Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gear and Tweeting in Las Vegas: Day 1 of SharePoint Conference 2009

The morning got off to a leisurely start. #SPRunners were out early (and they recruited a new member! Not me - Steve Ballmer). Most everyone else seemed to catch enough rest to make it through a day of what ran the risk of being death by a thousand PowerPoints.

By 7:45, however, a large crowd had made the pilgrimage to the Shoreline A room at Mandalay Bay Convention Center, where breakfast was served before a pair of keynote speeches headlined by Steve Ballmer and Tom Rizzo, and Jeff Teper from Microsoft.

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This is a fairly big conference, sold out at 7500+ people last I heard.

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But, at the same time, the crowd seems small and intimate, which is no accident. Any time you have this many people who work with passion on enhancing collaboration, teamwork facilitation and social networking on- and offline, it’s going to be a friendly atmosphere.

There is a large contingent here that religiously read each other’s blogs, meet up periodically for various SharePoint Saturday events and other conferences and shows, regional user groups, and of course, force the occasional fail whale to pop up on Twitter. Twitter, in fact, is so prevalent, that many people made t-shirts with their usernames on them so they could more easily spot each other at the show (yours truly, @jeffbecraft, included).

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My colleague Adam Duggan (@thunderlizard) and I were fortunate to run into Kirk Evans (@kaevans) from Microsoft, who is shooting a number of casual interviews for Microsoft’s Channel 9 (http://channel9.msdn.com/posts/kirke/) while at the show. Hopefully, we can sit down for one later in the week <shameless plug>so I can talk with him about Enterprise Hosting for SharePoint on AT&T’s fully virtualized Synaptic platform. </shameless plug> We sat down to breakfast and met some great people from a number of other firms.

After breakfast, we made our way over to the keynote, and awaited Mr. Ballmer’s arrival.

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I had signed up with www.endusersharepoint.com to be a live blogger at the conference, and also promised several of my customers that I would be providing frequent updates from the show, so I had my <shameless plug> AT&T Blackberry Curve </shameless plug> charged up and ready to Tweet away as the big announcements came.

It didn’t take long. And not to worry, death by a thousand PowerPoints this was not.

Right off the bat steveb@microsoft.com (Ballmer encouraged attendees to email him with their feedback), announced that the SharePoint 2010 public beta would be available in November, just a few short weeks away.

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Highlighting the increasingly heavy use of mobile devices, Ballmer pointed out that “someone” (widely suspected to be either @meetdux or @gannotti) had a streaming video of the hall from the back of the room, though he said it revealed that there weren’t as many illuminated screens as you’d think in people’s hands, the reason being that mobile devices are still not seamlessly capable of handling the kinds of tasks that the PC can. But, he noted, Microsoft is investing heavily in this area, and it all ties into the vision for SharePoint to provide seamless collaboration across all of your screens (PC, mobile, TV, and more).

Speaking of investing heavily, there was a word that Ballmer used several dozen times in rapid succession during his talk, and that word was “cloud.”

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Though he was careful to point out that there is a clear distinction between public Internet-facing SharePoint sites and the cloud-based services that could be used to serve needs on all three –nets (intra/extra/Inter) over the Internet, Ballmer made it very clear that SharePoint in the cloud through Microsoft Online Services and partners including <shameless plug>AT&T Hosting & Application Services</shameless plug> is a big aspect of Microsoft’s investment and strategy behind SharePoint 2010.

He also emphasized that SharePoint 2010 supports easy mixing and matching of on-premises and cloud-based SharePoint to support different features and aspects of SharePoint in the model most appropriate for the customer, offering a win-win to customers who want the ease of management that comes with cloud services, but the reduced latency concerns that come with on-premises hosting of collaboration sites, for example.

Ballmer reiterated a key point about SharePoint –- that it enables IT to do more with less better than any other product – before giving the floor to Tom Rizzo, who promptly announced that Visual Studio 2010 beta 2 is now available, before launching into some fascinating demos of how the developer experience has been improved in SharePoint 2010 and Visual Studio 2010 (note: Visual Studio 2010’s enhanced features for SharePoint 2010 do not work with earlier versions of SharePoint.

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What struck me most about the developer enhancements, and judging from the tweets I saw come across during the demos, perhaps the most highly appealing new capabilities were:

  • Business Connectivity Services, which is a superset of MOSS 2007 Enterprise’s Business Data Catalog, which now provides two-way integration with business applications, enabling significant work to be done with insignificant amounts of custom code. These enhancements are so appealing that @erickraus tweeted “BDC to BCS is like the ugly girl in high school who got hot in college.”
  • Visual Web Part development, which enables the creation of custom web parts without all the hand coding that has been necessary in the past
  • Greatly simplified deployment of SharePoint custom code
  • The Developer Dashboard, which offers detailed statistics on page load times, query times, etc. to help developers get a sense of where their solution is creating performance bottlenecks (a real bonus for the IT side, too).
  • Significantly enhanced debugging capabilities in Visual Studio 2010 that will make developers of custom code for the SharePoint platform much happier

Ballmer came back to briefly reiterate how important cloud services are to the overall SharePoint 2010 strategy, but also how he sees SharePoint for Internet sites exploding in 2010, way beyond the level of adoption seen with MOSS 2007. And then Ballmer mentioned cloud again. And again.

He also mentioned that what we’ve known in the past as Windows SharePoint Services has been rebranded SharePoint Foundation 2010. It remains the core services on which the Server platform is built.

Picking up on Ballmer’s theme of “exploding” growth in SharePoint for Internet sites, Rizzo then launched into a demo of some great new features from SharePoint and the newly added FAST search features, supporting Internet Sites on SharePoint 2010, including:

  • One click page layout for content editors, which empowers IT and developers to create a set of Page layouts that content editors can choose from “in one click” and quickly get content loaded into them, a nice time saver.
  • “Queryless” search where search capabilities are melded seamlessly into the user experience so they never have to type anything into a search box to do a powerful search.
  • “Immersive experiences” can seamlessly interweave SharePoint, Silverlight and FAST search to create a powerful and intuitive user interface

And that was just one session.

Next up was Jeff Teper, whose key theme was that SharePoint over the years has “made the web easier.”

Teper provided the welcome news that branding in SharePoint 2010 is much much easier than it was in MOSS 2007 and earlier versions. Among the built-in UI improvements is a big leap forward in accessibility, a major concern for organizations of all types, most particularly government and large enterprises.

So-called “Web 2.0” enhancements include some great improvements to blogs and wikis (including ability to edit and leverage wiki markup more easily within SharePoint) as well as impressive new social tagging features that can help enterprises capitalize on the trends in social networking that employees are seeking to foster closer engagement with their teammates, who thanks to current budget constraints, they may never see in person, especially in large and geographically dispersed organizations. Web 2.0 enhancements also include:

  • Built-in tag cloud in MySites
  • Facebook and Twitter-like network update stream for the enterprise
  • Richer people search, profiles, and social networking features that are a big leap forward

Even SharePoint’s core features got some big improvements, including:

  • Much larger scale for lists and libraries, enabling a volume of items far beyond the limits imposed by SharePoint 2007
  • Multi-page checkout
  • Document sets, essentially multi-document content types
  • Browse to digital assets on your hard drive, upload directly to your asset library in the background as your digitl asset appears within your page
  • Taxonomy management including the ability to leverage taxonomy and content types across multiple farms (not just multiple site collections)
  • Some great new features focused on governance, including features the help to enforce governance plans automatically
  • Improved records management that includes the ability to mark a document a record without moving out to a distinct Records Center
  • Digital asset management and true streaming within SharePoint lists and libraries
  • Name search now include phonetic spelling matches, so if you spell Jeff Teper’s last name “T-E-P-P-E-R” by mistake, his name will still come up in search. Not having this capability was a big irritation with name search in SharePoint 2007, especially for my large enterprise customers.

SharePoint and Office continue to draw ever more tightly intertwined, which is NOT a bad thing for end users. Office 14 (they skipped unlucky 13) offers some amazing new capabilities including:

  • Excel and Excel Services now offer PowerPivot to make vast sheets of data (100 million+ rows) quick and easy to filter and sort.
  • Terrific metatagging and property coordination between Office and SharePoint, enabling easy searching regardless of the client used.
  • All Office 2010 apps have web-based clients available and coordinate 2-way with SharePoint 2010

And then there’s what’s altogether new in SharePoint 2010:

  • PerformancePoint Services, directly integrated with SharePoint 2010 (the standalone product PerformancePoint Server is no longer going to be offered)
  • Seamless offline and mobile capabilities through tighter integration with SharePoint Workspace (formerly Groove) and mobile devices (not just the Windows Mobile platform either)
  • A major shift in SharePoint 2010 is the move in command line scripting, deprecating the use of the stsadm executable that was the key to scripting in SharePoint 2007, in favor of PowerShell, which offers some tremendous improvements in flexibility and efficiency for scripting. At beta launch in November, well over 500 cmdlets for PowerShell will be included. You’ll also be able to manage your SharePoint farm remotely from your Windows 7 desktop, using PowerShell. (A –whatif parameter even lets you preview what your command will do when you actually do run it!)
  • Usage analysis capabilities are greatly improved in SharePoint 2010, and they include the ability to write custom reports against the logging database schema, which is now supported! (not for content databases, though; only the logging database)
  • Patching is vastly simplified, and requires virtually no downtime as patches are applied
  • Support for competing browsers is there, @arpanshah even demonstrated large list operations in Firefox.
  • Ability to upgrade to SharePoint 2010 under the hood without modifying your UI right away, permitting a less complicated upgrade project to occur with IT and Development/Branding completely isolated.

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Altogether, a very impressive pair of opening keynotes, with some mind-blowing demos.

Following the keynotes was a decent lunch of cold cut sandwiches, and then the breakout sessions began.

I started off with the @joeloleson/@mikewat session on a day in the life of a SharePoint 2010 Administrator, which was in the nearly impossible to locate South Pacific C room, but nevertheless got a strong turnout.

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Mercifully, this was not a huge Quest tools sales pitch (for that, there’s a massive booth on the trade floor), but a real assessment of what is important to focus on for IT pros and admins with SharePoint 2010. The list includes the following:

  • Upgrading to SharePoint 2010 is going to be the easiest for the Administrator. The business users, content contributors and end users are going to have lots of new features to learn, but fundamentally, the processes are the same for the Administrator as they were in SharePoint 2007
  • Shared Service Providers are gone from SharePoint 2010. They are replaced by Service Applications, which offer more flexibility in terms of turning them on as you figure them out, in placing them strategically on varying servers, etc.
  • Search indexing is no longer a single point of failure in SharePoint 2010. There is redundancy in the indexing.
  • PowerShell makes scripted deployments for easy scale out much easier than before. PowerShell has everything stsadm has, plus 300+ additional cmdlets!
  • Claims based authentication offers a fascinating but daunting capability that’s going to be great for your external sites
  • “So you thought you had a lot of databases in MOSS?” – In SharePoint 2010, a single web application, with all service applications “lighted up” will create no less than 19 distinct databases.
  • The SharePoint 4.0 Management Console gives you an easy place to start firing off your Powershell cmdlets, and includes enough to do “essentially anything” while being easily extensible to do anything Microsoft may not have thought of
  • Moving sites and site collections around in SharePoint 2010 is much much easier than in SharePoint 2007, but these Quest employees were quick to point out, they do not replace the powerful 3rd party tools available from partners.
  • SharePoint 2010 can be configured to be Data Mirroring aware to it can automatically failover to the mirror site you specify (and which you have to have created in advance, of course)
  • The SharePoint Designer story is a much better story in 2010
  • As far as the upgrade process, there is a two stage upgrade process. First, the binary upgrade, which is the focus of your IT Department or Managed Hosting provider, and the visual upgrade, which is the responsibility of your developers and designers. The beauty of the process is that the two stages can be performed separately, so you can get onto SharePoint 2010 sooner, without having to worry about UI issues immediately. This will reduce upgrade project coordination complexity and risk.
  • The Best Practice Analyzer has great self-healing features
  • Sandboxing and Developer Dashboard features are supposedly for developers, but are a real bonus for IT pros as well

Joel Oleson pointed out that the best practices for all of the new SharePoint 2010 stuff don’t exist yet, which is undoubtedly music to the ears of the hardcore SharePoint people in the community (@deannie called this “a great opportunity for the community”), whose blogs are starved for content about the new major release. (The beta period Non-Disclosure expired today, opening the floodgates on pent up blog posts coming to a browser near you soon).

He did, however, recommend 8 GB of RAM as a practical minimum on the machine hosting your SharePoint 2010 VM. (to which @mferraz noted “16 GB is even better for collab”).

Another best practice is to “test test test” your upgrade early (in the beta period) to see where you are going to run into gotchas.

Oleson also recommended that IT Pros and Admins take the install, PowerShell and Upgrade Hands-On Labs while at the show. I could not find an install HOL, but was very impressed with the PowerShell capabilities after taking that Hands On Lab. I’ll dig into the Upgrade HOL on Tuesday if time permits.

Toward the end of the session, attendees got to see Joel’s blog at http://www.joeloleson.com upgraded from MOSS 2007 to SharePoint 2010.

Next up for me was the pair of light-hearted Administration overview sessions led by Todd Klindt and Shane Young from www.sharepoint911.com.

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Here are some highlights:

  • “Almost anything you can imagine you can put together with service apps” (successors to Shared Service Providers) in SharePoint 2010. Service apps can be shared across farms, not just site collections. You can also run multiple instances of the same type of service app. The Farm Configuration Tool provides an easy, quick setup wizard for all of the new service apps, but it is only practical when it comes to setting up your all-in-one dev VM of SharePoint 2010 beta. For Prod environment, you need to manually create those. If you DO use the wizard, you’ll get ugly guids in the database names, because SharePoint doesn’t know what’s on the SQL Server, so it assumes you might have another farm’s same name dbs there. Thus, the guids, to differentiate. Note that multiple farms can share a database instance, but SHOULDN’T.
  • ISVs can create their own service apps for SharePoint 2010
  • Plan your strategy for laying out your site collections (and expect quite a few of them for large organizations)
  • 100 GB is still a good ceiling for the practical size of a single content database
  • SharePoint 2010 REQUIRES 64-bit or more (“If you can get more bits in there, do it!” Klindt says)
  • Let the PreRequisite wizard take care of installing IIS for you
  • The PreRequisite wizard will default to Internet download method for anything it says you need, but you can direct it instead to local files
  • The new Farm Passphrase is meant to prevent a problem with an old risk involving the setup account in the case it was that of a user who has separated from the company
  • There are a lot of great AD-driven policy improvements in SharePoint 2010, but SharePoint still doesn’t make you do anything to your AD schema just to support SharePoint
  • Claims auth, which on the upside, allows you to log in through a variety of authentication sources, makes kerberos auth configuration and setup “look like a walk in the park”
  • Some mixing and matching of 32-bit and 64-bit is possible in SharePoint 2007, though each tier should have the same architecture at least. In 2010, everything has to be 64-bit.
  • Best Practice: Start moving to Windows 2008 64-bit and SQL Server 2005 64-bit or SQL Server 2008 64-bit, so that’s out of the way and your solution is stable on 64 bit.
  • Best Practice: Always choose Advanced, always choose Complete when installing
  • Managed accounts in SharePoint 2010 simplify the service account insanity we had in SharePoint 2007
  • Tip: If the wizards aren’t working, make sure Central Administration is in a zone that can run scripts!
  • ISA and ForeFront for SharePoint 2010 are “not fully baked” yet; presumed to be essentially the same experience as we have in SharePoint 2007 with those tools
  • Tip: There is a gotcha with PowerShell if you are installing on Windows 2008 where you are NOT using R2 (see kb971831)
  • Virtualization is now supported – encouraged even, but Todd and Shane don’t recommend SQL Server on a VM due to I/O concerns, so only do that if you or your DBA or consultant have expert skills
  • Best Practice: “Everything stsadm can do, PowerShell can do better” – Todd and Shane recommend Zach Rosenfeld’s PowerShell breakout session coming up later in the conference. The PowerShell commands run much more efficiently than stsadm commands do.
  • Granular backup is a major new feature in SharePoint 2010 for IT Pros and Admins. Backup at the site collection, web, list or library level. You can optionally use an “unattached content db” to recover without setting up a recovery farm. Idera even has a tool that can mount a database backup file without SQL Server, which offers additional advantages to using this technique.
  • Throttling and Performance Management features can prevent users from making requests that would bring your farm to a crawl. But, even if you determine that some users MUST access thousands of rows in a list all at once, you can enable this only during certain times of day using a setting called Daily Time Window. Generally, you’ll want to configure auto-throttling to be invoked during heavy load periods, BUT you want to turn it off on your beta VM where it is on my default, because otherwise, you are bound to bring your machine to a crawl as throttling fights the underpowered VM
  • Correlation ID in your logs (in the “14 hive” – formerly the 12 hive, and remember they skipped unlucky 13) allow trace across the whole farm for more precise troubleshooting
  • The ULS logs offer flood protection which stops logging repeated error messages if they occur within a close window of time. A log entry notes that additional instances of that error were not written to the log for this reason.
  • ULS log to SQL with a published schema means you can query against the log database schema and be fully supported in doing so
  • The Health Analyzer rules run under the SPTimer service. Server affinity enables you to specify which server is the one where timer jobs should run. You can also run SPTimer jobs on demand in SharePoint 2010. And when you do, you get a progress bar to see how far along the job is in its execution. Also status, outcomes and detailed reporting on what failed make troubleshooting much easier.

Todd Klindt said to check out his blog www.toddklindt.com/blog for some stuff that didn’t make it into their slide deck in time. Also watch for the SharePoint 2010 “snack” videos to become available online later this week.

Not bad for the first day, eh?

By the way, after my sessions, I got lucky. Because I had stuck one of their stickers on my laptop bag, the folks at @CriticalPath rewarded me with a free course!

Lastly, I visited the Visio 2010 team’s happy hour IMG00608at the EyeCandy bar in the middle of the Mandalay Bay casino, and then @ThunderLizard and I grabbed dinner at Lupo by Wolfgang Puck. Outstanding pork chops!!

Whew… I’m ready to hit the pillow and start all over again tomorrow.

Follow me at http://twitter.com/jeffbecraft or using the hash #spc09 for live microblogging during the sessions I attend each day.

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2 comments:

  1. You know, Fear and Loathing is one of my all-time favorite movies, and somehow I did not make the connection until several hours later when I had the "Ah hah!" moment!

    In any event, thanks for the great summary of today's events!

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  2. My pleasure, Bryan. Wish you and the rest of the team were out here.

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