Point8020 Limited created ShowMe for SharePoint 2010 to deliver embedded, context-sensitive video help and training for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Point8020 created a new menu option and a context-sensitive tab for the SharePoint Server 2010 ribbon, and it built a rich user interface with Microsoft Silverlight browser technology for displaying videos. Using the Windows Azure platform, the company moved the program’s library of video files to the cloud, enabling much simpler deployment of content updates. Point8020 found that the tight interoperation of Microsoft development tools and technologies enabled rapid development and a fast time-to-market. By using a cloud-based solution, Point8020 has also opened the way for new business models.
Point8020, based in Birmingham, England, is comprised of technology and learning specialists who focus on finding ways to get more out of technology and sharing that knowledge with customers through innovative end-user learning solutions. The company creates course materials, white papers, and videos about a variety of applications and technologies, and it has a strong background in Microsoft SharePoint solutions.
Point8020 wanted to combine its training expertise and in-depth knowledge of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 into a product that would help users make the most of the many features in SharePoint Server 2010 with context-sensitive video help and on-demand training. The end result, ShowMe for SharePoint 2010, was released in August 2010, and it currently offers 101 expert-led instructional videos.
When Point8020 began development for ShowMe for SharePoint, it faced two primary challenges: figuring out how to present context-sensitive video help within SharePoint Server 2010, and finding the best way to store, deliver, and update the video content, with the knowledge that the number of videos and the size of the corresponding video library will increase over time as more tutorials are added.
“For the initial release, the video library takes up 250 megabytes, and we expect it will quickly grow to 1 gigabyte or more as we add videos,” says Martin Harwar, Chief Executive Officer of Point8020. “That may not seem like a lot of space, but for customers with limited site collection size quotas, such as in Microsoft SharePoint Online, it can be an issue.”
||There’s no question that content providers should look at cloud solutions for delivery, and based on our experience, Windows Azure is a good choice.
Chief Executive Officer, Point8020
In a traditional application model, program resources are stored locally, so updating the ShowMe for SharePoint video library would require that the customer install the new videos and possibly an updated front-end application to integrate the new content. From the early phases of development planning, Point8020 was intrigued by the possibility of using a cloud-based platform to simplify the delivery and update process.Solution
With the high-level program structure and logic in place, Point8020 developers needed to find the best way to incorporate their video content into SharePoint Server 2010, build an appropriate interface, and then find a way to move to a cloud-based model for content delivery.
Presented Video Help in SharePoint Server 2010
With their extensive experience with Microsoft ASP.NET and the Visual Studio 2010 development system, Point8020 developers were able to get up to speed quickly with SharePoint Server 2010 development, and they found that it offers many advantages as an application platform. “Out of the box, SharePoint Server 2010 offers data and file storage, version control, user and group management, search and indexing, easy scalability, and web standards compliance,” says Harwar. “This enabled our developers to concentrate on adding specific features to our application and not have to spend weeks or months solving those other issues on our own.”
ShowMe for SharePoint adds a new option to the Site Actions menu and a new context-sensitive tab to the SharePoint Server 2010 ribbon, giving the user two options for accessing the help videos. Additionally, a standard search in SharePoint Server 2010 returns applicable videos in the search results, based on words spoken in the videos. The ShowMe for SharePoint interface displays the videos, and it gives users the option of browsing through video categories or searching for help based on video content.
Point8020 felt it was important to do the work necessary to embed its help interface directly within SharePoint 2010, rather than offering it as a separate application. “We spent some time investigating the context-sensitive nature of the ribbon, and we’re glad we did so,” says Harwar. “Having our own controls appear on the ribbon is great for the end user.”
For the initial release of ShowMe for SharePoint, the videos are stored locally in the customer’s SharePoint document libraries, and they are retrieved and displayed in an interface built with Microsoft Silverlight browser technology.The ShowMe User Interface
Point8020 felt that Silverlight would provide the features necessary to create a superior user interface (UI) with professional-quality audio and video playback. The Silverlight UI in ShowMe for SharePoint plays videos in an embedded media player, displays video categories in a “coverflow” interface where users can scroll visually through the categories, and enables searches based on words spoken in the videos.
|Figure 1 – ShowMe for SharePoint 2010 presents help videos in a |
Silverlight interface directly within SharePoint Server 2010.
The Silverlight interface is presented in a SharePoint Server 2010 client-side dialog box, and it is where most of the program’s code exists. Aside from presenting videos to the user, the interface is responsible for communicating with SharePoint Server 2010 functionality through the Client Object Model, and communicating with the search and indexing features of SharePoint Server 2010 through HTTP mechanisms.
All in all, Point8020 has been very happy with its decision to build its front end in Silverlight. “Silverlight is absolutely awesome,” says Harwar. “In a relatively short time and with surprisingly little effort, you can build a very rich, engaging user interface.”The Move to Cloud-based Delivery
Point8020 developers built ShowMe for SharePoint so that the program’s functionality and interface are independent of the location of the video library, enabling the move from a local video repository to one stored in the cloud. The company’s first step toward a cloud-enabled version was to choose a cloud provider. Although Point8020 has a strong relationship with Microsoft, it wanted to be sure it was getting the right platform for its needs.
In addition to evaluating Windows Azure, which is hosted in Microsoft data centers, Point8020 looked at Amazon S3 and Rackspace Cloud Files. Although all three had competitive pricing, Point 8020 felt that Windows Azure was the clear choice, due to the service level agreement (SLA), the product’s scalability, and the reliability of Microsoft data centers. Point8020 also felt that integrating a Microsoft product into its technology stack minimized the possibility of incompatibilities.
For a company with a background in Microsoft development, the tight interoperability of Windows Azure with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and ASP.NET was significant. “We didn’t have to learn new programming concepts or tools,” explains Harwar. “If we had chosen Amazon S3 or Cloud Files, we would probably have needed to go through another learning curve.”
The Point8020 development team became familiar with Windows Azure development in just a few days and found a wealth of resources available to help guide them. “The Microsoft Developer Network includes a lot of helpful getting-started and how-to resources,” says Harwar. “And a Bing search reveals that there are thousands of Windows Azure developers blogging and posting questions in forums. Their online community is huge—much bigger than any of the competitors.”
The cloud-based version of ShowMe for SharePoint helps to make the process of updating the video libraries even easier for customers. The video assets for ShowMe for SharePoint are stored in Windows Azure Storage nodes, and the application uses a hosted service to provide functionality that enables the Silverlight front-end to automatically discover new videos and update the interface as necessary. Microsoft SQL Azure is also used to store configuration and business intelligence data.
The ability to use familiar tools resulted in a fast development cycle. While a team of five completed the initial on-premises version of ShowMe for SharePoint in about a month, updating it to use Windows Azure took only another two weeks of developer time. The cloud-enabled version is scheduled for release at the end of February 2011.
||Silverlight is absolutely awesome. In a relatively short time and with surprisingly little effort, you can build a very rich, engaging user interface.
Chief Executive Officer, Point8020
The move to a cloud platform also has made possible a new revenue model for Point8020. The on-premises version of ShowMe for SharePoint has a one-time licensing fee that doesn’t need to be renewed, but the company expects to move to a subscription model for the cloud version. “The subscription model will help us maintain a reliable revenue stream to fund future development,” says Harwar. “We will be able to strengthen the relationship with our customers by ensuring ongoing contact, rather than just a one-time purchase.”Benefits
By moving its video content for ShowMe for SharePoint to the cloud, Point8020 has simplified the process of deploying its application and updates. With the programming tools available for SharePoint Server 2010 and Windows Azure, Point8020 was able to successfully build a context-sensitive help system and easily move to cloud-based content delivery. The company is confident that its choice of Microsoft as a cloud provider will be beneficial not only for Point8020 but also for its customers.
Familiar and Powerful Tools
The Point8020 development team found that the tight interoperability between the various Microsoft products used in developing ShowMe for SharePoint enabled the team to get up to speed and get its product to market quickly. Visual Studio 2010 provided a strong platform for both SharePoint Server 2010 and Windows Azure development, and Silverlight helped pull all of the pieces together. “For our products, the integration between Silverlight and SharePoint Server 2010 is the cornerstone that enables us to build real business applications with rich, sophisticated interfaces,” says Harwar.
Simplified Deployment and Updates
Because ShowMe for SharePoint automatically discovers new videos stored in the cloud, Point8020 doesn’t need to package content updates that customers must download and install. The cloud solution makes deployment so simple that Point8020 sees Windows Azure as a logical step for any company that focuses on content delivery. “There is no question that content providers should look at cloud solutions for delivery,” says Harwar. “And based on our experience, Windows Azure is a good choice.”
A Trusted Technology Provider
One reason that Point8020 chose Windows Azure as its cloud platform was because of the company’s familiarity with and trust of the Microsoft brand. Point8020 believes this will also be a selling point for its customers. “Because our products work with SharePoint Server 2010 and Silverlight, our customers already have an investment in Microsoft technology,” explains Harwar. “I’m sure they will be happy knowing our product is based on Windows Azure. It gives them confidence that the services will be reliable, available, and offer great performance.”
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
—AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
—AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
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