Slinger's Thoughts

November 11, 2010

What is your nightmare SharePoint Farm (Not the best of Best Practices…)

Filed under: SharePoint — slingeronline @ 1:14 pm

We all have them. Those things that drive us crazy.  The things that make us wonder “Were they sniffing glue?” You may have inherited one. You may have left one behind for someone else to inherit. They are out there though, like zombie cheerleaders, waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting Admin or Developer. I am of course speaking of SharePoint farms.  These are the more unwieldy ones though. Not the pictures of grace and beauty that are a dream to manage, but probably more like a site for “Steve’s Rack & Stack Mortuary.” I will admit, I am guilty of creating some of these. When you are new to SharePoint some things frustrate you when they don’t do what you expect.  There always seems to be some little detail that you left out. I’ll tell you some of mine, that I have created, left behind, and encountered. I’m sure there are more out there that you have run into also. Let us know what you have seen that left you sleepless, or done that you might be ashamed of.

In no particular order, what I have done, and what I have seen.

  • The Stand Alone Farm

They are out there, and there are more of them than one might think. Microsoft seems to love the idea too, since they give you the option to create a stand-alone installation twice. I’ve clicked that button. The nice thing about it is that everything just works. The bad thing about it is that although you will be up and running with a functional SharePoint farm in mere minutes, you have just created a monstrosity of maintenance for yourself, or someone else. Nearly everything that was created in a stand-alone farm is wrong. If you are looking to see what SharePoint can do, this is okay. If you did this in a production environment, I know some people who would like to have a word with you.

  • Service Accounts?

I will have to admit that I am guilty of this one too. There is a Best Practice about running accounts in a “Least Privileged” environment. Using domain\administrator is just so much easier though! I don’t want to have to keep track of 18 accounts for all the Web Application Pools, Content Access, Search Services, etc. If everything is the domain administrator and the domain administrator has access to everything, then nothing will go wrong. At least not until Deloitte & Touche comes in to audit your company, and then you may find yourself explaining to some very irate individuals the difference between the definitions of “Lazy” and “Efficient.”

  • The U-Haul Truck

Your company has 800,000 employees…, and one Site Collection. Every department has a subsite under that one Site Collection. Every client project has a subsite under that one Site Collection. If you dig hard enough, you will probably find a kitchen sink somewhere in that one Site Collection. And there is no governance plan in place. The sad part is that someone has to deal with this behemoth, and the single database they decided to store all of this in, which is likely something like a 5 terabyte Goliath.

  • The Network Drive Clone

Document libraries are like folders, and you can create folders in Document libraries, so why not treat SharePoint like a massive FTP’ed File Share? The document libraries are all full of folders, which are full of folders, which are full of folders, that contain one or two files each. Search has choked and no one can find anything. Scopes for searching are useless. There is no metadata on any of the files, other than the defaults. I have seen one of these. The SharePoint Administrator did not like SharePoint because SharePoint was “not a collaboration tool.” Obviously not the best choice of people to run your SharePoint environment. Kind of feels like trying to have your hairdresser change the oil in your car.

  • The Karaoke farm

Each user of the farm presents their own misguided attempt at what would be the best presentation of the contents, and they can’t sing. My son’s school district uses a publicly facing SharePoint site. Awesome! Each School, and Dept, and Teacher has their own SharePoint site. Rock On! Each site looks like it was designed by a drunken left-handed monkey with a football bat. Every single Site collection, Site, SubSite, whatever, is different. Nothing is in the same place, no two sites have the same features, or even the same colors. There are Content Editor Web Parts all over the place. Some teachers have their own sites, some stay with departments. There is no continuity between any two pages in the entire portal. I think that part of a governance plan, should be some basic design structure. In this instance, each teacher should be required to have a calendar, a homework list, contact information, a document library for any required documentation, and possibly an announcements list. How could they make sure that each person’s public facing site looks the same? If only they had a way to use a template or something like that. (Please note the dripping sarcasm in the previous sentence.) If each English teacher has their own page, then each Science teacher should have their own page. If you are going to have a hierarchy, the hierarchy should be consistent, district wide. I would like to find whoever administers this SharePoint installation, and give them some contact information for some knowledgeable individuals who could put this SharePoint site out of its misery. I don’t think I’ve even been on a blind date that was as painful as this site is.

  • The Non Stand Alone Stand Alone

Okay, we’ve established that the Stand-Alone farm is bad.  So instead of clicking on one of the stand alone configuration buttons, you install SQL on the server, then install SharePoint on the exact same server. So everything is still all on one server. It’s not a stand-alone, but the server that runs SharePoint, stands alone. (The good news is that this one is easier to fix than a real stand alone.)

  • The FrankenFarm or MacGuyver

Virtualization is all the rage with HyperV, VMWare, and all of the other virtualization software out there.  So why not just create a VM for each Server that SharePoint needs? Databases on VMs, WFEs on VMs, Service Application servers on VMs.  Just put the whole farm in VMs, and then run all of them on one server.  Most Virtualization tools also support snapshots, so now you have a Disaster Recovery plan in place too! All of these different parts and components all mushed together onto one or two physical machines seems vaguely reminiscient of a creature created by Mary Shelley’s imagination. In one of these farms I would be halfway surprised if each physical server at least shared similar hardware. In all likelihood, there is probably also a gum wrapper, coat hanger, strip of duct tape and a ballpoint pen holding some of this together. (Bonus points if the whole mess is on a laptop, and it’s a production farm.)

  • The CubScout

If any of you have ever had a Scout, you know that they get covered with patches. I was a Cub Scout Den Leader for two years. I got covered in patches. In a farm sense, this one started out as a SharePoint Portal Server farm that was upgraded to WSS 2.0, then WSS 3.0 then SharePoint 2010. With all of the Service Packs and Cumulative updates installed.  In one version or another it was probably upgraded from the free version to the standard version (most likely WSS 3.0 to MOSS), and it keeps going from there.  There was never a migration, only upgrades and hotfixes for the Operating System as well as SharePoint. This farm is covered in more patches than an Eagle scout. At some point, someone needs to migrate content instead of just upgrading. With the 64 bit requirement for SharePoint 2010, it is very unlikely that you will find one of these that includes every version, but you may see some that include 3 or 4 versions.

Those are some of my favorites. I’m sure there are others out there. Let us know what you have seen, or what you left in your wake. When reviewing SharePoint’s Best Practices, keep in mind that there is also something called “Real World” practices.  There are SharePoint farms out there that may not follow Best Practices for a myriad of reasons.  Don’t be mad at the administrator who left it behind.  It’s a challenge for you to overcome and learn from.  Also keep in mind that it is probably easier to stand up a new farm than to fix some of these monsters.


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