IT administrators who manage Microsoft SharePoint Server will get a slew of feature and management improvements included in the new release, which launches next week with Office 2010.
Some of the improvements to SharePoint 2010 include more governance controls over sites and more server resources, better built-in backup and new tools to manage and monitor the SharePoint farm.
For starters, the Central Administration has been completely boiled down so it is easier to navigate and it now includes the ribbon interface found throughout the Office 2010 product line, making it easier to locate tasks. At the same time, Central Administration offers deeper insight into operations and includes new tools to manage and monitor SharePoint servers.
For example, the SharePoint Health Analyzer (in SharePoint Foundation 2010), is a dashboard for the server farm that alerts IT pros to issues, including the location, an explanation and steps to take to fix the problem.
In previous versions, it was up to the administrator to go through the logs, find out what the problem was and where and how to remedy it, said Brandon Gibson, a SharePoint technology consultant with SharePoint360.
There are also new wizards in Central Administration that guide administrators in installing a SharePoint farm. In previous versions, IT pros had to figure out all of the configurations and deploy SharePoint sites without system guidance, which was both time consuming and frustrating, Gibson said.
IT pros will have much more control over their SharePoint environment now that Microsoft has moved away from the command line utility and toward the PowerShell scripting language; there are more than 500 PowerShell cmdlets baked into this version to write and execute scripts that can eliminate certain tasks.
IT pros will also have more governance controls to manage how end users use SharePoint with Active Directory markers that track SharePoint installations and Group Policies to prevent the use of certain capabilities.
For instance, Excel 2010's Power Pivot feature can pull in a million rows of data, which is great for end users but requires additional infrastructure. "On the IT side, you have to figure out who should get to use certain capabilities because some of them require infrastructure on the backend," Gibson said. "Figure out who your power users are to avoid any issues."
Built-in backup improves
SharePoint 2007 included built-in backup, but it lacked a scheduling mechanism. it was known to fail and notifications aren't reliable. The 2010 version's built-in backups are better and include both farm and granular backups. Previously, granular backups could only be done with a command line utility.
The unattached database recovery feature in SharePoint 2010 lets administrators recover data directly from a SharePoint content database that isn't directly attached to the farm. In the previous version, admins would recover information by either building a restore farm or third-party recovery tools.
Administrators can also assign a failover server for every content database using Central Administration, so if a SQL server fails, SharePoint will automatically switch over to a content database on a designated failover box. "So, instead of having a separate SharePoint farm for doing restores, which was a multi-step process, you can use a content database for backup," Gibson said. "This feature saves a lot of time and resources."
A number of other small improvements to the built-in backup feature include progress bars to show which stage the backup process is in, but there are also gaps Microsoft has to fill.
For instance, there is still no direct item-level recovery, no simple way to schedule backup in Central Administration, and admins can only backup to disk, not tape.
Upgrading to SharePoint 2010
Because SharePoint has more features, the hardware requirements are steeper than SharePoint 2007; it requires more RAM, more processing power, and more disk space. In addition, it will only be supported on 64-bit hardware, so users have to buy 64-bit hardware if they don't have it already.
"Even if you want to create a small environment for development, you need more horsepower than the last version," Gibson said. "But it may balance out in the end, since there is less need for a restore farm."
Despite the added infrastructure requirements, Gibson said Microsoft has made the installation and configuration process simpler so SharePoint 2010 shouldn't be a nightmare upgrade.
"In the past, the migration process required you to take almost the whole thing down and put the new one up, but that's no longer the case," Gibson said. "Now there is a sandbox feature to test certain parts in a safe way, and you can ease end users into the new version by holding on to some SharePoint 2007 features that they are used to."
With all of the changes to Central Administration and the move to PowerShell, there is sure to be some discomfort for IT pros as well, but Gibson said the payoff is worth the adjustment phase.
Other administrators agreed and some say SharePoint 2010 is reason enough to upgrade to Office 2010.
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