Friday, July 06, 2007

After Wednesday's live echo for SharePoint 2007 demonstration, I spoke with Stephen Cummins to ask him more about it. In addition to being echoTechnology's Technical Evangelist, he's a SharePoint MVP and blogs at SPSFAQ and echoTechnology Support Blog.

Question: What are the most important design considerations you follow when planning, implementing, and managing a SharePoint portal?
Stephen:Not really understanding the SharePoint architecture leads to examples like trying to recreate file shares in document libraries, creating deep navigational structures, or one giant document library with hundreds of folders.It's best to be prepared - it makes more sense to have multiple smaller document libraries, so you can have an easier time assigning access to these libraries, applying different workflows and metadata. A poorly planned architecture can make it hard to grant access, and maintaining it is a manual and time consuming process. Another important consideration is capacity planning for the size of the content that you are uploading, which affects the size of the database and the search index. When you are planning, realize that this is something that the organization needs and will use for years to come.

Question: What are the difficulties in achieving a good design?
Stephen: It's hard to make sweeping changes once you've deployed the portal...you have to live with your mistakes. Without the proper tools you can change site hierarchies and taxonomy but it becomes time- and labour-intensive.

Question: How would you describe your product?
Stephen: echo 2007 allows administrators to manage and migrate to the SharePoint 2007 platform. This means rapid changes, testing and deployments. The core focus is on migration and management. By automating change on SharePoint echo2007 enables administrators to:
a. Shorten migration from 2003 to 2007;
b. Migrate plus deploy new 2007 features simultaneously;
c. Maintain a more dynamic portal;
d. Dramatically Increase responsiveness to change requests;
e. Deploy a more powerful search by keeping control of meta tags;
f. Lower administration costs;
g. Lower the risk of changing the platform;
h. Significantly reduce consulting budgets;
i. Reduce deployment and piloting schedules;
j. Meet corporate risk mandates;
k. Redeploy resources to focus on solution development.

Question: What are the principal scenarios you see echo being used for?
Stephen: It's a tool for shortening migration path, managing the software life cycle in development, testing, and production. It's useful for batching and scheduling changes and updating the portal quickly. It helps managing Features, Content Types, and workflows, all of which are easy to deploy but difficult to change.

Question: What steps would you follow to migrate a SP2003 site to 2007 using echo?
Stephen: First install and provision your site hierarchy in SharePoint 2007. Do this based on lessons learned from 2003 - make a clean setup, remember that a lot of things from SharePoint 2003 won't apply, like Areas. Next create a 2007 template as a blueprint. Use echo to migrate the libraries, lists, and webparts over using the blueprint. Then migrate the content, being careful to map the metadata to your new taxonomy and content types. If you need to make modifications, you can rerun the migration as often as you like to migrate more web parts, lists, and libraries.

Question: Can you script and run echo functionality automatically, or on a scheduled basis?
Stephen: You can run the tool immediately, save it for later, or schedule it for a particular time.

Question: Can you use this tool for migrating changes from one environment to another?
Stephen: Definitely, it is very useful for that. We are even working on combining echo with a full bi-directional georeplication capability thanks to our partnership with Syntergy!

Question: How would someone use echo to manage changes in development and push them out to a testing and then production environment?
Stephen: We think end users will drive this need - they will ask for web parts or tasks lists or new workflows, and IT will have to have some way to rapidly and reliably deliver these items. As an example, a developer will develop in SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio, use echo to push the changes to Testing, make modifications on Dev as a result of the testing results, incrementally modify their work, and keep pushing the changes out until they are ready for production. As part of a change management strategy they can create the tasks to do this, run them automatically at say 8pm when users have gone home, and in the morning get a log result of how the deployment went.

We consider this to be a "real world product". In fact the reason I joined echoTechnology is because I like offering a solution to potentially everyone who needs a problem fixed, rather than going in to one client at a time and trying to improve the SharePoint management situation.

Question: Can you migrate SharePoint Features using echo?
Stephen: You can activate and deactivate features as tasks in echo 2007.

Question: echo can replicate Ninetex workflows - can it do this for other workflow engines or for Workflow Foundation itself?
Stephen: echo 2007 can manage any Windows Foundation (WF) workflow that is hosted in SharePoint.

Question: Is echo 2007 a tool only developers will be using, or do you envisage other groups using it?
Stephen: I envisage lots of different people using it: A Solutions Architect; the developer who works on the platform; infrastructure staff who might not let the developer near the production farm; the SharePoint Administrator. Also consultants could use it to quickly and reliably resolve issues and deploy solutions when they visit client sites.

Question: What have been the biggest technical challenges you faced in developing echo for SharePoint 2007?
Stephen: There's been so much work to do - we spent years working on this while SharePoint 2007 was being developed and released. We made tons of proof of concepts. Challenges included making sure Content Types were consistent across all environments, trying to handle incremental versioning when doing deployments....

Question: You've also released a new tool, SharePoint Spy - what can you say about that?
Stephen: It's a great tool - we actually developed it for our echo work. It lets you dig under
the hood and view all the properties of a column or list. It's partly for troubleshooting, partly for analysis, partly for educational purposes.

Question: What sort of pricing structure are you looking at?

Stephen: We're probably looking at a rising scale based on number of sites; essentially we would like to license it on a usage model because the number of people who use it in an organization might be small, but they may need it for lots of different things.

Question: When will your product be released to market?

Stephen: We are targeting end of July.

Thank you Stephen for your replies!

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