Microsoft SharePoint: Three Tips for Making It Behave

Get a grip on this complex software and the forthcoming upgrade.

by Shane O'Neill, CIO.com - With Microsoft SharePoint 2010 due in the first half of this year, the time is now for enterprises to assess the suite's new features for both end-users (blogs and wikis) and IT pros (app management, backup and recovery).

But there's one big complicating factor: Simply managing existing SharePoint 2007 is more than a handful for IT departments.

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"Many organizations are not ready to upgrade to SP 2010 until at least six months after its general availability, or they wait until service pack 1," says Scott Gode, product manager at Azaleos, a service provider that helps companies deploy and manage SharePoint and Exchange environments.

Organizations that Gode talks to are not in a rush to move to SharePoint 2010 because of dramatic feature changes and its requirement of 64-bit hardware, he says.

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At The SharePoint Technology Conference in San Francisco earlier this month, Azaleos Director of SharePoint Services Jason Dearinger gave a presentation focused on general management issues for SharePoint.

Here are three monitoring and management tips from that presentation that will help keep the unruly SharePoint suite under control.

SharePoint Is Alive ... Treat It as Such

Since SharePoint is in use nearly all the time with users and data coming and going, it must be constantly monitored.

IT must always treat SharePoint as a live thing by monitoring the health of applications, the size of databases, and how quickly search is running, Gode says. Also, you need to check the status of virtual machines if you're using virtualization.

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Every part of an IT department needs attention, Gode says, but SharePoint is special.

"SharePoint needs constant care and feeding. It is more alive than other applications because users are always adding new content and have more control with SharePoint than, say, a regular database."

Because it is so alive though, SharePoint can grow out of control and become unusable. With too much end-user control and not enough administrative oversight, too much content can be piled into SharePoint.

"Users won't be able to find what they need," says Gode. "There's a fine line for IT to let users run with SharePoint but also reign them in."

Don't Rush into SharePoint 2010

Companies not ready for the learning curve of an upgrade or prepared to buy the 64-bit hardware required for SharePoint 2010 should neither rush to it nor sit by waiting, says Gode.

To be proactive, companies should test SharePoint applications now for compatibility and not rely on beta software or wait for Microsoft to release the product.

"I've heard ship dates for SP 2010 range from April to September," says Gode. "To set testing for collaboration apps or document management around Microsoft's schedule just doesn't make sense."

Don't Buy Into the Wrong Configuration

When Azaleos is brought in to help customers build up a SharePoint environment, it often finds that customers don't know what they want from SharePoint. Is it for a bunch of wikis? Is it a document management system? Is it a file system on steroids?

Some organizations build up SharePoint too big and make it more complex than it needs to be, says Gode, or they under-invest by using Windows SharePoint Services (a free add-on to Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and 2008) as a full-on enterprise document management system.

Gode urges enterprises to plan how many application servers and how many back-end database servers they should set up, and whether they should use virtualization or run everything on physical hardware. They should also devise a backup and recovery plan and figure out how much high-availability is needed with regards to the SharePoint data.

Gode likens SharePoint to a Swiss army knife, but one that offers more tools than most companies make use of; in fact, many customers struggle to find the one or two killer SharePoint functions that make sense for their enterprise.

"The trick is to figure out how best to use SharePoint and then architect the back end accordingly," he says.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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