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Wrestling with Microsoft SharePoint

I do not know what to think about Microsoft SharePoint. It is kind-of inevitable if you live on the Microsoft platform. At some point the question comes up: how do we get to our documents over the Internet; and while VPN works, it is an awkward solution that means opening a VPN tunnel first and arguably opens up too much from a security perspective; direct internet access is easier and works from any device. Microsoft also has Direct Access, which lets you connect to network shares without a VPN; I have not tried it though it requires Windows 7 which is a serious restriction.

In any case, SharePoint does so much more: search, blogs and wikis, company portal, business intelligence, platform for document workflow applications, office web apps for in-browser editing of Office documents, alerts when documents are added or changed, and near-infinite possibilities for customization, to mention a few features.

The downside is that SharePoint is intricate, sometimes slow, and complex to administer.

I run a miniature Microsoft-platform setup for test and development. The servers are on Hyper-V virtual machines, and include Exchange 2007 (2010 upgrade pending), SharePoint 2010, and ISA Server 2006. I have been trying out SharePoint for some time, and once I figured out how to map a drive reliably I have enjoyed using it as a document repository. I have also tried SharePoint WorkSpace 2010 on a netbook, which is useful for offline work, though the user interface needs attention and it has an annoying limit on the number of items it will download.

The problem I have had though is that the internal URL (eg http://sharepoint) was different from the external URL (eg https://sharepoint.mydomain.com). In consequence, it did not work smoothly on a laptop or netbook that is not always on the internal network.

I spent some time fixing this. I am not sure that I found the best solution, but I found one that works. I extended the SharePoint application to a second web site for ssl access; I set up split DNS so that sharepoint.mydomain.com resolves to the internal server on the local network, and to ISA on the internet; I set up a new listener in ISA for the external URL, and a new policy that redirects to the internal server using SSL throughout; I turned off link translation; I removed all the paths except for /*; I set NTLM authentication. Finally I set Alternate Access Mappings for the new external URL which, thanks to split DNS, also works internally.

If that sounds like jargon, welcome to the world of SharePoint administration. Few things are intuitive or straightforward; which is why, for example, you can find a three part series by the Troy Starr on What every SharePoint administrator needs to know about Alternate Access Mappings.

Another thing that is obvious to SharePoint admins but not to occasional visitors: when you patch SharePoint with an official update, it is not enough to run the patch. You also have to update the configuration with psconfig -update or the configuration wizard, to update the metadata.

And after all that, in my very simple SharePoint setup, I still have warnings in Health Analyzer about missing server side dependencies for WebPart class [8d6034c4-a416-e535-281a-6b714894e1aa] – I am not sure why the Analyzer cannot look up the GUID somewhere and present something more meaningful, nor why the “More information about this rule” link in the analyzer takes you to the SharePoint Server home page rather than anywhere useful.

That said, I am pleased with my setup. It makes getting at documents when out and about very easy, particularly with mapped drive integration. I also found several iPhone clients – Steve McDonnell has a round up – and installed the free Moprise to get started. Performance is rather good; and while it has little advantage over Dropbox for an individual, in a corporate environment it makes sense.

My immediate conclusion is that specialising in SharePoint consultancy and administration is probably a smart move if you have the requisite skills; but that tinkering with SharePoint is something non-specialists are unlikely to enjoy. Shifting the administrative burden to Microsoft by using its hosted SharePoint is attractive, as is using an alternative collaboration and document platform such as Google Apps, though the two platforms are not very alike.

2 thoughts on “Wrestling with Microsoft SharePoint”

  1. Have you tried setting up a development platform yet? I’ve been trying to set up one of these at work to allow me to write Visual Studio components for SP 2007 and I have found it utter hell, to be honest: months later and we still don’t have one that allows me to debug interactively. So I’d be very happy to share any experience and tips.

  2. Clyde

    This is one thing that got a lot better with SP 2010 – I did try it briefly when testing VS 2010. It is pretty bad though.

    Tim

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