs.

Lee Benjamin, an analyst at San Francisco-based Ferris Research, concurred. He said the cost and IT expertise needed to run the free SharePoint, as well as the lack of integration between free Web 2.0 tools and Microsoft Office, will encourage many companies to consider a hosted, full-featured version of SharePoint Server.

"I think you're going to see what I call 'mom and POP3 shops,' especially start-ups with international employees or partners, go for this," Benjamin said.

GroupSpark's main business is its hosted version of the Exchange e-mail server. It will introduce a hosted version of Exchange 2007 by the end of March, Agarwal said. The company also offers an online version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. 

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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