Monday, October 18, 2010

The “Soft” part of SharePoint - Part 1: Skills

With products like Exchange, only IT Pros are involved, the people who are implementing or administering the environment are often the same people that are managing the Windows operating system. At least they have sufficient (infrastructure) knowledge to cover all bases.

With SharePoint, this is a whole different ball-game. As SharePoint is build on top of a lot of Microsoft infrastructure products, good infrastructure knowledge is very important (Windows, DNS, Active Directory, ISA Server/TMG, etc). Unfortunately more than often, SharePoint knowledge is very limited with people who are cracks in those technologies. SharePoint developers however have very limited infrastructure knowledge, so they have a hard time doing a very good job from a performance/security perspective. In other words implementing or managing SharePoint properly can be quite a challenge.

Then what do you need?
When you are implementing or maintaining SharePoint in a proper way, you will need various kinds of skills. Most of the times these skills are not found in one person and therefore a team needs to be created.

The required skills are:

  1. Server - Hardware and operating system
    This is the most common discipline and the knowledge that is the most commonly available. Just like with other products, basic server management is required. This includes server patching, monitoring, backup/restore, antivirus management, troubleshooting, etc.

  2. Database - SQL server
    SharePoint is build on SQL databases. Without proper administration, these databases potentially can cause issues. However SharePoint databases cannot be compared to regular SQL database. They are very sensitive on actions you can and cannot do with them. Microsoft has released guidance (whitepaper and KB articles) for database administrators on how to manage SharePoint SQL databases.

  3. Technical SharePoint
    SharePoint Technical Application Management (TAM) is implementation and management of the infrastructure side of SharePoint. The full SharePoint configuration is the responsibility of TAM, therefore they are the only ones that are allowed to change that configuration. All TAM activities are done by logging onto the server or via the Central Administration. Most common TAM activities are: Application monitoring, troubleshooting application issues, application backup/restore, deploying SharePoint solutions, configuring SharePoint, creating web applications, SharePoint antivirus, etc.

  4. Functional SharePoint
    SharePoint Functional Application Management (FAM) is implementation and management of SharePoint from an end-user perspective. Determine which functionalities the user needs, how the logical structure is going to look like and how certain SharePoint components need to be configured. Tasks of FAM would be: Assisting end-users, setting up sites, site structure, content types, determining the desired configuration of SharePoint components like search/user profiles, etc. In an ideal world do these activities not require any access to the SharePoint servers directly. Everything can be done via a web browser.

  5. SharePoint Custom Development
    SharePoint is a very extendible platform. If the default out-of-the-box functionalities are not sufficient for end-users, extra functionality can be custom developed. All customizations are build using the .NET Framework, however pure .NET developers are not automatically SharePoint developers. SharePoint has its own set of development rules and best practices. SharePoint developers use Visual Studio to develop their custom code and package that in a SharePoint solution package. This package is then delivered to TAM, who are going to deploy this to the environment.

The technical and functional application management skills can be a grey area, as they can have some overlap. An example is the creation of Managed Properties:

  • Specifying managed properties is done by FAM, creating and configuring the managed properties is done by TAM.
  • Search management is the full responsibility of FAM

Each of the above skills can be implemented as a dedicated person(s), but also a combination of an SharePoint Technical guy (Skills: TAM/FAM) and a SharePoint Developer (Skills: FAM/Development). This totally depends on your organization. In a large organization, a split might be a good option to have a clear separation of duties.

The team that implements or administers SharePoint must have at least the first four skills available. The skill “SharePoint Development” is very useful (creating visual design, creating tools, etc), but not required.

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