An in-depth look at Groove Server

Office Groove 2007 may seem like a client-only application, but for enterprises with many users, Groove Server is the way to go

Tom works for Fergenschmeir Fergenschmeir just decided to merge with Widgeteria, where Susan works. The two employees are leading the merger effort, and during an initial call quickly realize they need to be able to share loads of data quickly. So Susan initiates a Groove workspace and invites Tom via e-mail. In just a few minutes, they've got their own library of work documents, messaging, and other collaborative goodies without ever having to call the IT department. That's a powerful capability and it's why our second installment of the great Office Server smorgasbord covers Office Groove 2007.

At its most basic, Office Groove 2007 is a client-based application that allows Groovers (our term for Groove users) to share documents on their local PCs with others who have access to their Groove space; they can share these docs, chat about them, and synchronize the content so that everyone is looking at the same thing. Fortunately, this rather mundane feature set becomes far more robust with the addition of Office SharePoint Server 2007 (for more, see Part 1 of the great Office Server smorgasbord). Enabling MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) behind your Groove population allows Groove users to manage Groove spaces by team, as well as make SharePoint's document libraries instantly accessible as Groove data -- with the same security.

Try that in a traditional IT environment and you're spending quality time with your IT staff. They'd have to setup a collaborative Web page, create access for internal users, open VPN connections to external users, and maintain a file server with the right permissions as well -- easily a couple of weeks' worth of work. With Groove and SharePoint, employees and team managers can create this entire setup all by themselves, and they can do it in just a few minutes.

Of course, that doesn't cover areas where the IT staff would really like to be involved. Those would include areas such as user management and auditing, data transmission management, bandwidth usage, backup. and security across firewalls -- probably doable by the end-user population in a small business, but certainly too much complexity for those in large enterprises. That's where Groove Server comes in.

We'll start with the bottom line: Office Groove Server is simply a cure for complexity. Running a team collaboration tool on a peer-to-peer basis across a basic network is no big deal. But running one across an enterprise net, including multiple router and gateway hops and with comparatively huge user and team directories, file repositories, and application libraries is another matter entirely. Enter Groove Server, or rather, Groove Servers, because there are three of them in the suite. The big daddy of the trio is GM (Groove Manager), which is designed to manage your entire Groove deployment end to end. Many SMBs can run Groove on a client-only basis, but you're going to want Groove Manager working for you in any deployments above 100 seats. Administrators can use GM to manage Groove accounts, access paths, and enforce fair use and security policies. And instead of backing up Groove document repositories across thousands of individual users via something like shadow copy, GM keeps all client Groove file collections centrally so that you can back up your whole user base off a single box. On a more sophisticated note, GM also acts as a hub for large file transfers. Instead of simply clogging the network at large with whatever honking files your users feel like throwing around, Groove Server steps in and manages the process in an organized store-and-forward manner. On an even more granular level, administrators can even assign bandwidth ceilings for Groove file transfers. It's a good idea to experiment with this feature, however, because the impact on larger networks can be significant.

Although you can configure that store-and-forward transfer relationship from Groove Manager, it's Groove Server Relay that does all the heavy lifting. This package handles Groove talking across firewalls and also takes care of offline communications. It does this much the same as an SMTP e-mail server would. The client Groovers encrypt their data locally prior to transmission, and Relay stores that content, either because one or more users are offline or because two Groovers are talking across firewalls. What's nice is that Relay is highly configurable in this regard, enabling administrators to store Groove data for only seconds or as long as several days depending on their internal policies or that particular Groove team's needs. We felt it could have used a little more configuration muscle on the firewall side. Relay does a good job of enabling communications across firewalls, but it's mostly an on-off operation. In the future, we'd like to see more in the way of controlling specific security features (type of encryption, types of content allowed to pass, and usage auditing, to name three) between two external firewall gateways.

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