In many companies, users are clamoring for a collaborative solution that goes beyond e-mail or instant messaging. You may have missed it, but the Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Office 2007 come with a perfectly sound collaboration solution: Groove 2007.
Groove Networks, founded by Ray Ozzie (the creator of Lotus Notes), was purchased by Microsoft in 2005. Last year, the company released Groove Server and Client 2007. Collaboration anywhere, anytime, and with anyone: That's what Groove is all about.
The Groove client (available for a free trial download) comes included in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Office 2007. With the client, users can create and manager their own collaborative workspaces, serving as a forum among the creator and invitees for discussion, file sharing -- even a game of chess.
On the back end is Groove Server, which you can either install in-house or subscribe to, via hosted Groove services. Both approaches have their advantages and drawbacks. I'll talk about some of the hosted approaches this week.
For small groups, consider Microsoft Office Live Groove. Essentially, this is the client software with a subscription for the hosted relay infrastructure. The benefit to this approach is that you have no infrastructure concerns to deal with, but you reap all the benefits of the application. No internal servers are required; you just need to renew your subscription every year, and you get upgrades to new releases as part of the subscription. The drawback to this approach is that all users are "unmanaged"; there's no Groove Manager support for backing up or restoring accounts, or for creating and modifying user and security policies.
If you need more control over your Groove environment or have a large user base, yet don't want the administrative overhead and infrastructure concerns of managing a Groove Server in-house, consider Microsoft Office Groove Enterprise Services. Buy the client, and in addition to the hosted relay, you get a hosted Groove Manager. This enables you to have a Groove Domain, though which IT admins can manage employees' identities, plus tailor policies to control how employees use Groove. Configuration takes place via a Web-based tool with which admins can create, configure, and manage user accounts (including backup).
One included feature that can be a real benefit to your organization is the Enterprise Services Relay. Handled through Microsoft, the tool ensures that users' collaboration sessions are in sync when direct client-to-client connectivity isn't possible. Essentially, the relay is necessary when users are not on the same network, behind firewalls, or working offline.
For on-site control and infrastructure, there is Groove Server 2007, which comes in three flavors: Relay, Manager, and DataBridge. Each Groove Server is deployed separately, with the cost depending on the number of users and the system architecture. Supporting your own Groove environment does increase your personal administrative overhead for hardware and software. On the positive side, it provides you the ability to utilize a DataBridge server for connectivity to customized in-house solutions you may be supporting, such as an internal SQL database or SharePoint Library. Generally, if you don't need such a customized solution, the hosted approach through Enterprise Services may be more cost effective.
Interested in understanding the finer details of the three Groove Server flavors, Relay, Manager, and DataBridge? Stay tuned for more next week. And if you are an administrator of a Groove environment already, I'd like to hear about your experience.