Friday, 9 October 2009

SharePoint Passes the Test

This week saw me having a fairly routine if slightly unpleasant hospital test and this got me thinking about two SharePoint topics. Firstly, the importance in any SharePoint Project of a ‘Test Environment’ where you can try new things out and learn how things work. The second SharePoint thought I had was how they stored all the x-rays (digital images) and sent them to the relevant GPs. Was this an opportunity for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in SharePoint like I discussed in last week’s blog.

To my surprise on my hospital visit as I entered the X-ray room, dressed in my fetching hospital gown (which lack instructions on how they should really be tied), I was somewhat surprised to be met by an extra three people in the room who were a mixture of trainee doctors and trainee radiographers. I got the feeling that for one of them it was their first day. Well, my appointment letter did warn me that this was a ‘Training Hospital’ and if I wasn’t happy for students to be in attendance I should indicate this prior to my appointment. I understand that everybody has to learn new skills in any job, but having three trainees was somewhat nerving. Hopefully they had been able to initially practice their techniques on dummies or plastic models before they were allowed on real patients. Yes, I hope they had access to a ‘Test Environment’, although I don’t suppose anybody is built quite like me.

With any SharePoint installation, even the smallest ones, it is important to create a ‘Test Environment’. This doesn’t have to be a full replication of your ‘Live Environment’ but needs to have the same version of SharePoint on with the same level of Service Packs and Hot Fixes. The reason for the ‘Test Environment’ is to be able to try new webparts, third party add-ons, master pages and other major changes before you add them to the ‘Live Environment’. This can also be where you have your training sites where your SharePoint Project Team can play and learn about SharePoint. Here they can create sites to their hearts content safe in the knowledge that they will not generally be seen. Without a ‘Test Environment’ the ‘Live Environment’ can quickly get filled with extra sites that somehow don’t get deleted and end up in the Search Scope.

In my experience for any reasonably sized SharePoint Project (i.e. 200 plus users) I would strongly recommend a three environment approach. This is, of course, dependent on available hardware, but is also now more achievable with the increased use of Virtual Machines (VM’s). Always check though that the version of VM you are using is supported by Microsoft for SharePoint (only the more recent ones are). My preferred setup of environments is as follows;

1. ‘Development Environment’ - A play area to try new webparts, add-ons, updates, etc.
2. ‘Test Environment’ – A regularly updated copy of the ‘Production Environment’ that allows for more detailed testing of workflow, logon permissions, system integration, searching, etc. This should also be used for User Acceptance Testing (UAT).
3. ‘Production Environment’ (sometimes called ‘Live’) – This is the business critical working environment that MUST be regularly backed-up and have very minimal downtime. Always consider your backup strategy (Office Talk will happily chat to you about the benefits of DocAve as your SharePoint backup solution).

So now I just wait for the hospital to process my test results, pass them to my GP and then perhaps in a week they might communicate them to me. It certainly makes me think how a bit of SharePoint workflow could speed up this process.

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