Since it was first created, SharePoint has evolved from a basic product to its own product segment. SharePoint is used for company intranets as well as customer-facing websites; internal document collaboration and external partner networks; a basic management interface or an all-out project management system. Given its versatility and complexity, we've seen a host of new products come out to add onto or simplify SharePoint, as well as a huge boon in industry coverage and training on SharePoint.

Critical Path Training represents a training company devoted 100 percent to teaching IT pros, from beginner to expert, all about SharePoint. According to the company, they are the only SharePoint-only training company in the market.

SharePoint: Rags to Riches
Before delving into what Critical Path Training is doing to teach IT pros SharePoint, I wanted to get the company's opinion on how SharePoint has grown, what the needs of IT pros and related staff are, and where it's going in the future. I asked Andrew Connell, founding partner of Critical Path Training, to give me an overview of SharePoint.

Why are so many organizations implementing SharePoint right now?

"SharePoint is the fastest growing product in Microsoft's history. Organizations love SharePoint for many reasons, primarily because it does so many things for them. It is hard to compare it to competing products in the market because there is no one real competitor. There may be other options for ECM solutions, content management solutions, collaboration, social networking, search and business intelligence, but there is no single competitor. Companies like the fact they don't have to be in a position to buy many different products and then integrate them together. While SharePoint might not do everything that everyone wants, there is also a very robust and healthy ecosystem of partners that build off SharePoint."

Why is SharePoint training so critical for IT pros right now?

"SharePoint is a big product that does a lot of stuff. It also is usually the hub for a lot of collaboration within the organization and contains a considerable amount of the company's data & IP. Because of this, a SharePoint deployment needs to be properly architected to perform adequately, as well as have a reliable disaster recovery strategy. Just like other mission critical systems like Exchange and Active Directory, IT pros need to have a strong grasp of SharePoint specific issues and aspects to maintain a successful deployment."

What are the core questions about SharePoint that IT pros have?

"The two biggest questions we see IT pros asking are related to organizing and architecting a SharePoint farm, as well as how to best implement a disaster recovery and governance plan. SharePoint is a very big and complex project. Large deployments can have numerous servers that are dedicated to specific purposes such as serving web requests, indexing content for search, or performing complex calculations for business intelligence demands. The same is true for disaster recovery. With SharePoint being the hub of so much information and quickly becoming mission critical within organizations, IT pros need to know how to adequately backup and restore the system with minimal down time."

What is the future for SharePoint?

"We see SharePoint experiencing continued growth. Will it continue at the rate we've seen the past 3 years? Maybe, maybe not. But with all the work Microsoft has put into enhancing and improving the next release of SharePoint making it more enterprise ready, we expect to see more people upgrade from previous versions and also migrate to the platform. It will be exciting to see the customer reaction to the new product as news about features and plans start to be disclosed later this fall (the SharePoint Conference 2009 in October 2009 has been dubbed the '14' conference by Microsoft. '14' is the codename for the next version: SharePoint Server 2010)."

After the jump, we'll take a look at Critical Path Training as a company, and what differentiates them from other training and certification vendors.

About Critical Path Training
OK, so few would contest that SharePoint is huge and growing. And, in spite of low budgets and an economic recession, IT pros new to SharePoint are still going to need training. But, what makes Critical Path Training stand out? For this section, I spoke with Marshall Butler, Director of Sales and Marketing for Critical Path.

Provide an overview of the type of training (in terms of format, difficulty level, cert-based or just educational, etc.) Critical Path provides, as well as your objectives as a training company.

"Critical Path Training provides training for every SharePoint role: information worker, designer, IT professional/administrator, and professional developer. We offer instructor-led training classes across the United States in Microsoft Technology Centers and a few selected professional training facilities that are owned and managed by our partners. We reach many other customers throughout the world by offering online versions of our most popular SharePoint training classes. We also conduct onsite training as a more economic and convenient training solution for companies with 10 or more students. Our classes are a great resource to get ready to take certification exams. However, they are not preparation classes and we can’t make any guarantees."

Why just SharePoint? Why not expand to other technology fields?

"SharePoint is a set of technologies that has an incredibly vast surface area. Furthermore, everything we see points to the fact that SharePoint is Microsoft’s business platform of the future. We continue to make investments under the assumption that the SharePoint platform will grow in both functionality and popularity with each major release. And while we feel that Critical Path Training has a greater number of industry-recognized third-party experts on SharePoint than any other organization, we also know that we must focus if we want to continue being the SharePoint community’s leading voice in areas such as best practice deployment, collaboration, component and workflow development, web content management, enterprise content management, and business intelligence, just to name a few."

How is Critical Path different from its competitors?

"Critical Path is the only training company that focuses solely on SharePoint technologies. We pride ourselves in the fact that we conduct extensive research and author the SharePoint industry's most in-depth training. Our mission is to provide our students with an objective viewpoint and key insights about the architecture, as well as best practices and essential coding techniques. We also believe that training is about more than just telling people a set of technical facts. There is a fine art to writing a great technical training course. A course author must be able to create a story that teaches concepts and reinforces technical skill in a series of lectures and lab exercises that build a student's understanding layer by layer through the week."

Tell me about the Continual Learning Program.

"Critical Path Training is revolutionizing the way SharePoint training is delivered by introducing the Continual Learning Program. Every student who enrolls in the Critical Path Training Continual Learning Program will receive an Amazon Kindle 2 preloaded with the courseware for every Critical Path Training class attended. Our comprehensive courseware written by leading voices in the SharePoint community becomes searchable, clippable, and highly portable. Plus, after the course is complete, Critical Path Training will continue to send white papers, articles, and other SharePoint materials to participants of the program. We think of it as 'training assurance.'"

If you're interested in Critical Path Training's instructor-led training and Continual Learning Program, visit www.criticalpathtraining.com.

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