SharePoint for DBA’s

Yesterday I presented at #SQLSat614 in Christchurch. SQL Saturday was a full day event with 20 experts talking on topics related to the Microsoft Data Platform. Since this wasn’t my normal audience, I thought I’d ask the twitter-sphere what questions DBA’s have when it comes to managing SharePoint and the responses helped formulate my talk.

I attended another session where the speaker raised culture as an important aspect of ‘getting things done’. He spoke about the disconnect between different groups within IT, Ops team vs Dev team vs Systems team etc and how communication is often lacking.

Over the years I’ve seen many instances where people using SharePoint do things that ‘upset’ either the Ops team, DBA or someone else in the team. The is often swiftly followed by finger pointing and limited understanding of each others needs only makes things worse.

The point I would make is that SharePoint is a platform. In many cases a group of people are responsible for different elements of the platform – server infrastructure, SQL servers, backups, administration of SharePoint, site builds, content migrations, governance etc. If we can clearly identify the needs of each team and get better understanding across the group, then things will run more smoothly, especially when a crisis occurs. We want the group to become a team.

This leads me to my presentation, Introduction to SharePoint for DBA’s. I made a deliberate decision not to dive in to deep or create a comprehensive guide covering every aspect of SharePoint that a DBA might need to understand, but just enough that they would see how different it is to other workloads and provide a few tips for doing things better.

I’ll leave you with a few simple rules to remember and a link below to download the presentation. Here are the rules:

  • Always use SQL Aliases when installing SharePoint
  • Pre-grow your databases for planned data migration or bulk loading
  • Create one Site Collections per Content Databases were possible
  • Understand your recovery options (see more here)
  • Have a regular catch up with your SharePoint admin
  • Never update SharePoint databases directly, use the SharePoint UI or API’s

Download Presentation

During the questions I was asked, what is the difference between a DBA and a SharePoint Admin? A difficult question for a guy who spends his days working with SharePoint to answer, when the room is full of DBA’s!

A big thank you to the Microsoft SQL community (#sqlfamily) for having me at their event.

Why is Office 365 going slow?

Is your Office 365 running slow at random times? Does it seem to happen at work but be fine from home (or some other location)? Here is a short check list to help diagnose the problem.

Where is your Office 365 Tenant located?

Make sure your tenant is hosted in a location that makes sense. For us New Zealanders, the nearest location is Australia. Check the Office 365 Datacenter map.

Are you behind a Firewall or Proxy Server?

All Office 365 services use SSL. Firewalls and Proxy server with SSL Packet Inspection enabled can be a source of latency, especially if they are under a heavy load. Does turning off packet inspection improve performance? Does the Firewall’s console show high memory or CPU usage? This article ‘Should you use SSL Inspection’ by Forinet is a good read and applies to other vendors too.

Check your international bandwidth

In New Zealand some ISP’s limit the amount of international bandwidth allocated to each customer. If you have a large number of users, this could be a bottleneck. Talk to your ISP about the bandwidth allocation. Some may also have Office 365 specific plans.

Express Route is another technology that can improve performance for Azure and Office 365. See Microsoft’s Express Route partners and peering locations document. Talk to your ISP about Express Route.

Are you connecting across a WAN to your company internet connection?

If you are working from a branch office, then your internet traffic may be passing over a WAN link before getting to the internet. How much bandwidth do you have and are you sharing it with other traffic? Are you slowing down when someone prints a big file?

Other things to check

  • Network switches on your local LAN. Look for packet loss, latency and retry errors
  • Wireless network. Is the issue related to your WiFi only?
  • Your PC (or Mac). Is the problem specific to one device?
  • Run a speed test on your internet connection.
  • Are you over your data cap?

For a details example of how to troubleshoot Office 365 performance, read this article from Microsoft Premier Support.

There are other reasons Office 365 might be running slow, but in my experience most issues relate to the environment users are in. Try to eliminate the easiest things first.

Surface Pro alternative keyboard

I was first in line to get a Surface Pro 3 when they first came out. It’s a great piece of hardware with good performance, a great screen, plenty battery capacity and will run all the applications I need day to day. Microsoft improved many of the earlier Surface devices weaknesses and it became a popular device.

BrydgeKeyboard

I spend a lot of time away from my desk and out of the office. I take my Surface with me everywhere. The form factor combined with kick stand is great for working on planes, in cafe’s or in my car, but it does have some short comings. Sometimes I want to work from a couch or chair without a nearby hard surface to put the Surface on. The standard keyboard lacks the rigidity needed to make that type of working, leaving you thinking I really do need a laptop at times.

After considerable use for the past couple of years my keyboard was starting to wear out and so starting looking at the alternatives. Do I get the Surface Pro 4 keyboard (compatible with the Surface Pro 3)? What alternatives are there?  I stumbled across Brydge Keyboards, who make alternative keyboards for all your favourite tablets.

The Brydge 12.3 (https://www.brydgekeyboards.com/products/brydge-12-3) is not only an alternative keyboard, it also removes the need to use the Surface’s Kick Stand. You can use your Surface like a normal laptop, but without splashing out for the more expensive Surface Book. Brydge also offers a version with storage expansion.

They keyboard is made from aluminium, weights in at 675grams, has a back light, connects with bluetooth and runs for 3 months between charges. This combined with great reviews on several major websites, means it is seriously worth investigating further!

The release date is May 2017. You can pre-order now.

Update: I’ve got one!

I’ve had the keyboard for just over a week and haven’t once wanted to switch back to the Type Cover. I’ve used it at my desk, onsite with clients, in a car, on two flights and at a conference.  The typing experience is considerably better than the Type Cover and I have found myself using the Surface Pro more as my primary device.

The track pad is smaller than I was expecting, but is usable and I think better than the SurfacePro3 track pad. It is entirely usable but I do find myself using an external mouse if I have a desk to work at.

Switching to flight mode on a plane and then remember to activate Bluetooth was a little trap. I was a little tired the first time (6am flight) it did take me a moment or two to realise why the keyboard wasn’t working.

Judging from the reaction I’ve had when showing the Brydge 12.3 to other Surface Pro users, I think it is a much welcomed alternative to the Type Cover options, primarily because it makes the Surface more laptop like and it improves the typing experience.

My only real gripe is the weight of the keyboard which adds 675grams to the total weight. You do however get a feeling of quality and after a few days this has become less of an issue than it was initially.

Overall rating is 8/10.

PowerShell:Bulk load files into SharePoints

Here is a script I wrote to bulk upload files and metadata into SharePoint. To make this work you need two things, a CSV file containing the names of the files to upload and the metadata associated with the item.

In this example, the CSV file has the following format:

  • filename,cust_number,document_type

The script reads the CSV file, creates a folder in the document library named with the value of the “cust_number” field, and then uploads the file “filename” and populates the “document_type” column.

The WebClient command is used to upload the file into the document library. The script also checks the item in (if required).

Write-Progress -Activity “Connecting to SharePoint Site,” -Status “Please wait …”
Add-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue

$CSVFile = “C:\FilesToImport\filelist.csv”

$SPWebURL = “http://sharepoint/site”
$SPListURL = “http://sharepoint/site/library/”
$BaseFolder = “C:\FilesToImport\Files”
$Credentials = [System.Net.CredentialCache]::DefaultCredentials

$SPWebObject = Get-SPWeb $SPWebURL
write-host $SPListURL
$SPListObject = $SPWebObject.GetListFromUrl(“library/Forms/AllItems.aspx”)
$WebClient = New-Object System.Net.WebClient
$WebClient.Credentials = $Credentials

Write-Progress -Activity “Importing CSV File,” -Status “Please wait …”

$CSVObject = Import-CSV $CSVFile
$Index = 0
$Max = $CSVObject.Count

ForEach($CSVItem in $CSVObject)
{
$Index++
Write-Progress -Activity “Updating Metadata” -Status “Processing Item $Index of $Max”

$FileName = $CSVItem.File_name + “.pdf”
$ID_Number = $CSVItem.Cust_Number
$DocumentType = $CSVItem.Document_Type

$FullFileName = $BaseFolder + “\” + $FileName
write-host $FullFileName
if (Test-Path ($FullFileName))
{
$UploadPath = $SPListUrl + “/” + $Cust_Number + “/” + $FileName
$WebClient.UploadFile($UploadPath, “PUT”, $FullFileName)$SPListItemsObject = $SPListObject.Items | where {$_[‘Name’] -eq $FileName}
ForEach($SPListItem in $SPListItemsObject)
{
$SPListItem[‘Document_Type’] = $DocumentType

$SPListItem.Update()
if ($SPListItem.file.CheckOutStatus -ne “None”)
{
$SPListItem.file.CheckIn(“”)
}
}
}
else
{
Add-Content ErrorLog.txt $FullFileName
}
}

I’ve used this script in a few scenarios. I hope you find it useful too.

SSIS, InfoPath and SharePoint Lists

Have you ever needed  a low cost solution for capturing data in a form on mobile device and then pull the data back into an in house SQL database. In this solution data is entered into an InfoPath form on a tablet (Windows, iOS or Android), submitted to a SharePoint Online form library and then pulled into a SQLserver database using SQL Integration Services (SSIS).

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-10-17-01-am

This solution will also work with standard SharePoint lists and can be used with SharePoint Online, SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint 2016.

The things you need to know:

  • InfoPath forms can be hosted in a SharePoint Online forms library
  • InfoPath can ‘promote’ fields from the form into metadata fields in the SharePoint Online forms library e.g. each form will be saved and selected fields will appear as columns on the form library.
  • SharePoint Online form libraries can be queried using an oData connection
  • SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) can use oData as a data source and push or pull data to and from the data source
  • SSIS can be scheduled

Note: SQL Server Standard Edition (or better) includes SSIS

InfoPath steps:

  1. Using InfoPath Designer, create a form and publish the form to a SharePoint Form library. The easiest option is to do this from InfoPath and let it create the Form library for you.
  2. In Form Options, select the fields that you want to ‘promote’ to SharePoint.
  3. Publish the form
  4. In SharePoint verify that the promoted fields are showing as columns in the Forms library

SQL Server and SSIS steps:

In this step we setup a database and SSIS package. The connection is initiated from the server running SSIS and so this server must be able to make an outbound connection to Office 365.

SSIS packages are created using SQL Server Data Tools

  1. Create a table in your database with fields to store the data from the form
  2. Using Visual Studio create an SSIS package
    • Create the  SQLserver data connection for SQL table created in step 1
    • Create the oData connection to the SharePoint Online list. You will need:
      • The URL for the Form library (the site URL)
      • Office 365 credentials with permission to read the list. These credentials will be saved in the SSIS package
      • See the authentication note below
    • Map the fields from the oData Connection to the SQLserver Connection fields
    • Save
  3. Once you have tested the process (see steps below), you can schedule the SSIS package to run on as frequently as you need.

Testing:

  1. Create a new InfoPath form and submit the form to the library
  2. In SharePoint, check to see that the promoted fields are populated
  3. In Visual Studio run the SSIS package (you may need to ‘Run as Administrator’ when you start Visual Studio for this to work
  4. Check the table in SQLserver to see if any new data has arrived

Authentication issue:

When creating the oData connection to Office 365, you must manually change the setting for ‘Microsoft Online Services Authentication’ to true. This is in the oData Connection Manager settings, under Connection in the Security section. More details here.

Resources:

How to promote fields from InfoPath to SharePoint

How to create an SSIS package with SQL Server Data Tools

MSDN: SSIS oData tutorials

Microsoft MVP award

On the 1st of January 2017 I was awarded the Microsoft MVP award for Office Servers and Services (Yes, I am a SharePoint nut). I feel honoured to be a recipient of this award because it recognises something which I personally think is very important, contributing to the IT community.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-8-16-46-pm

I encourage everyone to find a community of interest and participate regardless of whether it is technology based or something completely different. Being part of a community is rewarding in many ways. You’ll meet new people, make great friends, learn new things and get enormous satisfaction from helping others who share you interest.

My involvement in the IT community was sparked by a need to learn about things that weren’t written in books or covered by professional training courses. I quickly discovered that putting myself forward to talk on a topic was a great motivator for learning (I was worried about embarrassing myself). I also discovered that embarrassment doesn’t really happen, people are supportive, audiences are kind and many people will take a moment to say a quiet thank you.

I never set out to get an award, that is something that came from giving time, sharing experience and talking about what goes wrong in the real world. Thank you very much to the people who support me, participated in the events I have organised, turned up to my presentations, watched my YouTube video and read my blog. I feel very thankful and motivated to keep it up!

Thank you! Now go and sign yourself up to your local user group!

 

 

5 Steps for migrating documents to SharePoint

Migrating Process Oriented Documents

One of the challenges with SharePoint projects is content migration. It can be a daunting task with both technical and human challenges. This post discusses a five step methodology for migrating content from a file server into SharePoint.

This strategy revolves around identifying the documents that will be migrated based on the business value they bring rather than a “big bang” approach.

Experience tells us that once people start working with SharePoint, their idea of how it will work best for them evolves. For this reason, we advocate starting with a pilot content set rather than trying to tackle the entire file server in a weekend.

Step 1: Decide what to migrate

Choosing the documents to migrate first is a key part of this strategy. This needs to be achievable and of value. If the set of documents is large or complex to migrate then issues will be magnified. If the documents are of low value then no one will care.

Business process centric documents are a good place to start. These documents are produced as part of a business process and will (hopefully) be stored in one place on the file server. It is also generally easy to identify who uses the documents. It is also easy to place a value on these documents.

Conversely, choosing to migrate all the documents for a group of users, is going to be difficult. These documents could be high value for the owners, but most other people probably won’t benefit from the migration.

If the document is produced from an external system e.g. an ERP system ask, “Do these documents need to be stored in SharePoint?” If the ERP is the source of truth, then storing a second copy in SharePoint may not be necessary.

Step 2: Define your rules

Not all documents have the same requirements from compliance, legal or business process perspective. Agree on and document your standards:

  1. How long do you need to keep these documents?
  2. What meta-data do you want to record about these documents?
  3. What security requirements do the documents have?
  4. Is versioning necessary and if so how many versions?
  5. Do these documents need approval before publishing?
  6. Who owns these documents?

Your file server will be full of documents but do they all need to be migrated? Think about your business requirements and whether you migrate:

  1. All documents
  2. Documents created in the last X months
  3. Leave existing documents on the file server, but create new ones in SharePoint

Make sure these rules are documented and agreed by your key stakeholders.

As part of this step you may be faced with some decision around organising content in Document Libraries. See our Metadata vs Folders post for more details.

Step 3: Test the theory

Test the system with a small but representative sub-set of the documents. Make any adjustments and test again until the “owners” are happy with the configuration.

Your test should include the following:

  1. Security on the Document Library
  2. Check out/in status – compulsory meta-data can result in documents being checked out when they are uploaded
  3. Other settings including approval, versioning and any workflow.

Step 4: Migration

Now you have defined what it is you will migrate, the migration rules and tested the process, it is time to do it for real.

Before you begin…let your SharePoint Admin know what you are about to do. Bulk copying files can impact other users in SharePoint and consumes space on the SharePoint database servers.

Rather than uploading files one at a time, try using Drag and Drop or Explorer view to transfer files (maximum of 100 documents at a time). Keep in mind the limitations of SharePoint document libraries, by default the limit is 5000 documents in a library or a folder within a library. Folders can be used to increase the number of items in a library however you should consider other factors such as security, navigation and search before using folders.

If you are migrating large volumes of files we recommend using specialist SharePoint migration tools such as SharegateAveDoc Migrator or Metalogix Content Matrix.

Note that upload performance can be slow, especially if the SharePoint server is being accessed across a relatively low speed connection.

Step 5: Review and Repeat

Now that you have completed the migration of your first business processes documents, review the process, make any adjustments and repeat for the next set of documents.

Document migration is labour intensive. Create a roadmap for migration. Break migration tasks into a series of time-boxed sub-tasks will help keep the migration team on task and moving towards the end goal in an organised way.

 Migrating everything else

This is the first blog in our series on document migration. In our next post we will talk about migrating collections of loosely related documents. Following on from this we will cover topics including migrating content between test and production, onsite to the cloud and integrating with other systems.

References:

Uploading Documents in to SharePoint