SharePoint is a web application platform in the Microsoft Office server suite. Launched in 2001, SharePoint combines various functions which are traditionally separate applications: intranet, extranet, content management, document management, personal cloud, enterprise social networking, enterprise search, business intelligence, workflow management, web content management, and an enterprise application store. SharePoint servers have traditionally been deployed for internal use in mid-size businesses and large departments alongside Microsoft Exchange, Skype for Business, and Office Web Application Server; but Microsoft's 'Office 365' software as a service offering (which includes a version of SharePoint) has led to increased usage of SharePoint in smaller organizations.
While Office 365 provides SharePoint as a service, installing SharePoint "on-premise" typically requires multiple virtual machines, at least two separate physical servers, and is a somewhat significant installation and configuration effort. The software is based on an n-tier service oriented architecture. Enterprise application software (for example, email servers, ERP, BI and CRM products) often either requires or integrates with elements of SharePoint. As an application platform, SharePoint provides central management, governance, and security controls. The SharePoint platform manages Internet Information Services (IIS) via farm-based management tooling.
Since the release of SharePoint 2013, Microsoft's primary channel for distribution of SharePoint has been Office 365, where the product is continuously being upgraded. "On-premises versions" are released every few years, and represent a supported 'snapshot' of the cloud software. Microsoft currently has three tiers of pricing for SharePoint 2013, including a free version (whose future is currently uncertain). SharePoint 2013 is also resold through a cloud model by many third-party vendors. The next "on-premises" release will be SharePoint 2016, which is expected have increased hybrid cloud integration.
The most common uses of the SharePoint include:
Enterprise Content and Document Management
SharePoint is often used to store, track, and manage electronic documents and assets. Integration with the Office Suite, Office Apps on Mobile Devices, and Office Web Apps enable editing scenarios, while OneDrive for Business (or third-party tools) enable offline synchronisation. It provides integrated version history tracking, collaborative live editing, and search capabilities. These capabilities are configurable to comply with record management or legal discovery requirements. SharePoint also provides search and 'graph' functionality enabling tracking of projects, documents, and users. Centralised location for storing, versioning, and collaborating on documents significantly reduce dependence on email for collaboration.
SharePoint Server hosts One Drive for Business, which allows storage and synchronisation of files across devices, and public/private file sharing.
Intranet & Corporate Social Network
A SharePoint intranet or intranet portal is a way to centralize access to enterprise information and applications. It is a tool that helps a company manage its internal communications, applications and information more easily. Microsoft claims that this has organizational benefits such as increased employee engagement, centralizing process management, reducing new staff on-boarding costs, and providing the means to capture and share tacit knowledge (e.g. via tools such as wikis/blogs).
Extranet & Web Content Management
SharePoint can be used to provide web-facing access to external users. Organizations often use functionality like this to integrate third parties into supply chain or business processes, to provide a shared collaboration environment, or as part of delivering a product to a customer.
Using the 'Publishing' features, SharePoint can be used to manage public websites. It has publishing workflow, authoring, multilingual, and scaling features suited to managing larger websites.
SharePoint's development stack provides an additional layer of services and that reduce custom development required to provide a working application. It may also be referred to as a web application framework. SharePoint 2013's "App Development" model provides these services through standards such as REST, SAML, and JSONP. A multitude of APIs enable enterprise application developers to exploit SharePoint's security and information management capabilities across a variety of development platforms and scenarios.