Part 2 - “SharePoint Decision Guide – A Best Practices Roadmap and Organizational Strategy”
This is the 2nd of a 3 part “SharePoint Decision Guide – A Best Practices Roadmap and Organizational Strategy” white paper was developed by EPC Group to provide you with key information and in-depth analysis that will assist your organization in developing a best practices 24-36 month SharePoint Roadmap and related implementation strategy. Part 1 of this white paper can be accessed by here.
Should I Prepare for a Hybrid SharePoint Platform
In Part 1 of this white paper, we discussed some of the core differences around SharePoint 2013 on-premises (private cloud) vs. the hosted (“public cloud) as well as a hybrid SharePoint 2013 deployment which allows for a middle ground for you to tailor based on specific requirements, concerns, security requirements, as well as custom development strategies. There is an inherent tradeoff between complete control of your SharePoint environment and customization strategy vs. a managed service or “service level agreement” (SLA) that you will adhere to for your environment.
As detailed in the first installation of this white paper, there are major considerations that must be vetted by both the business and technology sides of the company and the review of content or intellectual properly and even governing laws at a state, province, or even country level. There are also considerations around business intelligence and the organization’s requirements to connect to other line of business (LOB) systems and how the cloud or hybrid may affect or work with this “other” data and related permission strategies.
A hybrid SharePoint 2013 environment allows your organization to be much more flexible and provides for the ability to store sensitive and highly confidential content, as described in some of the initial, within your own data center while also providing an “external” cloud around areas such as Office 365. A SharePoint 2013 \ Office 365 hybrid deployment provides an organization to implement robust business intelligence (BI) initiatives as the “private’ side of the hybrid cloud will more than likely already exist on the company’s network in their Active Directory forest which will allow BI initiatives to securely access other line-of-business systems within the organization. Some of these capabilities also exist in some very recent releases of Office 365 Enterprise but the time you will spend on the configuration and setup to accomplish the same results will be immensely lower in the ‘private cloud” side of the hybrid SharePoint development.
One major concern of organization’s in past releases of SharePoint were how some “Test” or “Development” environments that were not properly implemented, not backed-up or under the organization’s disaster recovery (DR) strategy, or those that duplicated the effort of the organization’s central “SharePoint” deployment quickly became a “Production” like environment. In SharePoint 2010, 2007, or 2003 implementations there is a concern around the risk that these types of environments (i.e. Development environments that quickly became a SharePoint Production environment with a great deal of content) can bring when they are not following the company’s overall IT strategy, SharePoint roadmap and governance policies and causing additional effort, risk, and concern around document security.
At the very beginning of your organization’s SharePoint 2013 initiative, a company-wide SharePoint Governance and Communication strategy message must be established and communicated to all team members, both non-IT as well as IT, as an employee or team member who would like a place to store and access content without going through the proper channels can establish an unapproved SharePoint site by sending an email or placing a phone call to very long list of hosting providers. This user who may not know or understand the organization’s SharePoint roadmap and/or governance strategy, could unknowingly be putting the organization at great risk in a number of areas. This team member may not understand the implications of storing data in an environment for which they know little or nothing about.
This is a key reason that preparing this strategy and a SharePoint “hybrid capable” type corporate communication message can be extremely valuable without ruling out possible “hybrid” needs of future projects, vendors, etc.
Note: For SharePoint 2013 development, try to develop with an “Office 365 SharePoint 2013 solution” mindset regardless of whether your company has a completely on-premises SharePoint 2013 roadmap as you will be able to “reuse” this solution and ensure its compatibility for the future to keep your options open and to not have to open a completely new development project should you ever have a “one off” that has this need.
SharePoint’s System Architecture
SharePoint implementations can be best approached by categorizing the underlying servers and “hardware” regardless of virtual vs. physical by categorizing the “System Architecture” to cover these underlying components. The SharePoint System Architecture roadmap components must be developed by the business and functional requirements of the information architecture which contains the planning for sites, document libraries, and ultimately the content. SharePoint 2013 introduces “shredded storage” which enables organizations to have additional flexibility in their underlying System Architecture but reviewing the needs of the organization in terms of metrics such as:
· Number of SharePoint Users as well as any possible future estimates if expansion is on the horizon
· Amount of Content to be stored by individual departments, business units, and users
· The size of that content and considerations for large files such as CAD drawings or media files such as large videos
· Performance requirements of these users as well as their location
· Number of data centers and their locations
· Onsite deployment, Cloud Deployment, of Hybrid (mixture of both onsite and cloud)
· Immediate requirements of the business (i.e. company intranet) as well as longer term requirements (i.e. business intelligence (BI) and analytical SharePoint service) that may require security around federation or other access needs
· Disaster Recovery (DR) strategies
· Network security (Active Directory (AD), performance, acceleration needs, etc.)
· Development environment and related Visual Studio \ Team Foundation Server (TFS) strategy
Key Areas to Consider Around Scalability in Your SharePoint 2013 Architectural Roadmap
It is important to implement a highly available as well as scalable SharePoint 2013 platform and avoid some of the known pitfalls that degrade its performance such as:
Having all SharePoint services are in the “default” service group
Procuring or having Inadequate hardware
Not paying enough time and attention to SQL Server’s configuration and its optimization
Not providing the proper tools to allow for monitoring and reviewing the underlying server logs
If you are experiencing performance issues, it is key to first attempt to perform exercises such as load testing in a similar or replicated environment as well as reviewing the IIS logs, the server’s performance and latency for both web, service, and SQL servers. There are some obvious metrics that are sometimes overlooked such as memory, RPS, and the CPU’s statistics.
Note: Don’t laugh as more than a few of us have not been able to troubleshoot an issue only to find that there was no free space remaining in storage, myself included and probably more than once.
There are some major updates or architectural considerations around SharePoint 2013 such as discouraging dedicated service farms that end up increasing server count as well as overall maintenance requirements. It is also important to use as few application pools as possible in SharePoint 2013 as each application pool takes up memory and resources and it is better to share these resources to avoid some of the caching errors that have come up in many enterprise-wide farms.
There is also a recommendation for one web application as well as one corresponding zone as well as using host named site collections what allow for reduced resource consumption and much better scalability. You are always able to have multiple host names in regards to secure site access (SSA).
SharePoint 2013’s Search and Scalability Recommendations
SharePoint 2013’s search, which now includes fast search, has very different metrics involved in the scalability of search.
For example, for every 10 million items there is a recommendation for scaling around adding an index partition. With 20 million items the scaling recommendation is to add a new crawl database and with 30 million items it is recommended to go with a dedicated search farm. It have also seen some great results when providing a dedicated host for crawling on the crawling target server.
Your search will always function at a higher level when it is originally architected with best practices in mind with defined targets and proper logical and physical architecture. There is also a last of testing and validation that has happened in previous SharePoint releases but should be done for SharePoint 2013 as well as taking advantage of the native monitoring and logging capabilities.
SharePoint 2013’s SQL Server 2012 Scalability Recommendations
There are a lot of similarities in recommendations from past versions of SharePoint. It is key to ensure you always user SQL Aliases whenever possible as it makes later migrations or database moves much easier and can save 100+ hours or rework should you ever need to do so. There are several candidates for aliases and if you begin with one SQL Server instance and three aliases you will have the option to scale and later move any highly used databases into a dedicated SQL node.
SQL Server 2012 R2 comes with new AlwaysOn for redundancy capabilities which will also be native in the future SQL Server 2014 release. This does require Windows Server Failover Clustering (WFCF).
Minimal Download Strategy (MDS)
SharePoint 2013 comes with a minimal download strategy (MDS) which goes around the typical browser effort of evaluating scripts or parsing CSS and rendering HTML. The MDS feature in SharePoint 2013 allows the reuse of the outer chrome of a SharePoint page and the updates to be in replacing the inner content portion of the page.
List of Key New SharePoint 2013 Features
SharePoint 2013 does come with a number of new Web Content Management (WCM) features as well as features that are much improved. The cross-site publishing feature in SharePoint 2013 has been extremely helpful on a number of EPC Group’s recent SharePoint 2013 implementations and the ability to present powerful video to users as well as the embedding capabilities are great for users and content owners.
There is also new technology around image renditions, clean URLs, and a much more powerful metadata navigation capability that has more than a few smiling and released to not be forced to build a massive “global browser” type solution. 2013’s WCM features and improvements also include variation and improved content translation as well as extremely powerful search engine optimization with FAST Search now being fully integrated.
The following image details the graphic features of SharePoint 2013’s WCM features:
Understanding SharePoint Server 2013 Search Architecture
One of the big ticket areas Microsoft rolled into SharePoint 2013 is the integration of FAST Search as a native capability as well as providing a new rich user interface through to a completely revamped back-end architecture.
Some of the previous SharePoint version search features still exist such as full document and content searches, people and profile searches, and connecting Search to external systems with the BCS but you will see a major search improvement with this new release.
The following image shows SharePoint 2001, 2003, 2007, and 2010’s previous search pages:
EPC Group has taken a survey of the last 20 deployments this year from our client’s SharePoint 2013 deployments after the actual go-live and users being live within the new platform and the following were the top “liked” or “much improved” features that users responded to around search in this survey:
1. The full content previous for office documents with the search hover panel
2. Improved search time to find the desired content that was actually being specifically searched for
3. Ability to search for skills of other employees which they found to not be useful in previous version and eventually “gave up” that type of search
4. The new Search web parts
5. The custom or tailored search results page made searching “more comfortable” and “not as clunky”
6. Seeing what others have searched for and the ability to go back to “previous searches” where they were able to find what they were looking for but forgot what they had previously searched for
The SharePoint 2013 Search interface includes elements such as search refiners that allow users to take a subset of Search results and “refine” them based on metadata associated with the content. There are updated or new refiners in SharePoint 2013 as follows:
Entity Extraction which introduces the ability for entities such as people’s names or company names to be extracted from the contents of documents and made available as a metadata selection in the refiners.
Deep refiners to ensure the entire Search index is used to calculate the refiner information.
Visual Refiners provide a way of visually seeing the information driving the refiner, complete with an interactive slider to do the actual “refining”.
SharePoint 2013’s Search also has new Query Rules that allow for additional defined areas such as promoted results and other features as listed below:
Promoted Results (you might recall being referred to as “best bets) allow users to define a link to be shown for specific Search terms e.g. ‘developers’ shows a link to the SP2013 training on MSDN.
Result Blocks are an inline set of results that effectively provide “results-within-results” based on the query. This could be rich media content previews for the current search, content from external systems or any other useful type of a screenshot or snapshot of content from the Search index.
The following is a list of the underlying core elements in SharePoint 2013’s search:
• Content Source
• Search Schema
• Query Rule
· Customization of returned results
· Captures Intent, composed of
• Query Condition
• Query Action
• Publishing Options
• Query Transforms
· Web Parts
· Query Rule
· Result Source
• Result Source
The following images show SharePoint 2013’s ability to Scope a Search Source:
The following image show as example of a tailored display templates in SharePoint 2013’s Search:
SharePoint 2013’s New Auditing, Logging, and Monitoring Capabilities
SharePoint 2013 now comes with native event logs as well as trace and usage logs. This has been a welcomed set of new features by SharePoint administrators as well as companies that did not want to go out and invest in a 3rd party solution but rather use 2013’s native capabilities.
There are also some very powerful web analytics and health reports that will allow you too much closely monitor what users are experiencing in search and ensure they are getting the results they are searching for. There are also new administrative reports as well as a developer dashboard which I have to mention the new Timer Job Status reports that would have been so nice in previous versions when troubleshooting complex workflows but are now available.
These new capabilities also include SQL Server monitoring as well as the ability to review memory counters, disk counters and performance counters. You can enable these features on specific sites or on specific site collections or even at the farm level. It is very helpful in providing you with tools to enforce your SharePoint governance strategy as well as permissions and possible scalability issues and red flags you would be ready to react to and resolve.
SharePoint administration reporting can be separated into five different categories:
o Troubleshooting why users cannot see the content they should
o Reporting for different types of compliance
o Auditing who has access to sensitive content
o Finding what content is, or is not, being used
o Planning for future growth
o Understanding hardware requirements
o Monitoring growth for performance reasons
o Understanding hardware requirements
o Reorganizing taxonomy based on Storage needs
o Needing to show who accessed what and when, to adhere to internal or external compliance requirements
o Monitoring page load times to uncover problems
o Planning for increased usage
The following screen shot shows the Usage and Activity Reporting in SharePoint 2013:
SharePoint’s Information Architecture
The “SharePoint Information Architecture” should contain the planning and roadmap for areas such as the sites, communities, navigational strategy, search strategy, and permissions. The permissions tie into the Active Directory (AD) requirements and planning within the “System Architecture” and related network so it’s equally important for the Information Architecture of SharePoint to communicate and plan the deployment with the “System Architecture” project team so that there is a cohesive strategy and understanding of the requirements both short-term and longer-term. The underlying Information Architecture needs of the organization should contain metrics such as:
· Overall Site hierarchy strategy
· SharePoint Site requirements
· Related information management policies “IMP” of the organization (i.e. AD Groups, SharePoint Security Groups, etc.)
· Search Requirements of the organization
· Communities and “Social” strategies
· Metadata \ Content Type requirements
· Records Retention \ Records Management Policies
· Retention Schedule enforcement in relation to the Records Retention \ Records Management Policies
· Workflow or business process requirements
· Power User strategies, etc.
· Branding Applied to Sites | Navigational Affects
· HTML based Master Pages & Page Layouts
• Both Master Pages and Page Layouts can now be edited in HTML
• Design Manager can create a new minimal master page or page layout
• Design Manager can also convert existing HTML designs to functioning master pages
In the development of SharePoint 2013’s information architecture, it is key to take 3 key areas into consideration which are the users, the content in SharePoint or that may be in SharePoint, as well as the context for which both the users and content will be considered, monitored, or enforced under. The information architecture design in SharePoint 2013 is 100+ page document or chapter in itself, and the following are some excerpts and examples of the methodologies and strategies I have developed and implemented in recent SharePoint 2013 implementations. This extremely large subject can be reviewed in detailed in my upcoming book “SharePoint 2013 Field Guide: Advice from the Consulting Trenches” as I reference many real world and “from the trenches” experiences I have encored in developing some of the more complex SharePoint information architectures I have been involved in.
Information Architecture Design and Your User Base
The following image details all of the moving pieces that are required to be taken into consideration when identifying and working with your organization’s user base in a SharePoint 2013 best practices implementation:
Information Architecture Design and Your Organizations Content
The following image details all of the moving pieces that are required to be taken into consideration when identifying the content that will be stored and managed within SharePoint as well as external content that should be taken into considerations:
Depending on the type of SharePoint 2013 initiative you are wanting to accomplish in the specific phase you are currently in, the identification of the content as well as the required security and permissions model is absolutely critical to the success of SharePoint over the long-term. If users start to questions SharePoint’s security capabilities it can very much cause an internal pushback by the users and cause a great deal of harm to your overall success and ROI.
Note: The metadata and core content types should be identified as soon as possible as the sooner you implement at least a baseline information architecture strategy the easier it will be to not only find content but secure it and manage its proper storage location and related future retention schedule.
Information Architecture Design and Context – (Governance, Compliance, Risk, BYOD, Phases)
The following image details the major policy, governance, compliance, and strategy components that are required to be taken into consideration when identifying the context of your overall SharePoint 2013 deployment.
This includes areas such as the spelling out the more granular goals of SharePoint’s phases and what exactly the business is trying to accomplish as well as identifying the related requirements to meet those phased goals. For example, if your organization’s goal in phase 2 of your SharePoint roadmap was to implement a powerful business intelligence (BI) solution then there are a list of questions that must be answered such as what options you would like to provide the users to access this content as well as whether the report, graph, or related BI information you want the user to consume resides within SharePoint or possible outside of SharePoint. If it resides outside of SharePoint, there are requirements around using the BCS or other method to access and do you want to make this report available to update anytime, on specific intervals, or simply a daily report that is updated every morning.
It is extremely important to take in these real-world and “in the trenches” type use cases or experiences as seeing both sides of the fence and the implications and requirements will “demystify” SharePoint and help you achieve huge success within your organization with SharePoint 2013.