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A report on the Microsoft SharePoint Conference – from backstage, on-stage and as a member of the audience

I was fortunate enough to speak at last week’s 2011 SharePoint Conference in Anaheim, California. This is a one of the larger conferences on the Microsoft conference calendar, with over 7500 people attending.

For this event, I was responsible for leading our team to create one of the demonstrations shown during the keynote presentation, utilising SharePoint to manage a great initiative being driven by Microsoft at the event. Microsoft pledged to donate $50,000 to not for profit organisations under the umbrella of NetHope, the distribution of which to be determined by the attendees of the SharePoint Conference. Chris Johnson, a Senior Technical Product Manager from the SharePoint team at Microsoft, showed off a system built by Intergen which allowed all attendees to vote for which not for profit organisation should receive donations, and how those donations should be allocated; customised reporting was also developed allowing NetHope to show the progress of voting and how those votes were distributed.

Intergen has helped develop content presentations for many recent large-scale Microsoft events (including this year’s Microsoft Convergence and virtual launch of CRM 2011), and the SharePoint Conference was no exception.

The system was built using a combination of Windows Azure and SharePoint Online. An ASP.NET MVC website provided the end user interface, allowing users to vote, and an Office 365 SharePoint instance hosted the NetHope intranet, where the reports showing voting progress and distribution were hosted. If you're interested in getting some more in-depth information on this, there will be a series of articles coming soon over on http://nothingbutsharepoint.com.

Because of my role, I was backstage for the keynote to provide on-site support and help ensure that the demo went smoothly. Hanging out backstage and getting to see how an event of this scale is executed was an interesting experience! The backstage area contained a vision mixing studio, redundant projectors for each of the large screens, more computers than are in some offices and host of support staff. Every speaker had a secondary deck of slides that provided their notes which was being driven by a second person backstage during the presentation. It was great to see the effort that goes on backstage at a large-scale event like this.

During the keynote we saw results from a Microsoft scale and performance test lab that investigated the limits on SharePoint content database sizes and reliability. In this demo we saw a SharePoint farm with 15 million terabytes of documents, and data with 7500 concurrent users conservatively simulating an organisation of over 150,000 users – in other words, it was a large-scale simulation. This environment was hosted in a large set of server racks. SharePoint reliability was demonstrated by unplugging the network cable connecting the SharePoint servers to the database servers. Within 40 seconds we saw a full farm fail-over to the DR data servers – a hugely impressive demonstration with no apparent user downtime, proving that SharePoint can be used in the most challenging scenarios.

We received no information about the future version of SharePoint. Instead, the conference was all about celebrating the technology and educating attendees as to what can and has been achieved using SharePoint 2010. Personally I think this was a great move, as the release of Office/SharePoint 15 is at least 12 months away and there is a lot that can be achieved – and is being achieved – with the current generation of solutions.

What was made clear is that Microsoft is making quite a sizeable bet on Office 365 and cloud-based solutions. On this front it is worth noting that the SharePoint Online offering will be adding some BCS capabilities in the coming months, with the last of the online farms expected to have this feature enabled by Christmas.

Smartphones and SharePoint

I also co-presented a session with Chris Auld, titled ‘Making your SharePoint Websites Sing on Smartphones.’ Chris and I talked about the various motivations for building websites with mobile views, some of the challenges the small form factor and user interaction paradigms present, and some of the challenges that are unique to SharePoint.

With that foundation laid, I presented a few demos where we showed three different approaches that we would suggest people could use in different circumstances. I felt that the session went really well, with a large audience and some really good questions coming from the crowd. If you're interested in the technical nuts and bolts, check out my wrap up post from the session: http://gavinb.net/2011/10/05/spc366-making-sharepoint-websites-sing-on-your-smartphone.

While at the event I also caught a few sessions, mostly focused on developer topics, seeing as that's my speciality. The speakers were all polished, professional and provided insightful views on various parts of the SharePoint ecosystem. There were a host of new tools, helpers and resources released to the community during the conference, largely from the wider community, but some are published through MSDN, including a PowerShell command builder tool and – most excitingly to me – the CKS:API to support instrumentation and debugging for SharePoint.

SharePoint has an incredibly supportive and collaborative community, which is I believe one of the things that make it such a great space to be working in. Overall I was very impressed at the size of the SharePoint ecosystem – it's worth over $USD 8B per annum to Microsoft and the wider partner community. The entire Tech·Ed New Zealand keynote room could have easily fitted into the expo hall five or six times over!

In short, it’s exciting times in the SharePoint world now that SharePoint 2010 is well understood and has great support from both Microsoft and the wider community. And, from my observations, it’s great to see Intergen getting involved and helping to lead the way.

Posted by: Gavin Barron, Solution Architect | 13 October 2011

Tags: SharePoint, smartphone, Microsoft SharePoint Conference

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