Sep 04 2008

SharePoint Success

Try these tips for deploying the collaboration platform and making the most of its functionality.

The benefits of collaboration tools can be measured in the productivity these tools produce. For government, the ability to work collectively and offer better ways to serve the public is an immeasurable success.

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is one of the most popular collaboration choices and offers the ease of integration into the Microsoft Office application suite. The product requires a few prerequisites, depending on the implementation. You’ll need both .NET Framework 2.0 and 3.0 (web applications require version 2.0, Windows Workflow framework calls for version 3.0). SharePoint server farms require a full license for SQL Server.

SharePoint 2007 is perhaps one of the easiest out-of-the-box installations. A standalone installation is quite literally a matter of clicking next, next, next. SharePoint farms call for a little more configuration. Here are some best practices to help make your SharePoint implementation go smoothly.

To prepare for installation, create accounts in Active Directory for your different SharePoint roles. These include accounts for the SharePoint database and services, the farm search service and the application pool account (farm search and application pool cannot use built-in accounts).

If you’re deploying SharePoint for a small to midsize state or local government agency, the Basic installation should work fine. This uses SQL Express and cannot be upgraded to a SharePoint farm. The same is true of Stand Alone in the Advanced installation. For a SharePoint farm, choose Advanced installation. This uses a full SQL Server installation.

During configuration, remember these few things:

  • ASP.NET v.2 (used for building web applications) must be valid in the root. To check which version is valid, open a command prompt and type the following:
    • Type cd C:\Windows\\framework\v2.0.50727\.
    • Then aspnet_regiis –lv (you will see version 1.1.4322.0 is the valid root).
    • Next type aspnet_regiis –i (this will install version 2.0.50727).
    • Once more type aspnet_regiis –lv (you will see version 2.0.50727 is the valid root).
  • During configuration of your first server, start the load balancer before the Conversion Launcher. The Conversion Launcher will ask you to specify which server is the load balancer. Moreover, Conversion Launcher will not start unless this server is specified and started first.
  • Create the first web application before you configure the shared services.
  • SharePoint offers templates for easy deployment, including Collaboration, Meetings, Enterprise and Publishing. Each subset of templates offers easy-to-create web applications based on user needs.
  • The first web application created in SharePoint Server uses port 80. Create a default web application on SharePoint using port 80 to reserve this port, and then create your web applications. The first application can become your web portal.
  • Create a separate application pool account in a production environment.
  • Active X plug-in is a major piece of the SharePoint puzzle, making integration with other browsers a task. Level 1 browser is needed for administrative tasks. SharePoint supports level 2 browsers (Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Netscape), but user experience will be limited. As of today, the issue of browser support seems to be a lively one, and unfortunately Microsoft has made little progress in addressing the issue.

There are plenty of neat customizations and performance improvements for SharePoint Server. To keep SharePoint running smoothly, remember these tips:

  • Move log files off the C drive.
  • Fine-tune SQL Server by moving transaction logs and data files to different drives. Also try changing the default autogrow settings in SQL Server.
  • Use Kerberos authentication where possible to improve performance, as it’s faster than Windows NT LAN Manager (NTLM), which has issues with cross-authenticating (double hopping) to secondary services.
  • Beware what you choose to audit on the SharePoint Server. Too much and you will see your system slow to a crawl.
  • Run the SharePoint Capacity Planning Tool, which requires the System Center Capacity Planner. Both tools can be downloaded from Microsoft.
  • For a large-scale farm deployment, try automating the installation of the servers. You can use the psconfig.exe and stsadm.exe tools to automate the deployment using unattended scripts.

Collaboration deployment is not without pain, and you’ll face some challenges. Some of SharePoint’s weaknesses are that scalability is limited, content management tools lack good support for non-Windows servers and non-Office systems, and large multimedia files aren’t supported well.

The search time in SharePoint Server also leaves much to be desired, though Microsoft addresses this with the release of Search Server 2008. Removing the impact of Enterprise Search from SharePoint Server will greatly improve search time and results.