Thanks, DevCon!

I’ve travelled to bar camps, cloud camps, Web 2.0 expos and summits, Enterprise 2.0 blah blah…Hands down, DevConnections (I went to the SharePoint 2010 track) is the most valuable.

I apologize that I couldn’t blog on the last day.  I left my powercord at home and my laptop was dead.  But, I invite you to read my blogs that I posted directly from the conference.  Most were posted right after the session ended..

I recommend DevConnections and hope to go to another one.  The Visual Studio or Silverlight tracks look interesting to me.

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Maurice Prather, enterprise architect

Maurice Prather on BI and PowerPivot
He’s got a great accent, so he’s easy to listen to after I just had a wonderful lunch with Women in Technology.  I’m really interested in columnar storage and business intelligence, so let’s start the session!
 
Why BI?  It’s valuable, sure.  But, it’s really difficult to get it right in an enterprise.  We’re collecting data everywhere, but our users still have difficulty accessing relevant and reliable data.  IT has insufficient staff to support it.  And, etc.
 
BI has low success rates.  Most of the time, these are multi-month projects.  57% of deployments take over a year.  The average implementation time is 17 months.  The mean annual cost of BI software is high at 1.1M.  And larger and more expensive projects don’t necessarily translate into higher success rates.
 
It’s time to change our BI strategy.  He recommends two prongs:
  • SharePoint as the visualization host
  • PowerPivot as the data model – everything can be in SQL, but stage it in PowerPivot

Performance Point Services, Reporting Services, and Excel Services are all sitting and waiting to be tapped to their full potential in SharePoint 2010.  PowerPivot is the newest BI member in the stack.  What’s great is that it works with very large data sets (much more than Excel).  Maurice says he’s seen a billion rows as the data set in PowerPivot.  Wow.  It bridges the gap between the world’s most popular “self-service” BI tool (Excel) and more traditional systems such as Analysis Services, SQL Reporting, and etc.  It’s built exclusively to work with SharePoint.   

There are two operational realms:

Client

PowerPivot Add-In for Excel — Allows Excel clients to interact with and author workbooks.  And, it’s free!

Server

PowerPivot for SharePoint — Service application that works in conjunction with Excel Services and provides a monitoring surface.

There are over 30 million POWER users of Excel.  This is a great target audience.  PowerPivot is designed for all of IT’s BI customers, information workers, data analysts, and regular SharePoint users.

Traditional BI models, that typically take months to deploy, only fill about 5-10% of what business users actually need.  PowerPivot is self-service and spans the gap between traditional BI and agile BI.

PowerPivot extends core Excel concepts, but leverages SharePoint for security and services.  It has support for any data volume (the limit is your hardware memory), cross-data source mashups, and advanced calculation that reduces support and start-up costs.

PowerPivot is analysis services in VertiPaq mode (columnar storage), which takes your data and collapses it, making it small until you bring it back into view.  It’s designed to load and KEEP large data sets in memory.  With a theoretical processing rate of 1 TRILLION rows per minute, it’s awesome.

Here are some PowerPivot samples to download.  Here, too.  There’s some stuff in CodePlex as well.  And, here is a surprising example of PowerPivot data compression vs. Excel.  12x on disk on 8x on RAM.  and, it only gets better with larger data sets.  As an IT administrator of SharePoint 2010, it seems we would want to enable the PowerPivot service for our users.

PowerPivot is great at 80% of the use cases for BI — the dashboard.  What it is NOT:

  • an ETL tool
  • a suite of new controls (except for the slicer)
  • designed for re-entry of data
  • notification capable

It’s interesting to know that PowerPivot is not a claims aware application and must be in Classic mode to operate.  Also, the minimum requirements listed on MSDN (8GB RAM and 2 processors) don’t seem to operate in reality.  Unless you’re building a demo, you actually need a lot more.  Recommended settings for an enterprise deployment of PowerPivot for SharePoint are in the 64GB RAM and 2 dual core or 4 quad core processors range.

PowerPivot is a memory hungry hog.  It’s an in-memory database engine, so it’s important to plan your hardware, understand your data sets, and use the tools to monitor the system.  Good design techniques are extremely important. 

Ben Curry, SharePoint Server MVP

Ben Curry, Microsoft MVP is leading the next session “SharePoint 2010 Employment Demofest”. Anyone who presents and manages to say things like “Argh” and “e i e i o” is someone I want to listen to.

He begins communicating the quick and most accurate way to transform SharePoint from a glorified file share to its full potential as a business critical system.  These steps must be performed in the correct order.

  • Gather requirements – from the business
  • Create logical architecture – it helps to have an information taxonomy in place
  • Design physical architecture – this is derived from the logical architecture
  • Test and validate – one of the most important steps is often skipped
  • Log and monitor – many administrators don’t even look at the logs, when they need to be experts here
  • Adjust architecture as needed – the architecture will stabilize over time

He advises us to all STOP!  Learn. Test. Implement.  Stop and learn each application individually as a product.  Before you can design the logical or technical architecture, you must understand all target applications.  Each service application is implemented in a unique fashion to meet service requirements.  There’s so much to learn.  It took him 8 months to methodically understand the entire SharePoint 2010 stack.

The farm topology for SharePoint 2010 is very different from 2007.  The basic footprint is doubled and database work is done outside of 2010.  It’s a SQL activity.  I believe that if you have a SharePoint 2007 deployment, you should just wait for it to EOL.  Start over with 2010 and transform the way you use SP.

This is a demofest, so let’s feast. I expected actual SharePoint end solutions being demoed, but he is demonstrating how to configure SharePoint from the very beginning.

Advice:  any time you see “server farm”, remember that this means “configuration database”.  It has nothing to do with a farm.  Weird.  Hosting Central Admin on the configuration database doesn’t matter because you can manage the farm with PowerShell or CA.

Once a solution package is deployed to a SharePoint farm (.wsp file), SharePoint will manage all of this automatically.  Don’t get bad juju by manually attempting to change or move these solutions.  It will just make things out of synch if you have to change servers later.

He’s an expert administrator and he moves through the screens, folders, and demo effortlessly.  It’s a bit hard to keep up.  Remember that when you make a change in CA, you are ONLY chaging a field in the configuration database. Then, based on a timer job, the changes get cascaded out to the server / farms.  Important.

He’s showing the foundational way to build out a server farm, but this same technique can also be used to build large server farms.  It’s impossible for me to show you how to do this so I’ll just provide you a helpful link, but he’s giving us advice on each screen.

Kerberos is becoming the gold standard for security configuration over NTLM.  Why? Most conventional network systems use password-based authentication schemes. When a user needs to authenticate to a service running on a network server, they type in their password for each service that requires authentication. Their password is sent over the network, and the server verifies their identity using the password.

Transmission of passwords in plaintext using this method, while commonly done, is a tremendous security risk. Any system cracker with access to the network and a packet analyzer (also known as a packet sniffer) can intercept any passwords sent this way.

The primary design goal of Kerberos is to ensure that passwords are never sent across a network unencrypted and are preferably never sent over the network at all. The proper use of Kerberos will eradicate the threat of packet sniffers intercepting passwords on your network.

If you wish to support mutual authentication under Kerberos, an instance of SQL Server must associate a Service Principal Name (SPN) with the account it will be running.  You must register the SPN because the client must use a registered SPN to connect to the server instance. The SPN is composed by using the server’s computer name and the TCP/IP port. If you do not register the SPN, the SSPI cannot determine the account that is associated with the SPN. Therefore, Kerberos authentication will not be used.

To use Kerberos authentication, you must make sure that all the following conditions are true:

  • Both the server and the client computers must be members of the same Windows domain or members of trusted domains.
  • The server’s service principal name (SPN) must be registered in the Active Directory directory service.
  • The instance of SQL Server 2005 must enable the TCP/IP protocol.
  • The client must connect to the instance of SQL Server 2005 by using the TCP/IP protocol. For example, you can put the TCP/IP protocol at the top of the client’s protocol order. Or you can add the prefix “tcp:” in the connection string to specify that the connection will use the TCP/IP protocol.

Ok, this guy is good.  There’s too much content to put in here now, but if I find his slides, I’ll include them later.

Scot Hillier, Microsoft MVP and etc.

I’m in the Advanced Search-Based Solutions in SharePoint 2010 session at SharePoint Connections in Orlando.  And, although I’m really interested in search solutions, I’m most excited about the “Cher Point” t-shirt that Richard Boucher picked up for me this morning.  It’s cold, so I’m wearing it over my black hoodie:

Cher Point = SharePoint

The search architecture for SharePoint 2010 can seem a bit complex.  It’s also very elegant.  You must first decide which search is right for you.  I’m not interested in the single farm search tool or anything less simple than SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Search and FAST Search Server for SharePoint 2010. 

There are amazing improvements this year in Enterprise Search, but even thought its a great cross-farm search, my company will index beyond the limits of this product.  However, until we reach those limits and move our search topology to accommodate FAST, we might as well utilize this to its fullest potential. 

Scot is talking a lot about keyword query search.  I’ve just seen him bring back everyone in a farm who’s last name begins with “C” by entering “lastname:C” in the people search application.  This allows a developer to include an “A,B,C..” phone book type control to the UI.  Neato.

What’s great with SP 2010 is that, as an administrator/developer, you can intercept a query and modify it, changing the results returned.  You do this by editing a web part called the core results web part.  Then, use the GetXPathNavigator method to modify the results of the Query Pipeline.  Results are always returned as a big XML document (hello, RSS aggregation possibilities).  An example of the usefulness of this is when a user search for all tasks.  The search engine would normally return results by “relevance”, but most people would probably want to see tasks returned by due date.

There’s another interesting idea to federate search.  You can create a custom web part that searches in SharePoint and other search engines as well, like Bing, Google, Yahoo Search, etc.  This is especially useful if someone is searching for market intelligence.

If you consider all the different content types users could search on, you begin to understand exactly how much you can impact the usefulness of the search results, which can be developed separately as stand-alone solutions in SharePoint Designer (of all things).  Don’t forget to go to advanced mode or otherwise it can be a bit tricky. 

The possibilities are endless for search-based solutions.  Understanding keyword query search and how to edit the core results web parts is key to providing results your users actually need.

Robert Bogue — architect, developer and IT pro

The next session is called Solutions Without Semicolons — The IT Pros Guide to Solution Creation.  Robert Bogue leads it and he has a long list of credentials.  Besides being a multi-year Microsoft MVP and obtaining multiple MCSEs, he’s the president of Thor Projects and has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects.

Robert’s latest book is The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users. You can find out more about the book at http://www.SharePointShepherd.com. Check out his blog to find out more:  http://www.thorprojects.com/blog. You can reach Robert at Rob.Bogue@thorprojects.com.

Because of enabling technologies and today’s pace of change, organizations are struggling to get the support they think they need.  More and more, IT professionals are being asked to create solutions for the business.  The Office 2010 System including SharePoint, Visio, InfoPath, Word, and SharePoint Designer are tools that the IT Professional can use to create solutions that don’t require any code.  That seems to be a theme for today’s sessions.

The core of this session is about Business Connectivity Services (BCS), which was formerly known as Business Data Catalog (BDC) in SharePoint 2007. BDC is a powerful feature used to integrate various line of business (LOB) systems like SAP, Siebel, SQL Server and web services. Now BCS is extended to support .NET assemblies and WCF services as data source(s).

Focusing on no-code, we’re viewing a demo of Visio workflows, SharePoint Designer and BCS.  The multiple crashes of the demo have me biting my nails.  Much of the content has already been discussed in previous sessions and I didn’t find any unique content here.  Check out this really good blog discussing this at length:  http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/ee819133.aspx.  Also, remember to read the BCS Security Overview.

Robert Skoglund, solutions architect

Robert Skoglund

Creating Great Business Intelligence Solutions using SharePoint 2010 is the next session.  BI represents a major growth area in IT, and SharePoint and Office provide a great set of BI features to build and integrate data-driven spreadsheets and applications with SharePoint 2010.  I’m looking forward to hearing about PowerPivot, Performance Point Services, Excel Services, KPIs and such from the one and only Robert Skoglund.  He’s a solutions architect for Microsoft Consulting Services.

Enabling BI solutions is greatly misunderstood from a traditional IT standpoint.  Because the SharePoint product had to be installed on your machine, it was difficult to do BI in previous versions.  In 2010, this has been greatly improved.  In the SharePoint 2010 capabilities diagram, these are in the Insights slice: Performance Point Services, Excel Services, Visio Services, Chart Web Parts and Status Lists, Web Analytics and SQL Server Integration.

Visio Services are immensely valuable to provide real-time visual data and updates with data connectivity.   See the illustration below to understand the potential of blowing away your boss:

Performance Point Services enable visual scorecards integrated with SharePoint with details KPIs and decomposition trees.  A video is really the right medium to explain this further.  Here’s a bite-sized one:

The single most interesting thing about BI on this platform for me has to do with PowerPivot Services.  It’s important to know this consists of two products that must be downloaded and installed in order to work together:  PowerPivot for Excel and PowerPivot for SharePoint

You CAN use the Excel product separately. If you have the data on your local device, you can use PowerPivot for Excel to deliver a BI solutions that rivals something an IT professional would take weeks or months to deliver.  It’s for those of us too impatient to wait and need deeper business insight to shorten decision cycles.  But, cominging this with PowerPivot for SharePoint enables administrators a way to deliver this capability to everyone, helping lead to better, faster, more relevant decisions while avoiding the proliferation of spreadmarts and data silos in the enterprise.

Overviews, how-to’s, and linkes to demos and a hands-on lab are available here: http://www.powerpivot.com/videos.aspx

The other content was shared too quickly for me to be able to share here.  The rest of the session was spent doing a slow demo and fielding questions from the crowd.  I still don’t understand why he recommends separating your BI dashboard from user collaboration…I mean you could just add social web parts.  But, I’ll dork around with it and maybe achieve the same epiphany as Robert.  But, didn’t Microsoft mean to weave social into all of this?