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The latest in SharePoint – highlights and future directions: An update from this year’s SharePoint Conference

For four days and nights during the recent SharePoint Conference there wasn’t a place you could go in Anaheim, California without being in close proximity to a lot of SharePoint people. I was lucky enough to join the 7,500 in attending this year’s conference. With over 240 sessions, 7,500 attendees and 200 vendors, it was a busy and exciting week. Did I mention that the conference party was held on the Tuesday night at Disneyland theme park?

These large global conferences are more than just sessions, as they also provide a fantastic opportunity to catch up and network with other SharePoint professionals from around the world. About 15 delegates had travelled from New Zealand, four from Intergen. Two Intergenites – Gavin Barron and Chris Auld – were also involved in delivering conference sessions.

From the keynote and the range of conference sessions, the following themes came through loud and clear:

SharePoint isn’t going away any time soon; in fact it continues to get bigger and better. We didn’t see or even hear whispers about the next version but November 12-15 2012 was the date set for the next year’s conference and it’s safe to assume that’s when we will see SharePoint vNext (so will it be called SharePoint 15, SharePoint 2013 or something else entirely?).

Microsoft’s cloud offering Office 365 (O365) continues to mature and it was said in no uncertain terms “it is Microsoft’s big bet”. Although there are limitations with the current version it was announced during the keynote that an update is coming soon. This will include improvements for SharePoint including the ability to use Business Connectivity Service (BCS).

Disaster Recovery can be exciting! One of the keynote demos was the live fail-over of a 14.4 TB SharePoint farm. 7,500 pairs of eyes watched closely as the plug was pulled on the SQL Server and within 40 seconds of the “failure” things were up and running again. From a technical perspective this was an impressive demonstration:

  •  SQL Server “Denali” was used as the SQL backend to show the improved fail-over capability of this new version of SQL (the capability is known as “always on”). Within 40 seconds one SQL instance was unplugged and the other instance had picked up the work and continued to allow the SharePoint farm to deliver content for the users. Only 40-ish seconds of downtime for such a large environment was pretty impressive!
  • The farm was scaled out to support 7,500 concurrent users (7,500 being all the conference attendees) which equates to a user base of 75,000 – 150,000 people depending on what models you use to calculate capacity. This shows how massively SharePoint can scale if required.
  • 14.4 TB is a huge amount of content and the details around this scalability testing  were released to coincide with the conference. We still would recommend staying within the general capacity recommendations of keeping content databases under 200 GB but this demonstration showed that if required SharePoint can get really, really BIG.

On-premise SharePoint deployments are going to be important for many organisations for some time to come, and Microsoft will continue to support you. Not every solution is suitable for the cloud, and I don’t think Microsoft wouldn’t have set up a 14.4 TB farm to prove how well SharePoint can scale unless they saw a long future in on-premise infrastructure. After all, how many 14.4 TB farms are going to live in the cloud?

SharePoint is a Platform

The range of sessions at the conference also showed the various types of solutions that can be built on the SharePoint platform. SharePoint has significant out-of-the-box capabilities which can be used to build specific business solutions, but two interesting topics at the conference showed its flexibility as a platform:

  • Solutions for Mobile Devices – SharePoint natively supports mobile devices but the result may leave the end users underwhelmed because it is pretty rudimentary. Gavin and Chris did a candid session on the challenges with building applications and websites for mobile devices, especially SharePoint. The bottom line is there are techniques that can be used to deliver content to mobile devices but it’s not easy to anticipate the plethora of mobile devices and scenarios that currently exist. As with anything, you need to evaluate the options and determine a strategy that fits your business situation. Mobile solutions can be build using SharePoint 2010 but it’s not going to be a “just turn it on” solution.
  • HTML 5 – and its place in web development has been growly steadily over the last 12 months. One key message was that although SharePoint 2010 can deliver HTML 5 content, the biggest barrier is not getting SharePoint to output HTML 5 content but finding browsers that support these new features (see this example site of what enhancements are available with HTML 5). SharePoint 2010 has very broad browser support but Internet Explorer 7 and 8 are still some of the most popular browsers for most organisations. The downside when it comes to HTML 5 is that IE 7 and 8 do not deal with HTML 5 particularly well. Until Internet Explorer 9 (or the other HTML 5 supported browsers) is widely in use then HTML 5 is probably some way from being a good bet for SharePoint solutions.
    Note: Another nice nugget from the conference was “earlier” versions of IE (7 and 8) and other browsers that don’t have full support for HTML 5 can be enhanced with JavaScript frameworks such as Modernizr.


Posted by: Nick Hadlee, Practice Manager | 18 October 2011

Tags: SharePoint, SharePoint Conference, Microsoft, Mobile, Office 365

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