Friday, July 18, 2008

SharePoint Best Practices Resources

The SharePoint technology stack covers such deep waters that "best practices" are a constant buzzword these days. After the release of SharePoint 2007 everybody was scrambling to learn the platform, but now that it is better understood, people are ready to figure out not just HOW to do something in SharePoint, but increasingly WHAT and WHY.

Given this, I thought I would mention a few new best practices resources.

To begin with, Mindsharp's doing a lot of work in this area.

SharePoint Best Practices Conference

There's a SharePoint Best Practices conference in Washington this September, sponsored by Microsoft Press and Mindsharp. It runs from Monday September 15 to Wednesday September 17, and includes breakout and cabana sessions.

Although the sessions are not nailed down yet, some of them include things like:

They'll be led by SharePoint MVPs and authors and should provide some real "lessons from the field" for SharePoint deployments.

Cost to attend is $995 USD. More information can be found on their website at

SharePoint Best Practices Book

Related to this is another Mindsharp effort - the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Best Practices book. From the blurb on the back:

Achieve your IT objectives with proven, best-practice guidance on using SharePoint solutions.

Get field-tested best practices and proven techniques for designing, deploying, operating, and optimizing Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. [...] this guide is written by leading SharePoint MVPs and Microsoft SharePoint team members who’ve worked extensively with real-world deployments and customers. You’ll find out how to deploy the software, design your environment, manage content, analyze and view data, perform disaster recovery, monitor performance, and more. You'll learn how to create SharePoint sites that help your organization collaborate, take advantage of business insights, and improve productivity—with practical insights from the experts.

Bill English and Ben Curry wrote the bulk of the book, but as Ben points out they had

tons of help from rock stars like Kathy Hughes (MVP), Paul Schaeflein, Daniel Webster (SharePoint Guru), Mark Ferraz (IA and Security), Paul Stork, Jim Curry, and Mark Schneider (PMP).

When I left Dimension Data to move back to Canada, my team was kind enough to chip in and get me an Amazon gift certificate - and I've already used it to get this book. I should have it next week (I'm away from my house currently) and look forward to reading it and learning a lot in the process.

International SharePoint Professionals Association

There is a brand new organization called the International SharePoint Professionals Association that aims to be the umbrella organization for all SharePoint workers.

The International SharePoint Professionals Association, also known as ‘ISPA’, is an independent, not-for-profit, community-driven organization dedicated to support SharePoint professionals and groups all around the world. The primary mission of ISPA is to promote the global adoption of SharePoint Technologies by providing support and guidance to the SharePoint community as a whole – by establishing connections between SharePoint professionals, groups, resources, education and information. ISPA is led and supported by volunteers across the world, and will focus on bringing the entire SharePoint community closer together.

Although it isn't Best Practices per se, I'm mentioning this here because the organization aims to provide "support and guidance" for the SharePoint community. If it does this well, I'm tipping this could become a powerful incubator for creating and spreading best practice knowledge.

Bob Fox has the announcement on his blog. He's also got a list of regional evangelists on that post.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Follow up to "No authority could be contacted for authentication"

Anthony Moore, an IT Manager at LivePoint, provided me with some more understanding of the root causes of yesterday's demo machine errors.

Each machine in a domain has a password, (exactly like your username / password) and the passwords are reset periodically as well automatically though Active Directory...

If you restore an image of a machine to a prior state, the password in active directory becomes out of sync with [what] is stored in the machine, and the...issue can occur.

I imagine this isn't news to any Active Directory gurus out there but it clears things up for me. Going forward I will be including the AD Domain Controller in the server snapshots and rolling it back alongside the SharePoint virtual machines.

Hope this helps someone else. Thanks for the insight, Anthony!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"No authority could be contacted for authentication."

I have been giving weekly webinars using a demo environment that mimics 3 SharePoint farms (2 x MOSS 2007, 1 x SPS 2003). While prepping for tomorrow's demo I ran into some very strange SharePoint behaviour.

For no apparent reason, the default site collections no longer worked - they failed to load and couldn't see each other via a web browser. However, on both 2007 farms, I could still see and use the remote internet site collections just fine (using anonymous authentication on port 8000).

In the Event Viewer, various errors started complaining about DCOM saying things like

Reason: The trust relationship between this workstation and the primary domain failed. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x800706FD)

And when I viewed the other sites in the browser, I would get "Service Unavailable" errors and, eventually:

No authority could be contacted for authentication.

These errors, plus the fact that I could still use anonymous authentication, obviously pointed to something beyond SharePoint being the culprit. When these kind of authentication errors abound you don't have to look far beyond Active Directory to find the guilty puppy.

I eventually ran across this very helpful post by Noman Juzar Lakdawala on the ASP.NET forums:

I followed his instructions and removed my servers one at a time from the domain, deleted the entry in the Domain Controller, and then readded them. Everything works now!

Not sure why AD got corrupted in the first place, so I will continue testing, but so far so good.  Thanks Noman!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eating My Own Dog Food: Photo Metadata Advice

David Marsh had a great comment on my previous blog entry. I'm reposting it in its entirety because I think it is a great tip for anyone trying to manage their photos on their file system.

I did some considerable research to find the best approach for tagging Photos and videos. One concern I had was tagging photos and storing those tags in a propriety format that I would not be able to see my tags on a photo in the future and secondly ensuring that whatever program I used was using current industry standards for tagging. So with that in mind I found out that the XMP format from Adobe is becoming the defacto standard for storing metadata about photos and Microsoft have also adopted this format. The problem with most programs out there is they maintain keywords and tags in a separate database to the actual files. (Picasa does this). That is bad because if I copy all my photos to another computer or have them backed up somewhere else, without the database I have no tags. The XMP format embeds the keywords and tags in the files themselves so they are fully portable and the keywords are never lost and are program independent. So I looked at some of the Adobe photo cataloguing applications but finally chose Microsoft Expression Media 2 because of its great support for tagging photos and then embedding them in the files and also the simple extensible scripting mechanism they have for allowing you to rename and tag your photos in bulk based on the date the photo was taken, or the file name or any other piece of metadata you can think off. Very powerful, and I know my photos are storing all my keywords and tags in XMP format within the photos themselves and it is a standard that will guarantee I can read the tags on computers in 10 years or so. I think the best option at the moment.

Here are some more insights into the topic:

Jon Udell at Strategies for Internet Citizens

and Geoff Coupe's Blog:!6AA39937A982345B!4417.entry

The general consensus is that keeping the metadata with the file is the preferred approach, which makes perfect sense and is in keeping with the rest of my SharePoint-based Information Management plan.

David recommends Microsoft Expression Media 2. It also has an archive feature - the ability to backup to any mounted drive. This would work well with my JungleDisk mounted drive.

The software is $200 but I'm committed to getting organized so I'm willing to pay (a fair bit) for that if it saves me time down the road. More information on Microsoft Expression Media 2 is on the official website here:

There is a trial version available here:

For some reason it doesn't mention how long the trial lasts for. I'll download it today and see.

Has anyone else used Expression Media yet, and if so what do you think of it? If not, what other software would you use to do the job?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Eating My Own Dog Food: File Cleanup

I'm in the process of cleaning up my files, as I mentioned last week. It's going a little better than I expected.

To filter duplicate files I'm using a free tool, Easy Duplicate Finder which is available at

It does a good job of matching possible duplicates using file size, file type, and file name checking. It doesn't apply any logic to removing them, which is a good thing - I'm forced to check each possible dupe as I go and delete (or not!).

The tricky bit is figuring out which folder structure I should be using in the Hub folder...going forward I will be hosting most of this information in the cloud so I can apply labels and metadata at that point, and surface these files in all sorts of funky ways, but right now I still need a place for my files to live.

I'm committed to the whole Single Source of Truth practice and so I'm forcing myself to use Windows Desktop Search, Vista folder bookmarks, and a central desktop folder root.

It's been a real question of discipline - I often find myself reverting to bad practices and trying to copy the same file in multiple places if I can't quite decide where it should go. Over the last couple of days I've started getting a little better at placing any particular file in a single place and adding shortcuts and bookmarks to it.

Cleaning Up Music Files

  • I did a desktop search for *.mp in the root of the old c:\music folder
  • I copied all the files which were the results of the search into a new, single folder called "cleanup"
  • Then I did a duplicate file finder scan on that folder so it could clean it all up

Duplicate File Search Results 

  • I deleted the duplicate files...and went from about 3,920 files and 12 gigs in the music folder to about 2,152 files and 8.9 gigs of music.

Then I foolishly decided to let iTunes manage the folder.

For some reason no matter what I do iTunes duplicates the files 2 to 4 times. As near as I can tell, it is doing this because it thinks the song could belong to multiple albums for that artist....Whatever the case, I am left with iTunes havoc and I am still puzzling out how to remove duplication in this folder without deleting original songs.

Thanks iTunes! Maybe it's not worth the bother.

Cleaning Up Photos and Videos

  • I did a duplicate file clean on the photos and videos folder
  • This is somewhat harder than managing music - as most cameras will tag a file with the same broad tag and then you copy 100 pictures labeled [Tag] 001, [Tag] 002, etc...
  • It required lots of manual passes, and I made sure not to delete things I wasn't sure about
  • I did some targeted searches using Windows Desktop search tool - looking for keywords and trying to merge things into broader folders
  • In the end, I've gone from 2100 files (including 1102 duplicates) and 36 gigs of content to 998 files and 28.7 gigs of space.

Metadata is much more important for photos than for music files, because I can use them in many more ways (image editing, personal scrapbooks, social networking sites, websites).

Because an image can be used in many different places, it isn't easy to choose a single folder for a photo to live in. I've started experimenting with bulk insert into Picassa or similar so I can tag 'em. Also pondering adding to the Information Management plan since I am in the whole Cloud frame of mind.

How do you manage photos on your desktop, especially with metadata? Are there photo management tools you couldn't live without?

Monday, July 07, 2008

SiSense's Amazon S3 Analytics Tool: Update

Shortly after I posted about SiSense's new Prism Business Intelligence Viewer with Amazon S3 analytics add-on, their Product Manager Adi Azaria contacted me. I'd mentioned a bug that occurred when I was trying to view my files. He asked to see my Prism log files, which I sent, and provided me with the newest version of the product.

This version provides an enhanced UI including more help links, a set of "Common tasks", and the ability to quickly create new data connections. Most satisfying, it fixed my bug!

Looks like my bucket did not have logging turned on. The new version checks for this and prompts the user when this happens.

SiSense Prism Log

Thanks Adi for the quick follow-ups and the great support!

Amazon Simple Storage Service Analytics Add-On

ReadWriteWeb has a post on an Amazon Simple Storage Service S3 analytics add-on called Prism by the folks at SiSense.

It's in private beta right now but there is an invite code to the readers of the ReadWriteWeb blog. I've signed up to see how it can help me manage my Amazon S3 buckets.

Prism Viewer is a desktop installation that provides a Business Intelligence interface to view the S3 usage stats. The Amazon Analytics Dashboard is an additional file (Prism file: .psm) that lives inside the Prism Viewer and reports on your S3 buckets.

SiSense Amazon S3 Connect

Once you've entered your Amazon S3 connection information, you can start to create reports on its activity.

Unfortunately I can't synchronize my bucket's logs because an error occurs. It is a private beta but I'm disappointed I can't yet see my own statistics. For the moment here's a screenshot of their sample bucket to indicate what the tool will look like:

SiSense Amazon S3 File Display

I'll try again later and see how it works. Since I plan to store more and more information on S3 I definitely need this kind of reporting.

Amazon is starting to build a great ecosystem on top of its utility cloud computing platform, and software such as Prism, JungleDisk, TagCow, and DreamTeam Suite is the proof.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Eating My Own Dog Food

After 10 years of rampant, unsupervised personal computer use I've copied and pasted myself into a corner. I no longer have much idea where the good copy of anything is.

I aim to fix that.

It seems like a daunting task. My short term efforts have been to keep buying new external hard drives and copying files onto that. Needless to say that's compounded the mess since I am now trying to figure out which is the Latest Version. So much for Single Source of Truth!

In many ways my problem is a perfect mirror to the sort of enterprise problems that SharePoint hopes to solve. It only makes sense that I  make SharePoint a part of the solution. It has the added benefit that I am at least practicing what I preach; I will be eating my own dog food.

I thought I would track my cleanup efforts and hopefully get some help from other people who have gone down this road before. Feedback on what you did / are doing / will do is very very welcome!

The Problem, By The Numbers

  • 2 users
  • 4 Laptops in various stages of obsolescence
  • 2 100-gig external drives
  • 1 200-gig external drive
  • 20 gigs of music including many duplicate files
  • 30 gigs of photos and videos, including some duplication
  • 10 years of ad hoc file management legacy crud
  • 2 personal email accounts
  • 2 or more business email accounts
  • 0 ability to share files collaboratively
  • 0 backup strategy

The Goal

At the end of this process, I want to have achieved the following:

  1. A Single Source of Truth for all files (cue Heavenly Choir)
  2. Highly available, online web access to files I frequently use
  3. Laptop access to all files
  4. Synchronization of file changes between online / offline work
  5. Phone access to personal email, contacts, calendars, and task information (and files if possible, although this is secondary)
  6. Phone access to business email, contacts, calendars, and task information
  7. A single personal email account and preferably only 1 business email account
  8. High level of security and encryption for all files stored in the cloud
  9. Weekly (or more frequent) incremental backups of all files
  10. Monthly full backups of all files

So here's the new plan:

The Bits and Pieces

  1. Get a hosted WSS 3 site for my personal site. On here: tasks, calendar, grocery list, personal (but not security sensitive) documents, licensing information. Parts of it will require a username and password to login.
  2. Get a business hosted WSS 3 site as an extranet for clients and also to store non-sensitive frequently used work documents
  3. Purchase Colligo Contributor Pro so I can sync my Personal and Business SharePoint sites and work offline while I travel.
  4. Get hosted Exchange (about to start trialing DNAMail).
  5. Purchase a smart phone with Windows Mobile so I can read these lists, contacts, calendars, and documents while on the go using Exchange Mobile Sync.
  6. The smart phone will initially also sync with my 2 personal and 2 business email accounts. Over time I will roll these over into 1 personal email account and 1 business email account (+x other company business emails when I'm on contract).
  7. Designate a "Hub" computer to store every "non-cloud" file I need. This includes all my songs and photos - basically anything normally residing on a personal computer. The hub computer will actually keeps the files on a large external drive so I can plug all this data into another machine as required (such as when sharing files with my girlfriend's computer).
  8. Get an Amazon S3 storage bucket for my hub computer. I calculate I need up to 60 gigs of storage for my photos, files, and music which amounts to about $180 USD per year including transfer and storage costs.
  9. Purchase JungleDisk Pro 2 for automatic behind-the-scenes file backup of my data. Again, I need 60 gigs which amounts to about per $18 USD / year. JungleDisk offers encrypted online web access to all stored files.
  10. All web interfaces such as JungleDisk and WSS sites will be SSL encrypted as well as password protected.

Creating A Single Source Of Truth

This is the HARD part....plowing through the files making sure I don't have duplicates. iTunes has already alerted me to the fact that my Music folder contains up to 4 copies of the same song! Dagnabit.

I'm currently investigating utilities that search for duplicate files, such as DoubleKiller and Easy Duplicate Finder (thanks to Lifehacker:

For the moment I have created a new folder, called "Hub", on the Hub computer's external drive. I am manually copying the folders over and cleaning them up as I go. I will leave Photos and Music to the end in order to cling to sanity for as long as possible.

From now on, all work gets done from the Hub folder. If I need to access something and it isn't in the Hub folder yet, I will use that as the excuse to clean it up and move it. This is the "Go Forward" strategy for content migration.

Backup Strategy

  1. Weekly automatic incremental backups to S3 using JungleDisk Pro.
  2. Weekly manual site collection backup of the personal and business sites using SharePoint Designer.
  3. Monthly manual full copy of the content on the external file drive to another USB drive that I store offsite the rest of the time.

Thoughts, etc.

Thoughts? Feedback? Sympathetic handshakes? Mocking laughter?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

echo for SharePoint 2007 - Weekly Webinars

Every week, as part of my work with echoTechnology, I deliver a one hour online demonstration of some of echo for SharePoint's capabilities. It's very high-level and accessible and revolves around creating some tasks and showing how SharePoint can be updated easily and frequently.

The tasks I currently demonstrate include: loading content from a SharePoint 2003 portal and a file share, applying content type metadata, changing the master page and theme, adding some custom web parts, and enabling a custom workflow. All of these changes are deployed to several sites in two different SharePoint farms at the same time.

From the invite:

At the online demonstration you will discover how echo for SharePoint 2007:

  • Easily replicates changes to SharePoint in bulk
  • Automates change management procedures
  • Tests and deploys changes portal wide
  • Replicates to remote portals
  • Rapidly loads and tags documents
  • Delivers cost effective maintenance of SharePoint
  • Provides a longer lasting more relevant portal for your business

The webinars are every Thursday at 1pm PST. Sign up online at the echo website:

If you're a SharePoint Administrator you should definitely check it out. Hope to see you there!

TechEd 2008 Session Notes: MOSS Governance: From Chaos to Success in Ten Steps

This is the final set of notes from Tech Ed Orlando 2008. This presentation was given by Joel Oleson and Shane Young (and am I missing a presenter?).

Definition of Governance

Governance uses people, process ,technology, and policies to define a service, resolve ambiguity, and mitigate conflict within an organization.


People, Process, Technology, Policy!

The 10 Step Plan

1) Executive Sponsor

2) Governance Plan: Clear Goals, Vision, Mission, and Metrics: Reduce TCO, encourage standards & consistency, provide service and solution.

3) Skilled Teams:

Tip: Try to avoid having Jack of All Trades manage the portal. Even 2 half positions is better than 1 FTR (full time resource).

SharePoint specialist skills:

  1. SharePoint Business Analyst – high level of understanding of SharePoint.
  2. Creative Designer – often outsourced.
  3. Trainer: Often outsourced.
  4. Infrastructure Specialist – DB, OS, understands web world. Needs to know SQL issues and optimization of DB. Network understanding helps.
  5. SharePoint Developer – knows .NET. SharePoint Architect – has to compile roadmap for services & platform, must be willing to follow the KISS principle.

Forrester organization defines these roles:

  1. Executive Sponsor – CXO Evangelist, active participant in the process.
  2. Program Driver – Communicator, unbiased, coordinator of all stewards.
  3. Business Stewards – IT savvy, strong communicators, educator across the business.
  4. IT Stewards – business savvy, educators across IT.

4) Training and Resources:

Site collection admin training – champs, pros, gurus (1 day).

Train key IT pros, dev, and designers – up to 1 week + offer certification incentive.

TIP: Brown bag and informal internal training for end users to help learn business processes.

Service offering site – should have online resources.

End User Training Kit for SharePoint should be available to everybody.

5) Service Definition and Model: Tiered model for site collections, sites, web apps, and farms. Options for things like quotas, user self-provisioning, archiving, listing in site directories, help disk provisioning etc, expiration of documents.

6) Information Architecture

7) Standards & Policies

8) Change, Configuration, and Release Management Processes (ITIL/ MOF) . Policies for release management, configuration management, operations monitoring, security and patch management

9) Culture and adoption. Enterprise search = easy win. Gravity: people gravitate to where their data resides. Don’t cut corners.

10) KISS

Examples of How Deployments Fail

  • Cutting corners – “my devs are my admins!”
  • “Production is test and dev, and where I introduce my service packs!”
  • “SharePoint is a simple install!”
  • “Let’s just deploy it and then worry about governance!”

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

TechEd 2008 Session Notes: Creating Portals That Last: Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies, Governance and Information Architecture

This is the penultimate in my series of Tech Ed Orlando session notes. It covers a session on governance practices given by Shane Young and Jason Medero.


  1. Prevent content sprawl
  2. Drive user adoption
  3. Prevent single point of failure
  4. Drive efficiency
  5. User empowerment

Key Drivers

  1. Information Architecture
  2. Branding
  3. Communication Strategy
  4. Enterprise Search
  5. Training / UAT
  6. Operations Management

Things To Consider

Governance always has to involve the end users.

Use search reporting to decide what content to add / manage. It will illustrate what is being searched for and what can’t be found

Operations Management:

  • Monitoring
  • Backup/Restore / DR
  • Storage and Quotas
  • Service Level Agreements
  • Reporting
  • Deployment Process

Branding: Consistent Look and feel

Communication Strategy: Who, What, Where, When, How

Change Management

Users are like water – they follow the path of least resistance

Dev, Testing, Staging, Prod

Shane says 95% of customers do everything in Production

MOSS allows checking in pages and content

Shane advises customers to use the Dev, Testing, Lifecycle only for custom code

Need a plan for how changes are made

He never lets any custom code into the portal unless it is deployed via a solution

Where do I Start?

  • Define roles and responsibilities
  • Best Practice: Define success – make it quantifiable and tied to business objectives – usage rate, new functionality rollouts?
  • Identify executive sponsors / key stakeholders
  • Define taxonomy
  • Develop look and feel
  • Establish configuration and release management process
  • Site provisioning
  • Build a service offering
    • At what level do I enable self service?
    • Where do I want IT to step in?
    • What quota should I allow?
    • Offering types:
      • Unmanaged: Out of box, hard to find, inconsistent experience, difficult to manage & patch
      • Managed Decentralized: Easy to access, easier to isolate, distributed admin, challenges: brand, search, browse, support, backup
      • Managed Centralized: Easy to index, manage, find information, brand
  • Training / UAT
    • Put training in the budget
    • Quick reference guides for users

What to Expect from an Effective Governance Plan

  • Protection against regulatory issues
  • Enhance ability to find people and data
  • Improve efficiency of your organization