ORLANDO, Fla.-Microsoft is currently testing a new SharePoint server inventory assessment tool to help IT administrators get control of their environments.
IT administrators are often responsible for ensuring that SharePoint sites comply with both internal company policies and external regulations, but this can be difficult to do given that the product is easily deployed, even at the department level, if for no other reason than it is included automatically with Windows Server 2003.
Speaking at Microsoft’s TechEd here, Group Program Manager for Solution Accelerators Luis Camara Manoel said his group has created tools to help IT administrators get a handle on SharePoint deployments, assess and monitor their health and capacity utilization, and achieve corporatewide standardization.
“We want to take it towards this nirvana of a managed and monitored solution where SharePoint doesn’t introduce surprises for your IT department,” Manoel said.
How critical is this issue? According to Manoel, the number of SharePoint sites at a large airplane manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest (care to guess what company that could be?) is growing by 300 sites per week.
“Imagine what that’s going to do to storage, capacity [and] bandwidth,” he said.
Jeff Raikes, former president of Microsoft’s business division, predicted in October 2007 that SharePoint would be the “sleeper” hit of the huge rollout of products in 2007.
During a speech about SharePoint 2007 at Microsoft’s Convergence conference in Copenhagen in October 2007, Raikes said:
“SharePoint is perhaps the sleeper of the latest release of the Office System. It’s become the hot topic with our customers as they see how much value it delivers in document management, in enterprise search, in electronic forms, in workflow, in Excel services for business intelligence. We invested in SharePoint for you so that SharePoint can become a platform for how you interoperate with business information and business process.“
The speed of SharePoint adoption is one issue; the fact that sites are often launched without IT’s knowledge makes them impossible to manage remotely. “There’s no way because you have no visibility as to where they are-there’s no way to monitor that which you do not know exists,” Manoel said.
Microsoft is offering IT administrators four tools as part of its solutions acceleration program that are intended to help manage those sprawling SharePoint farms.
SharePoint Inventory Assessment
The first tool, still being tested, is an inventory assessment tool; the other tools are a SharePoint capacity planner, a cross-site configurator and a SharePoint monitoring tool kit, all of which can be downloaded free of charge.
The inventory assessment tool allows IT administrators to discover and run detailed reports on SharePoint assets, including servers, Web applications, active features, folders, lists, documents and customizations. This tool was designed to work without the use of agents, a choice Microsoft made after hearing from customers, according to Manoel.
The tool functions by making a Windows Management Instrumentation call to remote servers and, if SharePoint assets are discovered, then making a SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) call to determine exactly what content exists on those servers.
The tool then uses SQL Server reporting services to generate reports. Administrators interact with the tool through a wizard that allows users to enter ranges of IP addresses or limit searches to specific addresses.
The tool provides different levels of reports. At the highest level, it provides the number of SharePoint servers and versions, modification dates, and customization of SharePoint pages. That last item “bears relevance if you’re considering an upgrade of your version of SharePoint,” Manoel noted.
The tool also reveals file extensions, which gives administrators an idea of where storage growth is going to come from, he added.
However, the reports do not reveal document size, which is a limitation of the SOAP-based system. “SOAP doesn’t discover document size,” Manoel said. He said Microsoft plans to achieve that level of granularity in a future iteration of the product.
The tool also provides a pre-migration inventory report-a file count broken down into categories based on file type, and a topology inventory that shows SharePoint versions installed on various sites.
SharePoint Capacity Planner
The SharePoint capacity planner helps IT administrators determine the minimum hardware necessary to deploy for the number of SharePoint instances deployed.
“What is the correct topology to meet high availability and performance requirements? How do I grow my existing installation when my capacity needs change-this used to be a guessing game,” Manoel said.
The tool provides an assessment based on organization-specific data such as the impact of SharePoint’s current state on network, CPU and disk usage to recommend a topology based on the organization’s assets.
The tool then lets administrators run simulations based on different growth scenarios and the potential needs of main and branch offices based on factors such as bandwidth requirements, CPU specs and disk configurations.
The ensuing report shows CPU usage, storage capacity and storage I/O.
The final summary output lists how many SQL servers, Web front ends and index servers would be required for a given scenario. These reports can be exported to Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Visio, which can surface underlying capacity utilization and latencies.
SharePoint Cross-Site Configurator allows IT administrators to create deployment scripts enabling deployment of configuration parameters across collections of sites. This means that they can push out master pages across all SharePoint sites in an organization and can enforce audit settings across sites.
The SharePoint Monitoring Toolkit allows IT administrators to get a holistic view of SharePoint implementations across the enterprise and interact with remote systems for common management tasks.