Project Server 2007 pays off

Microsoft has gone to some trouble to make Project Server 2007 a useful addition to your Project seat licenses

Who was that little Dutch kid who kept sticking in fingers in the dam leaks? Trying to keep my reviews output in sync with Microsoft's product releases makes me feel a bit like that. Especially when it comes to new servers. You might think that Office SharePoint Server 2007 is all that Office 2007 will want, but you'd be wrong. We've been using Project Server 2007 for a little bit and just got Groove Server 2007 a week or so ago. For now, I'll give you our scoop as it stands on Project Server.

First off, there are two client versions, Standard and Enterprise, but only Enterprise works with Project Server. This makes me wonder about the success of Standard, as Project is by nature a team-oriented application. Then again, many small businesses might have a lone project hound sniffing around and keeping track of everyone's deadlines. Plus, Enterprise costs approximately US$1,000 per seat without the server and another US$1,500 if you add the server license in there.

But for companies tracking more than one project (hopefully that's most of you) the combo of Project Enterprise and Project Server is well worth an additional US$1,500. Adding Server into your deadline tracking gives you something called the Portfolio View. This is the supersexy feature that Microsoft's product managers put in specifically to get the oohs and aahs from the guy signing the budget checks. PV is an all-around managerial dashboard on the health of all your projects. It starts off with a pretty colour-coded view for the older suits on the really high floors -- the ones who just started drinking Ensure and think all this computer stuff is likely just a fad.

But drill down isn't only fast, it's thorough. Project-savvy managers can use Portfolio View to drill down to individual project concerns and individual worker performance on specific projects, and more importantly, they can compare that data across multiple projects. That means you know whether Joe Freak the programmer is working more on Project A vs. Project B. That could be important information if Project B is the more important product for the business, but Project A is just more fun for the programmer.

Portfolio View also digs into side-project issues, such as budgeting. Again, that can be bucks across specific projects, but even better would be bucks across multiple projects. Which projects are costing more and why? Are outside contractors charging more on one than another? Can one project team deliver in time for some particularly large orders?

And, yup, Project Server's Portfolio View can be made to work with Office SharePoint Server 2007. So far, it looks like mostly a reporting function, with SharePoint being able to show pieces of the Portfolio View to managers with access rights. But there is a Windows Workflow component in there, too; we just haven't gotten our grubby hands on it yet.

Like most of Microsoft's new server products, Project Server also has the ability to generate reports quickly. Only problem there is that also like many Microsoft server products, it wants SQL Server's reporting engine to do this. That's not a killer problem, but it is additional overhead. Fortunately, Microsoft is relying solely on SQL Server for reporting. Even without Project Server, you'll be able to generate nice reports using Excel -- best with Excel 2007, obviously. But the really good stuff, especially the cross-project reporting, will raise that SQL specter.

There also seem to be issues with Project Server and Active Directory. I've had readers inform me that deleting a user from AD makes Project Server cry like a little girl. We tried that, and it turns out they're right. If you fire Joe Freak for that Project B-vs.-Project A problem, you must delete him from Project before you delete him from Active Directory. That's not a big problem for IT, but it does mean you've got to update your Best Practices documentation.

Overall, however, our lab experience ran nicely with Project Server. And it seems our reader e-mails to this point aren't complaining much about it, either. Microsoft has gone to some trouble to make Project Server 2007 a useful addition to your Project seat licenses, so IT managers working for users dependent on Project can get set for another Office Server in their portfolio.

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