In-Depth

Gartner: Governance and Strategy Key to SharePoint Deployments

Gartner recently offered some tips on deploying Microsoft SharePoint, which requires lots of team effort and coordination, according to the analyst and consulting firm.

Organizations will need to have their governance and strategy plans locked down before proceeding with a SharePoint deployment, according to Mark R. Gilbert, research vice president and lead analyst on SharePoint at Gartner. He gave a Webinar talk on the topic of "Making Microsoft SharePoint Deliver" on April 18.

While any deployment project entails risks for both IT and business personnel, it's particularly true of SharePoint, Gilbert said. Organizations should have a cross-organizational team in place before proceeding.

"If you don't know where you're going, it's like getting in the car and driving left and right randomly," Gilbert said. "You have no idea where you'll end up. And that's the problem. Because SharePoint is multifunctional, you have so many choices. It's really hard for them to articulate what the core priorities are. And that's the challenge. So, you've got to get the business people on board."

Gilbert also recommends defining a SharePoint center of excellence within an organization. Many IT pros will have a stake, including backup and recovery workers, networking support personnel, DBAs, architects, developers and e-mail administrators.

The Many Uses of SharePoint
SharePoint is an IT Swiss army knife, Gilbert said. It's used for content management, document management, a workflow environment, extranet, portal and collaboration. The ways that organizations deploy SharePoint could be different, but the strategy should not just be about the tool's core. Rather, the focus should be on the business case, he said.

About 70 percent of Gartner's client base has SharePoint. Half are trying to use it as a strategic platform, but they are having mixed results and struggling to get value out of it, Gilbert said. The use cases for SharePoint are changing and SharePoint deployments are getting larger, with 60 TB to 80 TB global farms popping up. These sorts of deployments are being used to manage big data.

People are using SharePoint in simple deployments to manage Office documents and they are using it to manage large files, such as 10-MB PowerPoint files, satellite data and even oil-well-head data sets, he explained. Gartner's clients are rolling out business intelligence (BI) implementations in conjunction with SharePoint, using portals and dashboards to show transactional or BI data. They are using it with Microsoft PowerPivot, PerformancePoint and SQL Server Reporting Services, and also with other BI environments such IBM's Cognos and Oracle's Hyperion.

People also are building applications on top of SharePoint. These sorts of deployments are attempts at global deployments scaled across the planet, Gilbert said. For instance, he cited a more advanced use case where one Gartner client is trying to build apps on top of SharePoint and then integrate it with an ERP system and pull out the ERP data.

In that context, Gilbert said that "sometimes clients will ask about the total cost of ownership of SharePoint, [but] it's impossible to answer."

A more simple use case for SharePoint is as a secure repository, or as a "file share on steroids." While most organizations may have fairly chaotic file systems, putting them into SharePoint may just result in a different way of managing the mess. Gilbert recommended having a governance plan and usage plan in place. IT should work with the business to clean up their files before moving to SharePoint. While organizations can get some benefits with SharePoint, such as backup management, it can come with an increased cost. For instance, SharePoint can add latency to the overall experience.

Developing secure extranets is easier to do with SharePoint 2010, but it still can be challenging, Gilbert said. Gartner's clients will set up a separate farm to isolate the extranet from the corporate farm, and that works well. Organizations may want to seek out third-party tools, such as those from Epok.net, to help with these extranets, he added.

With regard to social collaboration, SharePoint can be a successful knowledge management solution, but Gilbert noted some things to watch. For instance, MySites may not be deployed that frequently by users. They may be deployed to 1,000 people and only 100 to 200 people will use them on a regular basis. The barrier to adoption may be age-related or a cultural thing. In general, the social efforts don't always get value in terms of the effort spent, he explained.

Team Sites and the Project Sites are the some of the more successful pieces of a SharePoint environment. However, SharePoint is not as good at building interactive, multilingual, multidevice-oriented sites, according to Gilbert. He said that "there are better tools out there for that."

The Importance of Scalability
In terms of the storage impact of SharePoint, a terabyte of data can morph into something closer to 8 terabytes or 10 terabytes of information. This massive amount of data can pile up from backups being performed every night and creating restore points every weekend. In addition, organizations will keep six months of restore-point data. Gilbert recommended getting rid of the junk in the first place.

In general, in order to have usability in SharePoint, organizations need to support scalability. Gilbert noted four challenges to achieving scalability in SharePoint.

1. EBS vs. RBS. SQL Server content storage is not designed for documents but for structured data. So, when users add a lot of PowerPoint data, it just chews up the processing power, and it can be challenging to get around that problem using either virtual machines or physical boxes. Microsoft introduced the external blob store (EBS) in SharePoint 2007 SP2. It rolled out the remote blob store (RBS) in SharePoint 2010. Both technologies are a stubbing or pointer approaches in which a small metadata entry will point to a file stored in a secure file system environment.

Essentially, organizations will need to decide when to leave things in SQL Server and when move them out.

"Generally, what we find is if the objects are less than a couple hundred K, it's best to just leave them in SQL," Gilbert said. "If they are bigger than about a Meg, it's best to get them out of SQL."

Using EBS/RBS approaches can cut the latencies by a third, Gilbert said. He recommended using third-party tools for ease of use, including those from AvePoint, StorSimple and Metalogix (StoragePoint).

2. WAN Optimization. In widely dispersed environments, there is a lot of wide area network (WAN) traffic, which can slow things down. If an organization can't afford a bigger pipe, it can look at how to make it better. Gilbert noted that WAN acceleration is just one part of such an optimization strategy for organizations to consider.

3. Information Architecture. Another scalability consideration has to do with how many site collections the organization uses. In a farm architecture, organizations can have farms at the high level and sites and site collections. "Generally, we find that if you are having issues at the database level, you will want to consider using multiple site collections because that stops one thread from blocking up the whole environment," Gilbert explained. "Think about having multiple site collections each mapped to a business unit."

4. Global Farm. Those organizations with global farms should use various approaches to speed up things. They will all cost money, though, Gilbert warned.

SharePoint Partners
Microsoft has many partners to help with SharePoint. Third-party vendors may say that they integrate with SharePoint, but that can mean a lot of different things, so organizations should probe what it means, Gilbert cautioned. Customizing the SharePoint environment by adding third-party tools is a balancing act, and organizations could find themselves redoing things in a couple of years because the tools may not migrate natively when upgrading SharePoint.

SharePoint partners fall into a few categories, and Gilbert described some of them:

  • Management Tools: Axceler, Quest and Idera
  • Replication: iOra (Infonic) and Syntergy
  • WAN Accelerators: F5 Networks, Riverbed, Cisco and BlueCoat
  • Content Migration: Casahl, Metalogix, Axceler, Tzunami, Idera and MetaVis
  • Replication and Backup: AvePoint and Quest
  • EBS/RBS: Metalogix, ECM Systemware, StorSimple and Stealth
  • Taxonomies: Varonis, MetaVis and MatchPoint
  • Social Extensions: Newsgator and Realcom
  • Secure Extranet Tools: Epok.net

Gilbert noted that the e-discovery system in SharePoint is a basically a "midlevel records management system" that hasn't been certified. However, smaller partners have done the work, such as GimmalSoft. He recommended partner implementations to do records management in SharePoint.

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