Friday, 29 August 2008

SharePoint Backup – A Ripping Yarn

According to my family I have always been an unfortunate chap and if things can go wrong they often, in a ‘Frank Spencer’ style, do. So perhaps trying to ride a tandem bicycle around the Peak District last week after I hadn’t been on a bike for over twenty years was asking for trouble. I should have been more prepared for possible problems and this has got me thinking about the tricky issue of backing-up SharePoint. Before I go into the limitations and restrictions of backing up and restoring SharePoint I will share with you my unfortunate mishap on the bicycle made for two. With my wife seated behind me we started off quite well, if slightly wobbly, down the Tissington Trail. This bike with it large range of gears and small hard pointed saddle was very different to my beloved Chopper in the 70’s. Within ten minutes of leaving the Bike Hire Hut my troubles began. An unexpected ripping noise signalled the start of a small split in my jeans in a rather unfortunate place. Further ripping noises left me in a very embarrassing position with my underpants now clearly visible to all passing cyclists and startled walkers. At least many of them smiled and only a few rude children pointed. I was not prepared for this unplanned exposure and without even a coat to cover my modesty it was left to my daughter to cycle back three miles and purchase a very expensive pair of tight fitting of black cycle shorts. Half an hour later and I was fully covered and everything was back to normal until the chain snapped seven miles from the bicycle hut.. Next time I will be more prepared and plan better for every possible eventuality. Disaster can strike in SharePoint as well as on the front of a tandem. There are several ways of backing up MOSS or WSS and each of these protects a different part of your portal. These backup types are as follows; 1. SQL Database Backup (Using an application like Symantec Backup Exec) 2. SharePoint Backup Agents (Using an application like SharePoint Agent for Backup Exec) 3. Basic SharePoint Backup (from SharePoint Central Administration) 4. SharePoint Designer Backup (from the Site – Administration menu) 5. Regularly Saving Sites as Site Templates (including content) 6. SharePoint Recycle Bins For a real ‘belts and braces’ approach it is probably best to use all of the six above. Why all of the six? Because each of them allows you to restore different sections. 1. SQL Backup A full SharePoint database backup is the approach that many take often using the popular Symantec Backup Exec and this is great for doing complete restores. So in a disaster when your server totally fails this is ideal, but for minor troubles it is a bit over the top. It would be similar to having to rebuild the whole tandem just because the chain had snapped or having to replace a cyclist because he had a rip in his jeans (although my wife might have thought this was a good idea). 2. SharePoint Agent The SharePoint Agent allows the Backup Administrators to backup and restore at the Item level. So if Betty from Shipping manages to delete the all the UK Shipping addresses they can be restored fairly quickly by the Backup Administrator (usually the busy IT Department). This is similar to the nice Bicycle Repair man who fixed our chain, but had to leave his shop unattended for half an hour to do so. 3. Central Administration This backup is a feature in WSS 3.0. You can specify the items that you'd like to back up or restore. However, as part of a farm backup, this can back up the configuration database and the Central Administration content database, but will not be able to restore them. Yes, this is a serious limitation. Perhaps the most annoying part of this backup type is the fact that it can’t be scheduled. The main use of this backup is when you are about to perform a major task on SharePoint. It is similar to checking the state of the bike before starting a long journey. 4. SharePoint Designer A very useful tool that has the added feature of being able to backup and restore sites. This is a must whenever you are using SharePoint Designer to make changes to sites. It is so easy to make a change that will prevent users accessing the site but a couple of minutes spent backing-up first means that you can restore it in minutes if things do go wrong. This tool has saved me and other Officetalk Consultants from angry End Users on more than one occasion. To receive an introduction course on the many features of SharePoint Designer you can email 5. Save As Site template If you are a SharePoint Site Administrator and you don’t trust the backups that your IT Department say they are taking then you can perform your own backups. All you need is to go ‘Site Settings – Save Site As Template’ and tick ‘Include Content’. Very powerful and will keep most of the settings. Limitations here include a limit of 500MB (although there are work rounds for this from the command prompt) and that some webpart settings are not saved. It can still save a lot of heartache. 6. Recycle Bin Simple yet one of the best improvements in WSS 3.0. The Site Recycle Bin allows users to recover their deleted files for up to 15 days. They can restore them themselves although most will still call the Helpdesk first. Administrators can change the number of days these are stored for or even turn the Recycle option off. Turning it off though is like the tandem hire people not giving us a puncture repair kit. After reading all this you are probably even more confused about how to backup and restore SharePoint. The real answer is probably to invest in a third party solution that allows full backup and restore of every part of SharePoint from the full databases to the individual sites, lists and items. Officetalk recommend AvePoints awarding winning DocAve software. DocAve offers continual real-time backup of all parts of SharePoint and because it runs on an internet browser any user with the right permissions can easily restore items or lists instantly or roll them back without the need to hassle the IT Department. This software is straight forward to install and a trial period of 14 days allows you to try before you buy. So it is worth trying out. It is a shame my expensive cycling shorts didn’t come with a free 14 day trial period. I could have watched two Villa games for the price of those shorts.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Selling SharePoint - "The Unpredictable End User"

At the start of last seson everyone thought that Hull and Stoke would be relegated, but instead Newcastle and Middlesbourgh follow Albion to the Championship. Football like SharePoint End Users can be difficult to predict. Until you roll SharePoint out to the business you never really know how the users will cope with them. It helps if the SharePoint Project Team can include members from all the key areas of the business, but still you can’t allow for all behaviours. How can you know that Beryl, in Shipping, always clicks her mouse twice or that Tony, in Production, has a mouse phobia and only uses the keyboard? As with premiership defences and the Delap long-throws it is difficult to know exactly how End Users will react to the new SharePoint system. So how can the SharePoint Project Team help prepare their End Users? The first way is to get a sneak preview of possible problems by always having a ‘Pilot Group’ to test before going live. Many of the questions asked by members of the Pilot Group will be the ones that the End Users will ask so get the fixes, or excuses, ready first. There are going to be things that SharePoint will not be perfect on, but at least after the Pilot Group you will have an answer ready for the End Users when they hit the same shortcoming. It may not always be cost effective, or possible, but all End Users should get two to three hours basic SharePoint training. This will make them feel easier about this new environment and give the Project Team another chance to purr about their new SharePoint system. Another way of helping the End User to cope with SharePoint is with the excellent Computer Based Training (CBT)available from Office Talk. These clips produced by CBT Clips guide the user through all the basic SharePoint tasks. If you have more than fifty End Users it is really worth invested in a set of 60 of these SharePoint CBT Clips and storing them on the SharePoint portal. Take a look at the example below on ‘Adding Announcements’;

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

SharePoint Fashion Show

The new Premiership football season is now only just over a week away and Aston Villa look terrific in their new claret and blue nike shirts with the name of their new charity sponsor Acorns across their chests. Lining up for the traditional pre-season squad photograph they really look the part, but will this smart appearance help them get premiership points this season? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. In this week’s article I will be discussing how important the look of a company’s SharePoint really is to the success of SharePoint. That might not sound too exciting, but I promise you a couple of interesting bits and I am not just talking about the Barbara Windsor link. SharePoint can with the aid of SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio produce some pretty spectacular looking SharePoint sites. In fact designers can produce such terrific websites using SharePoint these days that people really don’t believe they are SharePoint. However, for an internal SharePoint site how great looking does it really have to be? Personally, I believe it is useful that employees know that they are using an internal system and that it is different to the public facing website. The most important part of SharePoint for the User is not how pretty it looks, but how quickly they can find information and how much more information they have available. It is great Martin O’Neill having the best looking football team but unless he buys some defenders soon this Villa team will be in for a difficult season. The key requirements of any SharePoint project should be accessibility, performance, security and the information stored. As a SharePoint Consultant with Officetalk I am involved in planning many SharePoint Projects and I try and persuade customers not to get too bogged down with ‘Look and Feel’. Designers can often spend hours just trying to get the right thickness of a rounded edge around the company name. Yes, SharePoint Designer can use Custom Style Sheets and can do all kinds of clever things, but what is the real benefit of all this packaging to the End User? Okay, it needs to look reasonably good, hopefully more Barbara Windsor than Hattie Jacques (when Babs was in the ‘Carry On’ films not the early East Enders). More important to the user though is how quickly it loads. They don’t want to wait an extra twenty seconds each time because the page includes some fancy flash animation. It is much more important that the draft document they were working on with Cheryl from Accounts two months ago is quickly accessible. Even with the very basics in SharePoint it is possible to choose from a good selection of different coloured themes and nearly match the Corporate colours. It is fairly straight-forward to have the company, or organisation, logo on each page so very quickly the sites can get that corporate feel. Just in case the employee forgets who they work for. A nice feature of SharePoint is the “Personalize This Page” option so the user themselves can always make changes so they have their own personal view of the page every time they open it. People have their own individual preferences. At the Villa I always sit at the side in the Trinity Road stand but others prefer the view from the Holte End behind the goal. So why should SharePoint Project Teams spend ages dictating the way that SharePoint looks. I always encourage Project Teams to develop basic Site templates to help the users to be able to navigate around all the sites. Just don’t tie them down too much and don’t spend half of your SharePoint Project budget on making the sites look super impressive. A SharePoint Portal I saw the other week looked amazing and I had to check to make sure it really was SharePoint, but looking deeper I found a few major issues. They had spent so long getting the snazzy look that they hadn’t properly configured either the Search indexing or the Email integration. Perhaps they just ran out of time or money on the project. One last point to mention is don’t be afraid to have your SharePoint looking like SharePoint. Microsoft might have made it fully customisable but they designed the templates this way to make it as easy as possible to navigate. Now, I must check the Villa website to see if they are about to sign any more players who not only will look reasonable in those mighty fine new shirts but will actually make a difference on the pitch.