Friday, October 09, 2009

WSS as a platform for public-facing, anonymous-access Internet websites


As I mentioned in a post last week, our public website is a MOSS-based site and we are celebrating its first birthday this month (We launched it on October 1, 2008. Prior to that we had a standard HTML website since 2003.). For the most part, we are very happy with our decision to launch our new site on MOSS.

Reality is that there aren't that many companies that can afford to pay the licensing costs to have their public Internet running on MOSS. The stated retail price for MOSS for Internet Sites is $41,134 per server.

So, if you are running a couple of load-balanced servers for your Internet site, you are looking at around 80k to license MOSS for Internet Sites for them. The only piece of good news here (financially speaking) is that this gives you unlimited anonymous user access - so there are no CALs to buy. (In case you are wondering, since we are Microsoft Gold Partner, we get our licenses as part of the Gold Partner program and pay much, much less than this - otherwise, we wouldn't be able to afford MOSS for our Internet site.)

So, what are you to do if you want a SharePoint-based Internet site? Well, it is not all that widely publicized, but several businesses around the world have figured out how to do this quite nicely with WSS only. And, more importantly, there are no (zero) SharePoint licensing costs if you do it this way.

You say, hold on now, there is no way that can be true! First, I don't believe that you can develop a really polished public site with WSS!

Well, I am not going to argue about this using words. Instead, I am going to point you to some examples that I think prove differently. All of these sites are built using WSS 3.0:

http://6sc.com/default.aspx (check out this page for how they did it)

http://www.zevenseas.com/en/default.aspx

http://www.nestle.si/default.aspx

http://www.acision.com/default.aspx

There are more out there, but these are four that I particularly like.

OK, if I have convinced you about the viability of developing a public website using WSS 3.0, what about whether or not I have my facts straight about the no-cost for licenses?

First, in case you don't already know, WSS 3.0 is a free add-on to Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. If you have Windows Server licensed properly, you don't have to pay anything else for WSS - period. This is a pretty commonly known fact so I am not goint to bother hyperlinking to any proof of it.

Second, there is a very popular and well-respected Microsoft (as in, employee) architect in New Zealand, Ian Morrish, who blogged about this in March of this year. Here is the link to his blog post: http://www.wssdemo.com/Blog/archive/2009/03/06/Web-Content-Management-with-Windows-SharePoint-Services.aspx. Make sure and read the comments at the bottom of the post, because Ian says the following in response to a question about whether this is "legal" or not:

Ian says:

"It is legal. If you are using full SQL server then SQL Server must be per-proc licensed but the built in DBthat comes with single server WSS is free. If you want to authenticate Internet users then you only need the Windows Internet licence which is cheap compared to MOSS for Internet license."

The Windows Internet license he mentioned (its formal name is Windows Server External Connector license) is required (but, according to Ian only if you want to authenticate external users - which most Internet sites don't), but it is a Windows Server licensing add-on, not a SharePoint license. Again, as long as you have Windows Server properly licensed, there are NO additional licenses required for WSS in any scenario. WSS is truly a free add-on to Windows Servers.

I know at this point you are wondering what is the cost of the Windows Server External Connector license if it turns out I need it? Well, according to this page on Microsoft's site it retails for $1999 for Windows Server 2008 (scroll down towards the bottom to find it). This license is purchased per server. So, if you have a two server farm for running your public website and you want to use WSS as the platform, the retail license cost to get you there would be $3998. Furthermore, this will allow unlimited external users to access your website.

Now, I am not saying that WSS is as good as a platform for public websites as MOSS is. PLEASE, don't hear me say that! MOSS has some great features that make it very, very nice as a web content management system. WSS does not include these features at all. One of the biggest of these features is the publishing subsystem that allows you to decentralize content authorship for different portions of you website. It includes a robust approval system so that approver's can be assigned to review authored content before it goes live. WSS does not have this same level of functionality.

But, for those companies where MOSS is simply not an option due to the cost, it certainly appears that there is evidence that WSS 3.0 can be used successfully as an extremely low-cost platform for building Internet sites.

I'd say that right now WordPress is probably the most popular open source platform for building high-quality websites. If you thought WordPress is only for blogging, you thought wrong. There are thousands of websites around the world running on WordPress (here is a good example). I like WordPress a lot, but I think WSS 3.0 is a very capable website platform as well and would definitely evaluate both of them if I were setting out to build a new website.
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