“An unexpected error has occurred” after Installing SharePoint 2013

August 30, 2012 10 comments

Smiley Pill - You May Need It You’ve undoubtedly heard the news: SharePoint 2013 is coming. The preview is available right now, and you can download it from TechNet if you want to join in the fun. Just make sure you can meet the hardware and environmental prerequisites. They’re somewhat brutal.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, I’ve been trying to get in on the SharePoint 2013 fun. There are a number of things I’m supposed to be working on for SharePoint 2013, so building out a SharePoint 2013 environment with the new preview build has been high on my list of things to do.

This post is about a very recent experience with a SharePoint 2013 installation and configuration … and yes, it’s one that had me looking long and hard for a happy pill.

As with many of my other blog posts, this post takes a winding, iterative approach towards analyzing problems and trying to find solutions. Please bear with me or jump to the “Implementing the Change” section near the end if you want to blindly apply a change (based on the blog post title) and hope for the best.

Hitting a Small Snag

An unexpected error has occurredThis blog post would be something of a disappointment if all it said was “… SharePoint 2013 installed without issue, and my environment lived happily ever after.”

No such luck; just look at the screenshot on the left. Sometimes I feel like I’m a magnet for “bad technology karma” despite my attempts to keep a clean slate in that area. Of course, SharePoint 2013 is only in the preview stages of release, so hiccups are bound to occur. I accept that. Like many of you, I went through it with SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2007, as well.

Strangely, though, I built-out a SharePoint 2013 environment with an earlier build (prior to the release of the current preview) some time ago. That’s why I was really surprised to see the message shown in the screenshot immediately upon completing a run of the SharePoint 2013 Products Configuration Wizard:

An unexpected error has occurred.

That’s it. No additional information, no qualification – just a technological “whoops” accompanied by the equivalent of a shoulder shrug from my VM environment.

The Setup

Let me take a step back to describe the environment I had put into place before trying to install and configure the SharePoint 2013 binaries.

One major difference between my latest SharePoint 2013 setup attempt and the previous (successful) attempt was the make-up of the server environment. After learning of some of the install restrictions that are specific to SharePoint 2013 (for example, Office Web Apps require their own server), I decided to build out the following virtual servers on my laptop and assemble them into a domain:

  • SP2013-DC: a Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise domain controller (for my virtual spdc.com domain)
  • SP2013-SQL: a Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise server running SQL Server 2012 Enterprise
  • SP2013-WFE: a Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise all-in-one SharePoint 2013 Server
  • SP2013-APPS: a Windows 2008 R2 Enterprise “extra” server for roles/components that couldn’t be installed alongside SharePoint

Overkill? Perhaps, but I wanted to get a feel for how the different components might interact in a “real” production environment.

I also opted for a least privileges install so that I could start to understand where some of the security boundaries had shifted versus SharePoint 2010. Since I planned to use the farm for my development efforts, I didn’t want to make the common developer mistake of shoehorning everything onto one server with unrestricted privileges. Such an approach dodges security-related issues during development, but it also tends to yield code that falls apart (or at least generates security concerns) upon first contact with a “real” SharePoint environment.

Failed Troubleshooting

As stated earlier, my setup problems started after I installed the SharePoint 2013 bits and ran the SharePoint 2013 Products Configuration Wizard. The browser window that popped-up following the configuration wizard’s run was trying to take me to the Farm Configuration wizard that lives inside the Central Administration site. Clearly I hadn’t gotten very far in configuring my environment.

I started looking in some of the usual locations for additional troubleshooting hints. Strangely, I couldn’t quickly find any:

  • The Central Administration site application pool looked okay and was spun-up
  • My Application and System event logs were pretty doggone clean – exceptionally few errors and warnings, and none that appeared relevant to current problem
  • I didn’t see anything in the Security log to suggest problems

I tried an IISRESET. I rebooted the VM. I checked my SQL alias to make sure nothing was messed-up there. I checked my farm service account permissions in SQL Server to ensure that the account had the dbcreator and securityadmin role assignments as well as rights to the associated databases. Heck, I even deprovisioned the server and re-ran the SharePoint 2013 Products Configuration Wizard twice – once with a complete wipe of the databases. Nothing I did seemed to make a difference. Time after time, I kept getting “An unexpected error has occurred.”

Some Insight

Maybe it was my go ‘rounds with previous SharePoint beta releases, or maybe it was a combination of Eric Harlan’s and Todd Klindt’s spirits reaching out to me (the point of commonality between Todd and Eric: the two of them are fond of saying “it’s always permissions”). Whatever the source, I decided to start playing around with some account rights. Since I was setting up a least-privileges environment, it made sense that rights and permissions (or some lack of them) could be a factor.

Application Pools The benefit of having gotten nearly nowhere on my farm configuration task was that there wasn’t much to really troubleshoot. Only a handful of application pools had been created (as shown on the right), and only one or two accounts were actually in-play. Since my Central Administration site was having trouble coming up, and knowing that the Central Administration site runs in the context of the farm service/timer service account, I focused my efforts there.

In my farm, I had assigned SPDC\svcSPFarm for use by the timer service. This account was a basic domain account at the start – nothing special, and no interesting rights to speak of. To see if I could make any progress on getting the Central Administration site to come up, I dropped the account into the Domain Admins group and tried to access the Central Administration site again.

I had no luck at first … but after an IISRESET and a re-launch of the site, Central Administration came up. I pulled the account out of the Domain Admins group and re-tried the site. It came up, but again – after an IISRESET, I was back to “An unexpected error has occurred.”

I repeated the process again, but the second time around I used the local (SP2013-WFE) Administrators group instead of the Domain Admins group. The results were the same: adding SPDC\svcSPFarm to the Administrators group allowed me to bring Central Administration up, and removing the account from the Admininstrators group brought things back down.

Hunch confirmed: it looked like I was dealing with some sort of rights or permissions issue.

Of course, knowing that there is a rights or permissions issue and knowing what the specific issue is are two very different things. The practical part of me screamed “just leave the account in the Administrators group and move on.”

Unfortunately, I don’t deal well with not knowing why something doesn’t work. It’s a personal hang-up that I have. So, I started with some low-impact/low-effort troubleshooting: I adjusted my VM’s Audit Policy settings (via the Local Security Policy MMC snap-in) to report on all failures that might pop-up.

Unfortunately, the only thing this change actually did for me was reveal that some sort of WinHttpAutoProxySvc service issue was popping-up when SPDC\svcSPFarm wasn’t an administrator. After a few minutes of researching the service, I decided that it probably wasn’t an immediate factor in the problem I was trying to troubleshoot.

So much for finding a quick answer.

Wading Into the Muck

I knew that I needed to dig deeper, and I knew where my troubleshooting was going to take me next. Honestly, I wasn’t too excited.

I dug into my SysInternals folder and dug out Process Monitor. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Process Monitor, I’ll sum it up this way: it’s the “nuclear option” when you need diagnostic information regarding what’s happening with the applications and services running on your system. Process Monitor collects file system activity, Registry reads/writes, network calls – pretty much everything that’s happening at a process level. It’s a phenomenal tool, but it generates a tremendous amount of information. And you need to wade through that information to find what you’re looking for.

I did an IISRESET, fired-up Process Monitor, and tried to bring up the Central Administration site once again. Since the SPDC\svcSPFarm account was no longer an administrator, I knew that the site would fail to come up. My hope was that Process Monitor would provide some insight into where things were getting stuck.

Over the course of the roughly 30 seconds it took the application pool to spin-up and then hand me a failure page, Process Monitor collected over 220,000 events.

Gulp.

I don’t know how you feel about it, but 220,000 events was downright intimidating to me. “Browsing” 220,000 events wasn’t going to be feasible. I’d worked with Process Monitor before, though, and I knew that the trick to making headway with the tool was in judicious use and application of its filtering capabilities.

Initially, I created filters to rule out a handful of processes that I knew wouldn’t be involved – things like Internet Explorer (iexplore.exe), Windows Explorer (Explorer.EXE), etc. Each filter that I added brought the number of events down, but I was still dealing with thousands upon thousands of events.

ProcMon FilterAfter a little thinking, I got a bit smarter with my filtering. First, I knew that I was dealing with an ASP.NET application pool; that was, after all, where Central Administration ran. That meant that the activity in which I was interested was probably taking place within an IIS worker process (w3wp.exe). I set a filter to show only those events that were tied to w3wp.exe activity.

Second, I knew that my farm service account (SPDC\svcSPFarm) was at the heart of my rights and permissions issue. So, I decided to filter out any activity that wasn’t tied to this account.

Applying those two filters got me down to roughly 50,000 events. Excluding SUCCESS results dropped me to 10,000 events. Some additional tinkering and exclusions brought the number down even lower. I was still wading through a large number of results, though, and I didn’t see anything that I could put my finger on.

Next, I decided to place SPDC\svcSPFarm back into the Administrators group and do another Process Monitor capture. As expected, I captured a few hundred thousand events. I went through the process of applying filters and whittling things down as I had done the first time. Then I spent a lot of time going back and forth between the successful and unsuccessful runs looking for differences that might explain what I was seeing.

Two Bit Comedy

After doing a number of comparisons, I began to focus on a series of entries that were tagged with a result message of BAD IMPERSONATION (as seen below). I was seeing 145 of these entries (out of 220,000+ events) when the Central Administration site was failing to come up. When SPDC\svcSPFarm was part of the local Administrators group, though, I wasn’t seeing any of the entries.

BAD IMPERSONATION entries in Process Monitor

My gut told me that these BAD IMPERSONATION entries were probably a factor in my situation, so I started looking at them a bit more closely.

System.ServiceModel.Web Event Many of the entries were seemingly non-specific attempts to access the Registry, but I did notice a handful of file and Registry accesses where an explicit impersonation attempt was being made with the current user’s account context. In the example on the right, for instance, an attempt was being made by the worker process to use my account context (SPDC\s0ladmin) for a CreateFile operation – and that attempt was failing.

This led to me formulate (what may seem like an obvious) hypothesis: seeing the BAD IMPERSONATION results, I suspected that the SPDC\svcSPFarm account was lacking something like the ability to replace a process-level token, log on interactively, or something like that. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to the specific boundaries and abilities associated with each rights assignment, but again – my gut was telling me that I should probably play around with some of the User Rights Assignments (via Local Security Policy) to see if I might get lucky.

A Fortunate Discovery

I popped open the Local Security Policy MMC snap-in on the SP2013-WFE VM once again, and I navigated down to User Rights Assignment node. At first glance, I feared that my gut feeling was off-the-mark. Looking through the rights assignments available, I saw that SPDC\svcSPFarm had already been granted the ability to Replace a process level token and Log on as a service – presumably by the SharePoint 2013 Products Configuration Wizard.

Impersonate a client after authentication I continued looking at the various rights assignments, though, and I discovered one that looked promising: Impersonate a client after authentication. SPDC\svcSPFarm hadn’t been granted that right in my environment, and it seemed to me that such a right might be handy in getting rid of the BAD IMPERSONATION results I was seeing with Process Monitor. I took a leap, granted SPDC\svcSPFarm the ability to Impersonate a client after authentication (as shown on the left), performed an IISRESET, and tried to reach the Central Administration site.

And I’ll be darned if it didn’t actually work.

I don’t normally get lucky like that, but hey – I wasn’t going to argue with it. I browsed around the Central Administration site for a bit to see if the site would remain responsive, and I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I also performed an IISRESET and brought the Central Administration site back up with Process Monitor running just to double-check things. Sure enough, the BAD IMPERSONATION results were gone.

The Fix?

SharePoint 2013 Central Administration Site I honestly have no idea whether this problem was specific to my environment or something that might be occurring in other SharePoint 2013 preview environments. I also don’t know if my solution is the “appropriate” solution to resolve the issue. It works for now, but I still have a lot of configuration and actual development work left to do to validate what I’ve implemented.

Since I’m trying to maintain a least-privileges install, though, I’m willing to try this out for a while instead of falling back to placing my farm service account (SPDC\svcSPFarm) in the Administrators group. Placing the account in that group is a last resort for me.

In case you were wondering: I did perform some level of verification on this change. Since the account I was running as (SPDC\s0ladmin) was itself a member of Domain Admins, I created a standard domain user account (SPDC\joe.nobody – he’s always my go-to guy in these situations) and added it to the Farm Administrators group in Central Administration. I then did an IISRESET and opened a browser to the Central Administration site from the domain controller (SP2013-DC) to see if SPDC\joe.nobody could indeed access the site. No troubles. The fact that the SPDC\joe.nobody account wasn’t a member of either Domain Admins or the local Administrators group (on SP2013-WFE) did not block the account from reaching Central Administration. No “An unexpected error has occurred” reared its head.

Implementing the Change

If you are of a similar mindset to me (i.e., you don’t like to elevate privileges unnecessarily) and find yourself unable to reach Central Administration with the same symptoms I’ve described, here is the quick run-through on how to grant your farm/timer service account the Impersonate a client after authentication right as I did:

  1. On your SharePoint Server, go to Start > Administrative Tools > Local Security Policy to open the Local Security Policy MMC snap in.
  2. When the snap-in opens, navigate (in the left Tree view) to the Security Settings > Local Policies > User Rights Assignment node.
  3. Locate the Impersonate a client after authentication policy in the right-hand pane.
  4. Right-click the policy and select the Properties item that appears in the pop-up menu.
  5. A dialog box will appear. Click the Add User or Group … button on the dialog box.
  6. In the Select Users, Computers, Service Accounts, or Groups dialog box that appears, add your farm service/timer service account.
  7. Click the OK button on each of the two open dialog boxes to exit out of them.
  8. Close the Local Security Policy MMC snap-in.
  9. Perform an IISRESET and verify that the Central Administration site actually comes up instead of “An unexpected error has occurred”

Conclusion

If the change that I described in this post and implemented in my environment causes problems or requires further adjustment, I’ll update this post. My goal certainly isn’t to mislead – only to share and hopefully help those who may find themselves in the same situation as me.

If you’ve seen this problem in your SharePoint 2013 preview environment, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it, as well as how your worked through (or around) it!

UPDATE (9/4/2012)

I ran into the same issue with the account that was being used to serve up non-Central Admin site collections; i.e., the account that I was using as the identity for the application pools servicing the web applications I created. In my environment, this was SPDC\svcSpContentWebs as seen below (for the SharePoint – 80 application pool):

IIS Application Pools

Attempts to bring up a site collection without the Impersonate a client after authentication privilege being assigned to the SPDC\svcSpContentWebs account would usually yield nothing more than a blank screen. As with the farm service account, there was very little to troubleshoot until I went in with Process Monitor to look for a bunch of BAD IMPERSONATION results:

ProcMon for svcSpContentWebs

At this point, I’m willing to bet that any other accounts that are assigned as application pool identities will need to be granted the Impersonate a client after authentication privilege, as well.

In addition to the Impersonate a client after authentication privilege, I also ended up having to grant the SPDC\svcSpContentWebs account the Log on as a batch job privilege from within the Local Security Policy MMC snap-in. Without the privilege to Log on as a batch job, I was receiving an HTTP 503 error every time I tried to bring up a site collection. Troubleshooting this problem wasn’t as difficult, though; examining the System event log helped with the following description for the WAS (Windows Process Activation Service) warning on an Event 5021 that was appearing:

The identity of application pool SharePoint – 80 is invalid. The user name or password that is specified for the identity may be incorrect, or the user may not have batch logon rights. If the identity is not corrected, the application pool will be disabled when the application pool receives its first request.  If batch logon rights are causing the problem, the identity in the IIS configuration store must be changed after rights have been granted before Windows Process Activation Service (WAS) can retry the logon. If the identity remains invalid after the first request for the application pool is processed, the application pool will be disabled. The data field contains the error number.

In my case, my account credentials were correct, but for some reason the Log on as batch job right hadn’t been assigned to the SPDC\svcSpContentWebs account. Each time the application pool tried to spin up, it failed and was stopped; I’d then get two warnings from WAS (5021 and 5057) in my System event log, and that would be followed by a WAS 5059 error.

References and Resources

  1. TechNet: Download Microsoft SharePoint 2013 Preview
  2. TechNet: Plan Office Web Apps Server Preview
  3. Blog: Eric Harlan
  4. Blog: Todd Klindt
  5. TechNet: Windows Sysinternals Process Monitor

Is a Higher SharePoint Backup Thread Count Better?

August 5, 2012 3 comments

Balls of purple, orange and grey yarn or woolScalability in the hardware and software space is all about parallel computing nowadays. Consider our modern hardware: it used to be that all we really cared about was how fast our CPU could run (“how many GHz?”) Now, we care more about how many cores our CPU has, whether or not those cores support Hyper-threading, how many memory channels our CPU has available to it, etc. Scale-out beats scale-up.

The same is largely true in the software space. Most IT folks learned some time ago that “multithreading” and “higher performance” tended to go hand-in-hand or were at least associated in some way. Multiple threads of execution meant better scheduling of limited processor resources and fewer chances that one long-running operation would bottleneck an entire application.

Configuring SharePoint 2010 Farm Backup and Restore

When I first saw the following section in the “Configure Backup Settings” section of SharePoint 2010’s Central Administration site, it brought a big grin to my face:

Thread Configuration

In SharePoint 2007 and earlier, administrators had no real levers to pull to try and tune the performance of farm backup and restore operations. This obviously changed with SharePoint 2010. We were basically being handed a way to adjust those processes as we saw fit – for better or worse.

Strangely enough, though, I never really took the time to explore the impact of those settings in my SharePoint environments. I always left the number of assigned threads for backup and restore operations at three. I would have liked to mess around with the values, but something else was always more important in the grand scheme of things.

Why Now?

I’ve been working on a new “backup tips and tricks” whitepaper, and I found myself looking for backup and restore concerns within the SharePoint platform that I may not have given much attention to in the past. It didn’t take much wading through Central Administration before I once again found myself looking at thread counts for backup and restore operations.

Doing a little bit of Internet (background) research confirmed what I had suspected: no one else had really spent any time on the topic either. In fact, the only “fresh” and non-copyright-infringing material I found came from a Microsoft TechNet post titled Backup and recovery best practices (SharePoint Server 2010) … and to tell you the truth, the following paragraph from the section titled “Configure SharePoint settings for better backup or restore performance” really bugged me:

If you are using the Backup-SPFarm cmdlet, you can use the BackupThreads parameter to specify how many threads SharePoint Server 2010 will use during the backup process. The more threads you specify, the more resources that backup operation will take, but the faster that it will finish, if sufficient resources are available. However, each thread is reported individually in the log files, so using fewer threads makes interpreting the log files easier. By default, three threads are used. The maximum number of threads available is 10.

Without an understanding of how multithreading (in general) and SharePoint backup (specifically) work, this could easily be interpreted as follows:

The greater the number of threads you assign, the faster your backups will complete.

I realize that my summary is an oversimplification, but I believe that many administrators see the TechNet paragraph as I summarized it. And that concerns me.

I’ve always told people that increasing the backup thread count could yield better performance, but any adjustments would need to be tested in the target farm where they are to be implemented. Realistically speaking, there are several participants and a lot of moving parts in any SharePoint farm backup. Besides the SharePoint server where the backup operation is being coordinated, there is the performance of one or more SQL Servers to consider. The capabilities and restrictions of the backup destination location (typically a UNC file share) also need to be factored-in since that destination is being written to by both the SharePoint Server and one or more SQL Servers.

Setting the number of backup threads to 10 on a SharePoint Server of infinite capability and resources doesn’t guarantee a fast backup, because the farm might have a slow SQL Server, a less-capable backup destination location, a slow or congested network, or a host of other complicating factors.

Oh Yeah? Prove It.

Of course, all of this is just a bunch of hand-waving without proof. So, the scientist in me (yeah, I actually used to be a chemist) decided to take over and devise a series of simple tests to see if there is any real weight to the arguments I’ve been making.

I began with the hypothesis that the easiest and most visible way to gauge the performance of a farm backup operation is to measure how long a backup takes to run; e.g., a farm backup that takes 10 minutes to run is faster than a backup that takes 20 minutes to run if farm content, hardware, configuration, and other factors remain constant. Since SharePoint 2010 provides the ability to specify anywhere from one to 10 backup threads, running a series of backups where the only variable is backup thread count should determine if greater or fewer backup threads yield better performance.

You might recall that I also mentioned that farm topology is a factor in the overall backup equation. As part of my experiment, I decided to run the tests on two different farms I have available to me. General descriptions for each farm:

  • Single-Server Farm: my single server farm environment is a VM running on my laptop. The VM houses SharePoint, SQL Server, and the backup location being targeted. The laptop hardware is a Core-i7 quad-core processor, and the underlying storage for the VM is a solid-state drive (SSD). Hardware bottlenecks should be minimized, and network latency isn’t a factor since backup operations are conducted against a local drive within the VM.
  • Multi-Server Farm: my multi-server environment is the “production” environment on my home network. It consists of a SharePoint Server VM running on a Hyper-V host that also hosts other VMs. The SQL Server instance backing the farm is a non-virtualized SQL Server housing all of the SharePoint databases as well as a few databases for other applications. The backup destination location is a virtualized file server with a pass-through drive array (eSATA with RAID-5). Overall hardware, in this case, is “okay” but obviously not dedicated purely to SharePoint. In addition, network latency and bandwidth (GbE) are also in-play as potential sources of impact.

These two environments have pretty different overall topologies, and it was my hope that I’d see some effect on the performance numbers as a result.

The Script

To run the tests reproducibly, I needed a PowerShell script. So, I put the following script together while I had a bit of free time one night. Feel free to pluck this out to use for testing in your SharePoint environment, as well.

<#
.SYNOPSIS
   TestBackupThreads.ps1
.DESCRIPTION
   This script is used to conduct and time a series of backups using different thread counts.
   The output can then be used to make an educated decision on the number of backup threads to
   assign for use in farm-level backups.
.NOTES
   Author: Sean McDonough
   Last Revision: 25-July-2012
.PARAMETER TestLocation
   A UNC path to a location that can be used to create test backup sets
.EXAMPLE
   TestBackupThreads \\FileShare\TestLocation
#>
param 
(
	[string]$TestLocation = "$(Read-Host 'UNC path to test backup location [e.g. \\FileShare\TestLocation]')"
)

function TestThreads($backupLocation)
{
	# Ensure that the SharePoint cmdlets are loaded before continuing
	$spCmdlets = Get-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell -ErrorAction silentlycontinue
	if ($spCmdlets -eq $Null)
	{ Add-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell }
	
	# Setup some variables we'll need for execution.
	$threadTimes = @{}									# Hash table to hold timing results
	$backupItems = Join-Path $backupLocation "spbr*"	# Used to delete temp backup files
	
	# We need to execute a full farm backup for each thread count 1 through 10
	Clear-Host
	Write-Host "`nBackup thread count testing process beginning."
	for ($threads = 1; $threads -lt 11; $threads++)
	{
		# Clean out any backup contents from the test location
		Remove-Item $backupItems -recurse

		# Grab the starting date/time (for later comparison), kick-off a farm backup, and then
		# grab the stop date/time.
		Write-Host "`nInitiating a backup with $threads thread(s) ..."
		$startPoint = Get-Date
		Backup-SPFarm -BackupMethod Full -Directory $backupLocation -BackupThreads $threads
		$stopPoint = Get-Date

		# Store and report results
		$keyName = "Backup with {0} thread(s)" -f $threads
		$elapsedSeconds = "{0:N0}" -f ($stopPoint - $startPoint).TotalSeconds
		$threadTimes[$keyName] = $elapsedSeconds
		Write-Host "Backup with $threads thread(s) complete"
		Write-Host ("- time to complete (in seconds): {0}" -f $elapsedSeconds)
	}
	
	# Do a final sweep of the test backup location to clean out backup items
	Remove-Item $backupItems -recurse

	# Dump the results sorted in order of quickest to longest
	Write-Host "`nBackup thread count testing process complete."
	$threadTimes.GetEnumerator() | Sort-Object Value

	# Abort script processing in the event an exception occurs.
	trap
	{
		Write-Warning "`n*** Script execution aborting. See below for problem encountered during execution. ***"
		$_.Message
		break
	}
}

# Launch script
TestThreads $TestLocation

The script is fairly straightforward in what it does. You supply a TestLocation parameter to specify where farm backup test data should be written to, and the script will run a series of full farm backups using the supplied location as the backup destination. The script starts with a full backup using one backup thread; at the end of each full farm backup, the script notes how long the backup took (in seconds) and cleans-up the contents of the TestLocation folder. The number of backup threads is then incremented, and the next test is run. When the script has completed running all backup tests, it sorts the results from “quickest backup” (i.e., the backup thread count requiring the least amount of time) to the slowest backup.

Test Results

I ran a series of three tests for each of the aforementioned environments for a total of six total test runs. Although there’s still quite a bit of variability between individual results within a backup thread series, some trends did appear to emerge.

Single-Server Farm

Backup Times for the Single-Server Environment

With the single-server environment, increasing the number of backup threads did appear to have a directional impact on performance. A single backup thread proved to be the slowest option for the farm backup, and “greater than one” thread resulted in better performance.

If you look at the average values, though, there wasn’t a tremendous difference between the slowest thread count (410 seconds for one thread) and the fastest (388 seconds for 10 threads). We’re only talking about a 5% to 6% difference overall. To truly find the optimum number of backup threads in an environment like this would require more than three test runs to account for standard deviation and establish significance.

Oh, and for those that might be wondering: I’m sure I introduced some of my own variability into the results. Although I didn’t do anything processor or disk intensive during the test runs, I didn’t go out of my way to minimize the impact of services, background operations, etc. To repeat: more testing (with better controls) would be needed for truly conclusive results. The only thing I started to show with this particular set of tests is that multithreading seemed to improve backup performance.

Multi-Server Farm

Things got quite a bit more interesting (to me) when I switched over to multi-server farm testing.

Backup Times for the Multi-Server Environment

In the multi-server environment, the average for using just one backup thread (1413 seconds) appeared to be significantly faster than the next best option (1747 seconds for seven backup threads) – in the neighborhood of 20% or so faster. Just like the single-server results, additional trials would be needed to completely validate the observations, but the results are less ambiguous (given the relatively greater precision of the samples) than with the single-server runs.

Do you find this surprising? Given my multi-server environment and what I know about it, I can’t really say that I was caught flat-footed by the results. Going into the tests, my hypothesis was that my backup destination location would likely be the “weak link” in my overall farm and backup topology. The SharePoint Server was doing well, the SQL Server was relatively robust … but all of that backup activity was hard on my (virtualized) file server. Multiple servers trying to write to the backup location were swamping it and the network, and adding additional backup threads to the mix didn’t end up helping or improving the overall backup process.

The Take-Away

At the end of the day, I recognize that these tests of mine didn’t prove anything conclusively. Frankly, conclusive proof wasn’t my goal. The intent of these experiments wasn’t to say “more threads are better” or “more threads are worse.”

The only point I’m making (I hope) by sharing these results is this: until you run some real tests of your own in your SharePoint environment, you really don’t know where your backup thread sweet spot is. You can try to guess it, but it’s just a guess. And guessing is really no better than simply leaving the backup thread count set to its default value of three.

References and Resources

  1. Wikipedia: Parallel Computing
  2. Wikipedia: Hyper-threading
  3. Wikipedia: Thread (computing) and Multithreading
  4. TechNet: Backup and recovery best practices (SharePoint Server 2010)

Finding a GUID in a SharePoint Haystack

August 1, 2012 8 comments

HaystackHere’s another blog post to file in the “I’ll probably never need it, but you never know” bucket of things you’ve seen from me.

Admittedly, I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like playing with PowerShell and assembling scripts. So when the opportunity to whip-up a “quick hit” script comes along, I usually jump at it.

The Situation

I feel very fortunate to have made so many friends in the SharePoint community over the last several years. One friend who has been with me since the beginning (i.e., since my first presentation at the original SharePoint Saturday Ozarks) is Kirk Talbot. Kirk has become something of a “regular” on the SharePoint Saturday circuit, and many of you may have seen him at a SharePoint Saturday event someplace in the continental United States. To tell you the truth, I’ve seen Kirk as far north as Michigan and as far south as New Orleans. Yes, he really gets around.

Kirk and I keep up fairly regular correspondence, and he recently found himself in a situation where he needed to determine which objects (in a SharePoint site collection) were associated with a handful of GUIDs. Put a different way: Kirk had a GUID (for example, 89b66b71-afc8-463f-b5ed-9770168996a6) and wanted to know – was it a web? A list? A list item? And what was the identity of the item?

PowerShell to the Rescue

I pointed Kirk to a script I had previously written (in my Finding Duplicate GUIDs in Your SharePoint Site Collection post) and indicated that it could probably be adapted for his purpose. Kirk was up to the challenge, but like so many other SharePoint administrators was short on time.

I happened to find myself with a bit of free time in the last week and was due to run into Kirk at SharePoint Saturday Louisville last weekend, so I figured “what the heck?” I took a crack at modifying the script I had written earlier so that it might address Kirk’s need. By the time I was done, I had basically thrown out my original script and started over. So much for following my own advice.

The Script

The PowerShell script that follows is relatively straightforward in its operation. You supply it with a site collection URL and a target object GUID. The script then searches through the webs, lists/libraries, and list items of the site collection for an object with an ID that matches the GUID specified. If it finds a match, it reports some information about the matching object.

A sample run of the script appears below. In the case of this example, a list item match was found in the target site collection for the supplied GUID.

Sample Script Execution

 

This script leverages the SharePoint object model directly, so it can be used with either SharePoint 2007 or SharePoint 2010. Its search algorithm is relatively efficient, as well, so match results should be obtained in seconds to maybe minutes – not hours.

<#
.SYNOPSIS
   FindObjectByGuid.ps1
.DESCRIPTION
   This script attempts to locate a SharePoint object by its unique ID (GUID) within
   a site collection. The script first attempts to locate a match by examining webs;
   following webs, lists/libraries are examined. Finally, individual items within
   lists and libraries are examined. If an object with the ID is found, information 
   about the object is reported back.
.NOTES
   Author: Sean McDonough
   Last Revision: 27-July-2012
.PARAMETER SiteUrl
   The URL of the site collection that will be searched
.PARAMETER ObjectGuid
   The GUID that identifies the object to be located
.EXAMPLE
   FindObjectByGuid -SiteUrl http://mysitecollection.com -ObjectGuid 91ce5bbf-eebb-4988-9964-79905576969c
#>
param 
(
	[string]$SiteUrl = "$(Read-Host 'The URL of the site collection to search [e.g. http://mysitecollection.com]')",
	[Guid]$ObjectGuid = "$(Read-Host 'The GUID of the object you are trying to find [e.g. 91ce5bbf-eebb-4988-9964-79905576969c]')"
)

function FindObject($startingUrl, $targetGuid)
{
	# To work with SP2007, we need to go directly against the object model
	Add-Type -AssemblyName "Microsoft.SharePoint, Version=12.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c"

	# Grab the site collection and all webs associated with it to start
	$targetSite = New-Object Microsoft.SharePoint.SPSite($startingUrl)
	$matchObject = $false
	$itemsTotal = 0
	$listsTotal = 0
	$searchStart = Get-Date

	Clear-Host
	Write-Host ("INITIATING SEARCH FOR GUID: {0}" -f $targetGuid)

	# Step 1: see if we can find a matching web.
	$allWebs = $targetSite.AllWebs
	Write-Host ("`nPhase 1: Examining all webs ({0} total)" -f $allWebs.Count)
	foreach ($spWeb in $allWebs)
	{
		$listsTotal += $spWeb.Lists.Count
		if ($spWeb.ID -eq $targetGuid)
		{
			Write-Host "`nMATCH FOUND: Web"
			Write-Host ("- Web Title: {0}" -f $spWeb.Title)
			Write-Host ("-   Web URL: {0}" -f $spWeb.Url)
			$matchObject = $true
			break
		}
		$spWeb.Dispose()
	}
	
	# If we don't yet have match, we'll continue with list iteration
	if ($matchObject -eq $false)
	{
		Write-Host ("Phase 2: Examining all lists and libraries ({0} total)" -f $listsTotal)
		$allWebs = $targetSite.AllWebs
		foreach ($spWeb in $allWebs)
		{
			$allLists = $spWeb.Lists
			foreach ($spList in $allLists)
			{
				$itemsTotal += $spList.Items.Count
				if ($spList.ID -eq $targetGuid)
				{
					Write-Host "`nMATCH FOUND: List/Library"
					Write-Host ("-            List Title: {0}" -f $spList.Title)
					Write-Host ("- List Default View URL: {0}" -f $spList.DefaultViewUrl)
					Write-Host ("-      Parent Web Title: {0}" -f $spWeb.Title)
					Write-Host ("-        Parent Web URL: {0}" -f $spWeb.Url)
					$matchObject = $true
					break
				}
			}
			if ($matchObject -eq $true)
			{
				break
			}

		}
		$spWeb.Dispose()
	}
	
	# No match yet? Look at list items (which includes folders)
	if ($matchObject -eq $false)
	{
		Write-Host ("Phase 3: Examining all list and library items ({0} total)" -f $itemsTotal)
		$allWebs = $targetSite.AllWebs
		foreach ($spWeb in $allWebs)
		{
			$allLists = $spWeb.Lists
			foreach ($spList in $allLists)
			{
				try
				{ 
					$listItem = $spList.GetItemByUniqueId($targetGuid)
				}
				catch
				{
					$listItem = $null
				}
				if ($listItem -ne $null)
				{
					Write-Host "`nMATCH FOUND: List/Library Item"
					Write-Host ("-                    Item Name: {0}" -f $listItem.Name)
					Write-Host ("-                    Item Type: {0}" -f $listItem.FileSystemObjectType)
					Write-Host ("-       Site-Relative Item URL: {0}" -f $listItem.Url)
					Write-Host ("-            Parent List Title: {0}" -f $spList.Title)
					Write-Host ("- Parent List Default View URL: {0}" -f $spList.DefaultViewUrl)
					Write-Host ("-             Parent Web Title: {0}" -f $spWeb.Title)
					Write-Host ("-               Parent Web URL: {0}" -f $spWeb.Url)
					$matchObject = $true
					break
				}
			}
			if ($matchObject -eq $true)
			{
				break
			}

		}
		$spWeb.Dispose()
	}
	
	# No match yet? Too bad; we're done.
	if ($matchObject -eq $false)
	{
		Write-Host ("`nNO MATCH FOUND FOR GUID: {0}" -f $targetGuid)
	}
	
	# Dispose of the site collection
	$targetSite.Dispose()
	Write-Host ("`nTotal seconds to execute search: {0}`n" -f ((Get-Date) - $searchStart).TotalSeconds)
	
	# Abort script processing in the event an exception occurs.
	trap
	{
		Write-Warning "`n*** Script execution aborting. See below for problem encountered during execution. ***"
		$_.Message
		break
	}
}

# Launch script
FindObject $SiteUrl $ObjectGuid

Conclusion

Again, I don’t envision this being something that everyone needs. I want to share it anyway. One thing I learned with the “duplicate GUID” script I referenced earlier is that I generally underestimate the number of people who might find something like this useful.

Have fun with it, and please feel free to share your feedback!

Additional Reading and Resources

  1. Event: SharePoint Saturday Ozarks
  2. Twitter: Kirk Talbot (@kctElgin)
  3. Post: Finding Duplicate GUIDs in Your SharePoint Site Collection
  4. Event: SharePoint Saturday Louisville

Do You Know What’s Going to Happen When You Enable the SharePoint BLOB Cache?

March 12, 2012 31 comments

The topic of the SharePoint BLOB Cache and how it operates jumped back into the front of my brain recently given some conversations I’ve had and things I’ve seen (e.g., a promising CodePlex project called the SharePoint 2010 BlobCache Manager).

SharePoint PSA

"Just Do It" Post-It NoteThis post is my way of doing something akin to a SharePoint public service announcement. I’ve recently seen some caching-related functionality and topics – especially the BLOB Cache – getting some real traction in different circles, and I think that the attention and love is generally a good thing. I am somewhat concerned, though, by the fact that the discussions and projects that have been surfacing don’t seem to say much beyond the Post-It on the right.

What do I mean by “Just do-it?” Well, here’s the high-level summary of what I’ve been seeing people say, post, and practice with the SharePoint BLOB Cache:

  • The SharePoint BLOB Cache can lighten the load on your SQL Servers by caching BLOB (binary large object) data such as images, video, audio, CSS, etc., on your web front-ends (WFEs)
  • BLOB assets are then served directly from the WFEs. This prevents regular round trips from the WFEs to SQL Servers for every BLOB item needed, and this conserves network bandwidth and reduces SQL Server load.
  • To realize the benefits of the BLOB Cache, simply turn it on and you’re good to go. Nothing to it!

To be fair, I think that I’ve done a disservice by contributing to the perception that all you need to do to kick-start BLOB caching is change this web.config line …

<BlobCache location="C:\BlobCache\14" path="\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|jpe|jfif|bmp|dib|tif|tiff|ico|png|wdp|hdp|css|js|asf|avi|flv|m4v|mov|mp3|mp4|mpeg|mpg|rm|rmvb|wma|wmv)$" maxSize="10" enabled="false" />

… to this:

<BlobCache location="C:\BlobCache\14" path="\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|jpe|jfif|bmp|dib|tif|tiff|ico|png|wdp|hdp|css|js|asf|avi|flv|m4v|mov|mp3|mp4|mpeg|mpg|rm|rmvb|wma|wmv)$" maxSize="10" enabled="true" />

If you look closely, you’ll see that the only difference between the two XML elements is that the enabled attribute is changed from false to true in the second example.

As you might have guessed, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post if simply changing the BlobCache element’s enabled attribute to true didn’t cause potential problems.

The Small Print

Disclaimer text that includes some BLOB cache usage warningsAt the recent SPTechCon in San Francisco, I gave a five-minute lightning talk called Pushing SharePoint’s ‘Go Faster’ Button. It was a lighthearted look at SharePoint performance, and it focused on a couple of caching changes that could be easily implemented to improve SharePoint performance. One of the recommended changes was (surprise surprise) to simply “turn on” SharePoint’s BLOB Cache.

I only had five minutes to deliver the lightning talk, so I had to cram all of the disclaimers for what I was recommending into the legal style slide that appears on the left. Although the slide got a chuckle from the crowd (the print did look pretty small on-screen), I actually did invest some time in its warnings and watch-outs for anyone who wanted to go and dig them up later.

Of the two tips I delivered in the lightning talk, Tip #2 dealt with the SharePoint BLOB cache. I included a very specific warning in the “Disclaimer of Liability” aimed at those who sought to simply “set it and forget it.” The text of that warning read:

Failure to specify a max-age attribute in the BlobCache element of the web.config will result in the default value of 86,400 seconds (24 hours) being used. Use of a non-zero max-age attribute will result in the attachment of client-side cacheability headers to assets that are being BLOB cached, and such headers can result in BLOB assets being cached on the client beyond the duration of the current user session; such caching can easily result in "stale" BLOB resources being used from the client rather than newer ones being fetched from the WFE, so adjust max-age values carefully.

Put another way: if you simply enable the BLOB cache and do nothing else, your users may be getting a SharePoint behavior change that you hadn’t intended for them to have.

Why Did You Have To Bring Age Into This?

The sticking point with SharePoint’s default BlobCache element and attribute settings is that a max-age of 24 hours is assumed and used when the max-age attribute isn’t explicitly specified or set. What does that mean? I wrote a separate post a while back titled Client-Server Interactions and the max-age Attribute with SharePoint BLOB Caching, and that post addressed the effect that explicit and implicit max-age attribute value specifications have on BLOB Caching. I recommend checking out the post for the full background; for anyone who needs a quick summary, though, I can distill it down to two bullet points:

  • Enabling the BLOB Cache without specifying a max-age attribute means that BLOBs will be cached on both the WFEs in your farm and within users’ browser caches (through the use of Cache-Control HTTP headers).
  • In collaboration environments and anyplace else where BLOB assets may be edited or turn over frequently (within the course of a day), the default client-side caching behavior can mess with the UI/UX of your SharePoint site in all sorts of interesting ways.

What does this mean for the average user of SharePoint? Well, let me walk through a fictitious scenario with supporting detail – as told from the perspective of a SharePoint end user. If you already understand the problem, you’re short on time, and you want to get right to what I recommend, jump down to the “Recommendations Before You Enable the BLOB Cache” section.

Acme Online Goes Live!

Welcome to the Acme Corporation! The Acme Corporation recently completed a “webification” of its entire product catalog, and the end result is a publishing site collection that is implemented in SharePoint 2010. The site collection houses all of Acme’s products, and those products are available for the public to browse and order. Acme’s web content management team is responsible for maintaining the product catalog as it appears on the site, and that team is led by a crafty old fellow named Wile E. Coyote (who we’ll simply refer to as “Wiley” from here on out).

Wiley has many years of experience with Acme’s products and has tried nearly all of them personally; he’s something of a legend. He and his team worked diligently to get Acme’s products into SharePoint before the launch. Not all of the products made it into SharePoint before the launch, though, so a phased approach was taken to rolling out the entire catalog.

The Launch

A SharePoint article page featuring a bundle of dynamiteThe first products that Wiley and his team worked to get into SharePoint were Acme’s line of explosives. To prepare for the launch of the new online catalog, Wiley wrote up an article on Acme’s top-selling “Bundle o’ Dynamite” product. The article featured a picture of the Bundle o’ Dynamite, along with some descriptive text about the product, how it operates, a few safety warnings, and a couple of other informational points. When Wiley finished, a mockup of the article page looked like the screenshot seen on the left.

A Fiddler trace of the first request for the dynamite article pageUnbeknownst to Wiley, the Acme product catalog site collection is served-up by one Web application through one zone (the Default zone) on one WFE. This means that all product catalog requests, whether they come from customers or Wiley’s team, go to one IIS site on one server. The first time that someone (or more specifically, someone’s browser) requests the article page that Wiley put together, a series of web requests are kicked-off to pull down the page content, images, scripts, CSS, and everything else needed to render the page in a browser. This series of interactions (captured using Fiddler) is shown on the top right.

A Fiddler trace of the second request for the dynamite article pageSubsequent requests for the same article page (within the context of a single browser session) will follow the series of interactions seen directly to the right. One thing that you may notice upon inspecting the Fiddler trace is that subsequent page requests result in fewer calls back to the server. This is because SharePoint applies per session caching to many of the items it passes back to the browser, and this caching (which is not the same as BLOB caching) removes the need for constant re-fetching of items that haven’t changed.

In both of the Fiddler traces above, the focus is on the newsarticleimage.jpg file  – the file which houses a picture of the Bundle o’ Dynamite. The first time the browser requests the image within a session, a successful HTTP 200 response is returned to the browser along with the image. Also important to note is the Cache-Control header that comes back with the image:

Cache-Control: private,max-age=0

The private part of the Cache-Control header tells the client browser to cache the image locally for the duration of the browser session. The max-age=0 portion says, in effect, that subsequent uses of the image by the browser (from its cache) should be validated with a call back to the WFE to ensure that the image hasn’t changed.

And that’s what is shown happening in the second Fiddler trace. When subsequent page requests attempt to use the image, a GET request from the browser is answered by the WFE with

HTTP/1.1 304 NOT MODIFIED

This response code tells the browser that the image hasn’t changed and that it’s safe to use the locally cached copy. If the image were to change, then an HTTP 200 would be returned instead and the new/updated version of the image would be sent to the browser.

When the browser is closed, the locally cached copy of the image is flushed and the process begins anew the next time the browser opens.

Meep Meep

Not long after the launch of Acme’s online product catalog, customers began complaining that browsing the catalog was simply too slow. After some discussion, Management decided to bring in Roadrunner Consulting to assess the site and make suggestions that would improve performance.

Roadrunner’s team raced around (as they are wont to do), ran some tests, made some observations, and provided a list of suggestions. At the top of the list was “Implement SharePoint BLOB Caching.”

So, Acme’s SharePoint administrators jumped right in and turned on BLOB caching. Since the site is served up through a single IIS site (SharePoint zone), the admins set enabled=“true” in the BlobCache element of the site’s web.config file. No other changes were made to the BlobCache element.

So, what happened? Well, things got snappier! The administrators watching their back-end performance noticed that the file system on the WFE started to cache BLOBs that were being requested by users. Each request to the WFE for one of those BLOBs resulted in the BLOB being served back directly from the WFE without a round-trip to the SQL Server. Internal network bandwidth utilization dropped significantly, and the SQL Servers started breathing a bit easier. The administrators were most definitely happy with the change they’d made … and it was as easy as setting enabled=”true” in the BlobCache element of the web.config file. Talk about the greatest thing since sliced bread! Everyone exchanged a round of high-fives after the change was made, and talks of how the geeks would rise up to dominate the world resumed.

Dynamite Article Page - First Request with BLOB Caching enabledSo, how do things look on the client side after enabling the BLOB Cache? Well, when someone goes to retrieve Wiley’s article for the first time, the first browser request series for the page looks much like it did without the BLOB Cache enabled. See the Fiddler trace on the right.

There is one very important difference when retrieving items with the BLOB Cache enabled, though, and you have to look closely to see it. Do you see the Cache-Control HTTP header that is returned with the request for the newsarticleimage.jpg image? It’s different than it was before the BLOB Cache was enabled. Now it says

Cache-Control: public, max-age=86400

Whoa … what does this mean? Well, it means two important things. First, the public designation means that when the image is cached by the browser, it will no longer be private to the current session. It can be re-used across sessions, so it won’t necessarily “go away” when the browser is closed.

Second, the max-age=86400 means that the image will continue to “live” in the browser’s cache for 86400 seconds, or 24 hours. For that period of time, the browser won’t even attempt to contact the WFE to see if the image has changed; it will just use the copy that it holds onto. Nothing short of a browser cache flush (which is manual intervention by the user) will change this behavior.

Dynamite Article Page - Subsequent page requests with BLOB Caching enabledAnd that’s what we see with the Fiddler trace on the right. This trace represents what subsequent page requests look like for the next 24 hours. Notice that the newsarticleimage.jpg image doesn’t get re-requested or checked. There are no HTTP 304 response codes coming back, because the browser simply isn’t requesting the image; it’s using its cached copy.

Admittedly, the Fiddler trace will look a little different when the browser is closed and re-opened … but a re-fetch of the newsarticleimage.jpg file will not take place for a full 24 hours unless a user clears the browser cache.

What does this change in behavior mean for actual users of the site? Read on to find out …

Running Off the Edge of the Cliff

The corrected article page showing the TNT barrelShortly after the BLOB Cache changes were made, Wiley got an (unrelated) call from the Fulfillment Department. They were furious because they’d been getting all sorts of returns for the Bundle o’ Dynamite. The reason for the returns? It’s because Wiley put the wrong image in his article page!

Even though Acme sells a product called the “Bundle o’ Dynamite,” the actual product that ships is a barrel of TNT. Since the product image was wrong, customers were incorrectly concluding that they’d get several sticks of dynamite instead of a barrel, and this was rubbing many of them the wrong way. Who knew?

Wiley went out to SharePoint, checked the article that he wrote, and saw that he did indeed use a series of dynamite sticks for an image. The page should have actually appeared as it does in the screenshot that is above and to the left. After a quick facepalm, Wiley realized that he needed to make a change – and fast.

Wiley went out to the Publishing Images library for the site collection and uploaded a new version of the newsarticleimage.jpg image file – one that contained a barrel of TNT instead of a bundle of dynamite. He then browsed to the article page and did a refresh.

Nothing changed.

Wiley hit F5 in his browser. Still nothing changed.

Over the course of the hour that followed, Wiley grew increasingly more bewildered and panicked as he tried in vain to get the new TNT barrel to show up on the article page. He uploaded the image several more times, closed and re-opened his browser, deleted and then reloaded the image, re-published and re-approved the actual article page, and even got the administrators to flush the SharePoint BLOB Cache. None of the actions made a difference.

The Coyote Never Wins

Why didn’t any of Wiley’s efforts make a difference? Because what Wiley didn’t understand was that there was nothing he could do short of flushing his cache that would prompt the browser to re-request the updated image. The browser started using the cached copy of the image after the first request Wiley made in the morning; i.e., the request to verify that the image on the page was incorrect as Fulfillment indicated. For another 24 hours (86400 seconds), the browser would continue to use the cached image.

Wiley’s image problem was just one of the potential issues that might surface as a result of the BLOB Cache change. It was also one of the more visible problems. In looking at the path attribute of the BlobCache element, you might have noticed some of the other file types that got cached by default – file types with js (JavaScript) and css (Cascading Style Sheets) extensions, for example. Any of those file types which were served from site collection lists and libraries would also be impacted by the “fetch once and use for 24 hours” behavior.

Recommendations Before You Enable the BLOB Cache

A frustrated end userI hope the example featuring Wiley did an adequate job of explaining why I think that blindly turning on the BLOB Cache can be a bad thing for end users. Having seen first-hand what an improperly configured BLOB Cache can do to the user experience, I’d like to offer up a handful of suggestions based on my own experience.

1. Don’t just “enable” the BLOB Cache with its out-of-the-box (OOTB) default settings. There are a couple of OOTB settings that you should really think hard about changing. I mentioned the default max-age value you get if you don’t actually specify the attribute value. I’m going to talk more about that one in a bit. Also: do you really want the BLOB Cache using your system drive (C:) as its target location for cached files? Most admins I know aren’t particularly friendly with that idea, so relocate the BLOB Cache to another drive.

2. If your Web application has only one zone (i.e., the Default zone), strongly consider specifying a max-age attribute value of zero (max-age=”0”). Why do I say this? Because it avoids the situation I described with Wiley above, and it’s a compromise that gives administrators some of the performance boosts they seek without completely shafting users in the process.

Dynamite Article Page - max-age = 0 in effectWhen the BLOB Cache is enabled and a max-age attribute value of 0 is explicitly specified, things change a bit. BLOB caching and offloading still happens on the WFEs, so administrators get the internal performance boosts they were probably seeking in the first place. On the other side of the equation (i.e., the “user side”), persistent client side caching ceases as shown on the left. Although the Cache-Control header still specifies public cacheability, the max-age=0 ensures that the browser will round-trip to the server each time it intends to use a locally cached resource to ensure that the most up-to-date copy of the resource is in the cache. This will keep users like Wiley from going off the deep end due to the wonky and inconsistent user experience that afflicts users who need to edit and proof a site that employs persistent client-side caching.

3. If you have a Web application that is extended to two or more zones, apply BLOB Cache settings that are appropriate for each zone. This is relatively common in public-facing SharePoint site collections and Web applications where anonymous access is in-use. In these particular scenarios, there are usually at least two SharePoint zones per Web application: an internal zone (typically the Default zone) through which editors and other users may authenticate to carry out content work, and an external zone (e.g., the Internet zone) which is set up for anonymous access and “external consumption.”

In this dual-zone scenario, it makes sense to configure each zone (IIS site) differently since usage patterns differ between zones. The BlobCache element in the web.config for the internal (Default) zone, for example, should probably be configured according to #2 (above – the one zone scenario with a max-age attribute value of zero). For the web.config that is used in the external zone, though, it may make sense to apply a non-zero max-age value for use with the BLOB Cache – especially since anonymous users aren’t (normally) content editors. A non-zero max-age means fewer trips (overall) to your WFEs from outside the LAN environment, and this helps to keep bandwidth utilization on your Internet connection. There is still a risk that external users may see “stale” content, but the impact is generally more acceptable for straight viewers since they aren’t actively working on content.

4. Consider changing the path expression to restrict what goes into the BLOB Cache. The default path expression for SharePoint 2010’s BlobCache element looks like this:

\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|jpe|jfif|bmp|dib|tif|tiff|ico|png|wdp|hdp|css|js|asf|avi|flv|m4v|mov|mp3|mp4|mpeg|mpg|rm|rmvb|wma|wmv)$

Most administrators are savvy enough to add and remove file extensions from this expression as needed; for example, taking |wmv out of the path expression means that the BLOB Cache will no longer store and serve files with a .wmv extension. Adding and removing extensions really only scratches the surface of what can be done, though. The path attribute value is actually a regular expression, so the full power of regular expressions can be applied to select and exclude files for use with the BLOB Cache.

Suppose you want to explicitly control which images, videos, and other files (that match the list of extensions) end up in the BLOB Cache? Maybe you want to specially name files you intend to cache with an additional .cache extension before the actual file type extension (e.g., .gif). To accomplish this, you could change the path expression to this:

\.cache\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|jpe|jfif|bmp|dib|tif|tiff|ico|png|wdp|hdp|css|js|asf|avi|flv|m4v|mov|mp3|mp4|mpeg|mpg|rm|rmvb|wma|wmv)$

With this path expression, filenames like these would be included in the BLOB Cache:

  • SampleImage.cache.jpg
  • MyVideo.cache.wmv

… but anything without the additional .cache qualifier would get omitted, such as:

  • AnotherImage.jpg
  • ExcludeThisVideo.wmv

This is just a simple example, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what you could do with the path regular expression to control the contents of the BLOB Cache.

Summing It Up

The SharePoint BLOB Cache is a powerful mechanism to improve farm performance and scalability, but it shouldn’t be turned on without some forethought and a couple of changes to the default BlobCache element attribute values.

If you are an administrator and have enabled the BLOB Cache with its default values, check with your users. They might have some feedback for you …

Additional Reading and Resources

  1. CodePlex: SharePoint 2010 BlobCache Manager
  2. Event: SPTechCon San Francisco 2012
  3. Prezi: Pushing SharePoint’s ‘Go Faster’ Button
  4. Blog Post: Client-Server Interactions and the max-age Attribute with SharePoint BLOB Caching
  5. Tool: Fiddler Web Debugging Proxy

Kicking-Off 2012: SharePoint Style

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

HighSpeedI don’t know how 2011 ended for most of you, but the year closed without much of a bang for me. I’m not complaining about that; the general slow-down gave me an opportunity to get caught up on a few things, and it was nice to spend some quality time with my friends and family.

While 2011 went out relatively quietly, 2012 seems to have arrived with a vengeance. In fact, I was doing some joking on Twitter with Brian Jackett and Rob Collie shortly after the start of the year about #NYN, or “New Year’s Nitrous.” It’s been nothing but pedal-to-the-metal and then some since the start of the year, and there’s absolutely no sign of it letting up anytime soon. I like staying busy, but in some ways I’m wondering whether or not there will be enough time to fit everything in. One day at a time …

Here’s a recap of some stuff from the tail end of 2011, as well as what I’ve got going on for the first couple of months in 2012. After February, things actually get even crazier … but I’ll save events beyond February for a later post.

SPTV

SPTV logoDuring the latter part of 2011, I had a conversation with Michael Hiles and Jon Breyfogle of DSC Consulting, a technical consulting and media services company based here in Cincinnati, Ohio. Michael and Jon had an idea: they wanted to develop a high-quality, high-production-value television program that centered on SharePoint and the larger SharePoint ecosystem/community. The initial idea was that the show would feature an interview segment, coverage of community events, SharePoint news, and some other stuff thrown in.

It was all very preliminary stuff when they initially shared the idea with me, but I told them that I thought they might be on to something. The idea of a professional show that centered on SharePoint wasn’t something that was being done, and I was really curious to see how they would do it if they elected to move forward.

Just before Christmas, Jon contacted me to let me know that they were indeed moving forward with the idea … and he asked if I’d be the show’s first SharePoint guest. I told him I’d love to help out, and so the bulk of the pilot episode was shot at the Village Tavern in Montgomery one afternoon with host Mark Tiderman and co-host Craig Pereira. Mark and I shot some pool, discussed disaster recovery, and just talked SharePoint for a fair bit. It was really a lot of fun.

The pilot isn’t yet available (publicly), but a teaser for the show is available on the SPTV web site. All in all, I think the DSC folks have done a tremendous job creating a quality, professional program. Check out the SPTV site for a taste of what’s to come!

SharePoint Saturday Columbus Kick-Off

SharePoint Saturday Columbus logoAround the time of the SPTV shooting, the planning committee for SharePoint Saturday Columbus (Brian Jackett, Jennifer Mason, Nicola Young, and I) had a checkpoint conversation to figure out what, if anything, we were going to do about SharePoint Saturday Columbus in 2012. Were we going to try to do it again? If so, were we going to change anything? What was our plan?

Everything with SPSColumbus in 2012 is still very preliminary, of course, but I can tell you that we are looking forward to having the event once again! We expect that we’ll attempt to hold the event during roughly the same part of the year as we’ve had it in the past (i.e., late summer). As we start to nail things down and come up with concrete plans, I’ll share those. Until then, keep your eyes on the SharePoint Saturday site and the SPSColumbus account on Twitter!

SharePointCincy

Those of us who reside in and around Cincinnati, Ohio, are very fortunate when it comes to SharePoint events and opportunities. In the past we’ve had SharePoint Saturday Indianapolis just to the west of us, SharePoint Saturday Columbus to the northeast, and last year we had our first ever SharePoint Saturday Cincinnati (which was a huge success!) On top of that, last year was the first ever SharePointCincy event.

SharePointCincy was similar in some ways to a SharePoint Saturday, but it was different in others. It was a day full of SharePoint sessions, but we also had Fred Studer (the General Manager for the Information Worker product group at Microsoft) come out an speak. Kroger, a local company whose SharePoint implementation I’m very familiar with, also shared their experience with SharePoint. Rather than go into too much detail, though, I encourage you to check out the SharePointCincy site yourself to see what it was all about.

Of course, the whole reason I’m mentioning SharePointCincy is that it’s coming again in March of this year! Last year’s success (the event was attended by hundreds) pretty much guaranteed that the event would happen again.

I’m part of a planning team that includes Geoff Smith, Steve Caravajal of Microsoft, Mike Smith from MAX Technical Training, and the infamous Shane Young of SharePoint911 (which, in case you didn’t know it, is based here in Cincinnati). Four of the five of us met last Friday for a kick-off meeting and to discuss how the event might go this year. It was a good breakfast and a productive meeting. I don’t have much more to share at this point (other than the fact that, “yes, it’s happening”), but I will share information as it becomes available. Stay tuned!

Secrets of SharePoint Webcast

Secrets of SharePoint logoIt’s been a few months since my last webcast on SharePoint caching, so my co-workers at Idera approached me about doing another webcast. I guess I was due.

On this Wednesday, January 18th, I’ll be delivering a Secrets of SharePoint webcast titled “The Essentials of SharePoint Disaster Recovery.” Here’s the abstract:

“Are my nightly SQL Server backups good enough?” “Do I need an off-site disaster recovery facility?” “How do I even start the process of disaster recovery planning?” These are just a few of the more common questions that arise when the topic of SharePoint disaster recovery comes up. As with most things SharePoint, the real answer to each question is oftentimes “it depends…”

In this business and process-centric session, we will be taking a look at the topic of SharePoint disaster recovery from multiple perspectives: business continuity planner, technical architect, platform owner, and others. Critical concepts and terms will be explained and defined, and an effective process for analyzing and formulating a disaster recovery plan will be discussed. We’ll also highlight some common mistakes that take place when working to build a disaster recovery strategy and how you can avoid them. By the end of this session, you will be armed with the knowledge needed to plan or review a disaster recovery strategy for your SharePoint environment.

For those of you who have heard me speak and/or attended my webcasts in the past, you’ll probably find this session to be a bit different than ones you’ve seen or heard. The main reason I say that is because the content is primarily business-centric rather than nuts-and-bolts admin content.

That doesn’t mean that SharePoint administrators shouldn’t attend, though; on the contrary, the webcast includes a number of very important messages for admins (e.g., why DR must be driven from the business angle rather than the technical/admin angle) that could really help them in their jobs. The session expands the scope of the DR discussion, though, to include the business aspects that are so tremendously important during the DR planning process.

If what I’ve shared sounds interesting, please sign-up! The webcast is free, and I’ll be doing Q&A after the session.

SharePoint Saturday Austin

SharePoint Saturday Austin logoThis upcoming weekend, I’ll be heading down to Austin, Texas, for the first SharePoint Saturday Austin event! The event is taking place on January 21st, and it is being coordinated by Jim Bob Howard (of Juniper Strategy) and Matthew Lathrop (of Rackspace). Boy oh boy – do they have an amazing line-up of speakers and contributors. It’s quite impressive; check out the site to see what I mean.

The guys are giving me the opportunity to present “The Essentials of SharePoint Disaster Recovery” session, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to catching up with many of my friends … and some of my Idera co-workers (who will be coming in from Houston, Texas).

If you’re in the Austin area and looking for something to do this upcoming Saturday, come to the event. It’s free, and it’s a great chance to take in some phenomenal sessions, win some prizes, and be a part of the larger SharePoint community!

SharePoint Pro Demo Booth Session

SharePoint Pro logoOn Monday, February 20th at 12pm EST, I’m going to be doing a “demo booth” session through SharePoint Pro Magazine. The demo booth is titled “Backup Basics: SharePoint’s Backup and Restore Capabilities and Beyond.” Here’s the description for the demo booth:

SharePoint ships with a number of tools and capabilities that are geared toward protecting content and configuration. These tools provide basic coverage for your SharePoint environment and the content it contains, but they can quickly become cumbersome in real world scenarios. In this session, we will look at SharePoint’s backup and restore capabilities, discuss how they work, and identify where they fall short in common usage scenarios. We will also highlight how Idera’s SharePoint backup solution picks up where the SharePoint platform tools leave off in order to provide complete protection that is cost-effective and easy to use.

The “demo booth” concept is something new for me; it’s part “platform education” (which is where I normally spend the majority of my time and energy) and part “product education” – in this case, education about Idera’s SharePoint backup product. Being both the product manager for Idera SharePoint backup and a co-author for the SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery Guide leaves me in something of a unique position to talk about SharePoint’s built-in backup/restore capabilities, where gaps exist, and how Idera SharePoint backup can pick up where the SharePoint platform tools leave off.

If you’re interested in learning more about Idera’s SharePoint backup product and/or how far you can reasonably push SharePoint’s built-in capabilities, check out the demo booth.

SPTechCon 2012 San Francisco

SPTechConFebruary comes to close with a big bang when SPTechCon rolls into San Francisco for the first of two stops in 2012. For those of you who check my blog now and again, you may have noticed the SPTechCon “I’ll be speaking at” badge and link on the right-hand side of the page. Yes, that means I’ll be delivering a session at the event! The BZ Media folks always put on a great show, and I’m certainly proud to be a part of SPTechCon and presenting again this time around.

At this point, I know that I’ll be presenting “The Essentials of SharePoint Disaster Recovery.” I think I’m also going to be doing another lightning talk; I need to check up on that, though, to confirm it.

I also found out that John Ferringer (my co-author and partner-in-crime) and I are also going to have the opportunity to do an SPTechCon-sponsored book signing (for our SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery Guide) on the morning of Wednesday the 29th.

If you’re at SPTechCon, please swing by to say hello – either at my session, at the Idera booth, the book signing, or wherever you see me!

Additional Reading and Resources

  1. Blog: Brian Jackett’s Frog Pond of Technology
  2. Blog: Rob Collie’s PowerPivotPro
  3. Company: DSC Consulting
  4. Site: SPTV
  5. LinkedIn: Mark Tiderman
  6. LinkedIn: Craig Pereira
  7. Event: SharePoint Saturday Columbus
  8. Blog: Jennifer Mason
  9. Twitter: Nicola Young
  10. Site: SharePoint Saturday
  11. Twitter: SharePoint Saturday Columbus
  12. Event: SharePoint Saturday Cincinnati
  13. Event: SharePointCincy
  14. LinkedIn: Geoff Smith
  15. Blog: Steve Caravajal’s Ramblings
  16. Blog: Mike Smith’s Tech Training Notes
  17. Company: MAX Technical Training
  18. Blog: Shane Young’s SharePoint Farmer’s Almanac
  19. Company: SharePoint911
  20. Webcast: “Caching-In” for SharePoint Performance
  21. Site: Secrets of SharePoint
  22. Webcast: The Essentials of SharePoint Disaster Recovery
  23. Event: SharePoint Saturday Austin
  24. Blog: Jim Bob Howard
  25. Company: Juniper Strategy
  26. LinkedIn: Matthew Lathrop
  27. Company: Rackspace
  28. Company: Idera
  29. Event: SharePoint Pro Demo Booth Session
  30. Site: SharePoint Pro Magazine
  31. Product: Idera SharePoint backup
  32. Book: SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery Guide
  33. Event: SPTechCon 2012 San Francisco
  34. Company: BZ Media
  35. Blog: John Ferringer’s My Central Admin

Mirror, Mirror, In the Farm …

November 20, 2011 6 comments

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time, but I’m only now getting around to it. It’s a quick one, and it’s intended to share a couple of observations and a script that may be of use to those of you who are SharePoint 2010 administrators.

Mirroring and SharePoint

The use of SQL Server mirroring isn’t something that’s unique to SharePoint, and it was possible to leverage mirroring with SharePoint 2007 … though I tended to steer people away from trying it unless they had a very specific reason for doing so and no other approach would work. There were simply too many hoops you needed to jump through in order to get mirroring to work with SharePoint 2007, primarily because SharePoint 2007 wasn’t mirroring-aware. Even if you got it working, it was … finicky.

SharePoint 2010, on the other hand, is fully mirroring-aware through the use of the Failover Partner keyword in connection strings used by SharePoint to connect to its databases.

(Side note: if you aren’t familiar with the Failover Partner keyword, here’s an excellent breakdown by Michael Aspengren on how the SQL Server Native Provider leverages it in mirroring configurations.)

There are plenty of blog posts, articles (like this one from TechNet), and books (like the SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery Guide that John Ferringer and I wrote) that talk about how to configure mirroring. It’s not particularly tough to do, and it can really help you in situations where you need a SQL Server-based high availability and/or remote redundancy solution for SharePoint databases.

This isn’t a blog post about setting up mirroring; rather, it’s a post to share some of what I’ve learned (or think I’ve learned) and related “ah-ha” moments when it comes to mirroring.

What Are You Pointing At?

This all started when Jay Strickland (one of the Quality Assurance (QA) folks on my team at Idera) ran into some problems with one of our SharePoint 2010 farms that was used for QA purposes. The farm contained two SQL Server instances, and the database instances were setup such that the databases on the second instance mirrored the databases on the first (principal) instance. Jay had configured SharePoint’s service applications and Web applications for mirroring, so all was good.

But not really. The farm had been running properly for quite some time, but something had gone wrong with the farm’s mirroring configuration – or so it seemed. That’s when Jay pinged me on Skype one day with a question (which I’m paraphrasing here):

Is there any way to tell (from within SharePoint) which SQL Server instance is in-use by SharePoint at any given time for a database that is being mirrored?

It seemed like a simple question that should have a simple answer, but I was at a loss to give Jay anything usable off the top of my head. I told Jay that I’d get back to him and started doing some digging.

The SPDatabase Type

Putting on my developer hat for a second, I recalled that all SharePoint databases are represented by an instance of the SPDatabase type (Microsoft.SharePoint.Administration.Database specifically) or one of the other classes that derive from it, such as SPContentDatabase. Running down the available members for the SPDatabase type, I came up with the following properties and methods that were tied to mirroring in some way:

  • FailoverServer
  • FailoverServiceInstance
  • AddFailoverServiceInstance()

What I thought I would find (but didn’t) was one or more properties and/or methods that would allow me to determine which SQL Server instance was serving as the active connection point for SharePoint requests.

In fact, the more digging that I did, the more that it appeared that SharePoint had no real knowledge of where it was actually connecting to for data in mirrored setups. It was easy enough to specify which database instances should be used for mirroring configurations, but there didn’t appear to be any way to determine (from within SharePoint) if the principal was in-use or if failover to the mirrored instance had taken place.

The Key Takeaway

If you’re familiar with SQL Server mirroring and how it’s implemented, then the following diagram (which I put together for discussion) probably looks familiar:

SharePoint connecting to mirrored database

This diagram illustrates a couple of key points:

  1. SharePoint connects to SQL Server databases using the SQL Server Native Client
  2. SharePoint supplies a connection string that tells the native client which SQL Server instances (as Data Source and Failover Partner) should be used as part of a mirroring configuration.
  3. It’s the SQL Server Native Client that actually determines where connections are made, and the results of the Client’s decisions don’t directly surface through SharePoint.
    Number 3 was the point that I kept getting stuck on. I knew that it was possible to go into SQL Server Management Studio or use SQL Server’s Management Objects (SMO) directly to gain more insight around a mirroring configuration and what was happening in real-time, but I thought that SharePoint must surely surface that information in some form.

Apparently not.

Checking with the Experts

I hate when I can’t nail down a definitive answer. Despite all my reading, I wanted to bounce the conclusions I was drawing off of a few people to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious (or hidden) with my interpretation.

  • I shot Bill Baer (Senior Technical Product Manager for SharePoint and an MCM) a note with my question about information surfacing through SharePoint. If anyone could have given me a definitive answer, it would have been him. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back from him. In his defense, he’s pretty doggone busy.
  • I put a shout out on Twitter, and I did hear back from my good friend Todd Klindt. While he couldn’t claim with absolute certainty that my understanding was on the mark, he did indicate that my understanding was in-line with everything he’d read and conclusions he had drawn.
  • I turned to Enrique Lima, another good friend and SQL Server MCM, with my question. Enrique confirmed that SQL SMO would provide some answers, but he didn’t have additional thoughts on how that information might surface through SharePoint.

Long and short: I didn’t receive rock-solid confirmation on my conclusions, but my understanding appeared to be on-the-mark. If anyone knows otherwise, though, I’d love to hear about it (and share the information here – with proper recognition for the source, of course!)

Back to the Farm

In the end, I wasn’t really able to give Jay much help with the QA farm that he was trying to diagnose. Since I couldn’t determine where SharePoint was pointing from within SharePoint itself, I did the next best thing: I threw together a PowerShell script that would dump the (mirroring) configuration for each database in the SharePoint farm.

<#
.SYNOPSIS
   SPDBMirrorInfo.ps1
.DESCRIPTION
   Examines each of the databases in the SharePoint environment to identify which have failover partners and which don't.
.NOTES
   Author: Sean McDonough
   Last Revision: 19-August-2011
#>
function DumpMirroringInfo ()
{
	# Make sure we have the required SharePoint snap-in loaded.
	$spCmdlets = Get-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell -ErrorAction silentlycontinue
	if ($spCmdlets -eq $Null)
	{ Add-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell }

	# Grab databases and determine which have failover support (and which don't)
	$allDatabases = Get-SPDatabase
	$dbsWithoutFailover = $allDatabases | Where-Object {$_.FailoverServer -eq $null} | Sort-Object -Property Name
	$dbsWithFailover = $allDatabases | Where-Object {$_.FailoverServer -ne $null} | Sort-Object -Property Name
	
	# Write out unmirrored databases
	if ($dbsWithoutFailover -eq $null)
	{ Write-Host "`n`nNo databases are configured without a mirroring partner." }
	else
	{ 
		Write-Host ("`n`nDatabases without a mirroring partner: {0}" -f $dbsWithoutFailover.Count) 
		$dbsWithoutFailover | Format-Table -Property Name, Server -AutoSize 
	}

	# Dump results for mirrored databases
	if ($dbsWithFailover -eq $null)
	{ Write-Host "`nNo databases are configured with a mirroring partner." }
	else
	{ 
		Write-Host ("`nDatabases with a mirroring partner: {0}" -f $dbsWithFailover.Count) 
		$dbsWithFailover | Format-Table -Property Name, Server, FailoverServer -AutoSize
	}
	
	# For ease of reading
	Write-Host ("`n`n")
}
DumpMirroringInfo

The script itself isn’t rocket science, but it did actually prove helpful in identifying some databases that had apparently “lost” their failover partners.

Additional Reading and Resources

  1. MSDN: Using Database Mirroring
  2. Whitepaper: Using database mirroring (Office SharePoint Server)
  3. Blog Post: Clarification on the Failover Partner in the connectionstring in Database Mirror setup
  4. TechNet: Configure availability by using SQL Server database mirroring (SharePoint Server 2010)
  5. Book: The SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery Guide
  6. Blog: John Ferringer’s “My Central Admin”
  7. Blog: Jay Strickland’s “Slinger’s Thoughts
  8. Company: Idera
  9. MSDN: SPDatabase members
  10. MSDN: SQL Server Management Objects (SMO)
  11. Blog: Bill Baer
  12. Blog: Todd Klindt’s SharePoint Admin Blog
  13. Blog: Enrique Lima’s Intentional Thinking

Wrapping Up 2011

November 13, 2011 1 comment

Over the last several months, I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d hoped to; in reality, I haven’t blogged at all. There are a couple of reasons for that: one of them was our recent house move (and the aftermath), and the other was a little more personal. Without going into too much detail: we were contending with a very serious health issue in our family, and that took top priority.

The good news is that the clouds are finally parting, and I’m heading into the close of 2011 on a much better note (and with more time) than I’ve spent the last several months. To get back into some blogging, I figured I’d wrap-up the last several months’ worth of activities that took place since SharePoint Saturday Columbus.

Secrets of SharePoint (SoS) Webcast

Secrets of SharePoint Webcast BannerA lot of things started coming together towards the end of October, and the first of those was another webcast that I did for Idera titled “’Caching-In’ for SharePoint Performance.” The webcast covered each of SharePoint’s built-in caching mechanisms (object caching, BLOB caching, and page output caching) as well as the Office Web Applications’ cache. I provided a rundown on each mechanism, how it worked, how it could be leveraged, and some watch-outs that came with its use.

The webcast was basically a lightweight version (40 minutes or so) of the longer (75 minute) presentation I like to present at SharePoint Saturday events. It was something of a challenge to squeeze all of the regular session’s content into 40 minutes, and I had to cut some of the material I would have liked to have kept in … but the final result turned-out pretty well.

If you’re interested in seeing the webcast, you can watch it on-demand from the SoS webcast archive. I also posted the slides in the Resources section of this blog.

SharePoint Saturday Cincinnati

SharePoint Cincinnati BannerOn Saturday October 29th, Cincinnati had its first-ever SharePoint Saturday Cincinnati event. The event took place at the Kingsgate Marriott on Goodman Drive (near University Hospital), and it was very well attended – so much so that Stacy Deere and the other folks who organized the event are planning to do so again next year!

Many people from the local SharePoint community came out to support the event, and we had a number of folks from out of town come rolling in as well to help ensure that the event was a big success. I ended up delivering two sessions: my “’Caching-In’ for SharePoint Performance” session and my “SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery: New Capabilities, New Possibilities!”

I had a great time at the event, and I’m hoping I’ll be fortunate enough to participate again on the next go ‘round!

New Disaster Recovery WhitePaper

WhitePaper Title PageMy co-author and good friend John Ferringer and I were hard at work throughout the summer and early Fall putting together a new disaster recovery whitepaper for Idera. The whitepaper is titled “New Features in SharePoint 2010: A Disaster Recovery Love Story,” and it’s a bromance novel that only a couple of goofballs like John and I could actually write …

Okay, there’s actually no romance in it whatsoever (thank heavens for prospective readers – no one needs us doing that to them), but there is a solid chunk of coverage on SharePoint 2010’s new platform capabilities pertaining to disaster recovery. We also review some disaster recovery basics in the whitepaper, cover things that have changed since SharePoint 2007, and identify some new watch-out areas in SharePoint 2010 that could have an impact on your disaster recovery planning.

The whitepaper is pretty substantial at 13 pages, but it’s a good read if you want to understand your platform-level disaster recovery options in SharePoint 2010. It’s a free download, so please grab a copy if it sounds interesting. John and I would certainly love to hear your feedback, as well.

SharePoint Backup Augmentation Cmdlets (SharePointBAC)

SharePointBACMany of my friends in the SharePoint community have heard me talk about some of the projects I’ve wanted to undertake to extend the SharePoint platform. I’m particularly sensitive to the plight of the administrator who is constrained (typically due to lack of resources) to use only the out-of-the-box (OOTB) tools that are available for data protection. While I think the OOTB tools do a solid job in most small and mid-size farms scenarios, there are some clear gaps that need to be addressed.

Since I’d been big on promises and short on delivery in helping these administrators, I finally started on a project to address some of the backup and restore gaps I see in the SharePoint platform. The evolving and still-under-development result is my SharePoint Backup Augmentation Cmdlets (SharePointBAC) project that is available on CodePlex.

With the PowerShell cmdlets that I’m developing for SharePoint 2010, I’m trying to introduce some new capabilities that SharePoint administrators need in order to make backup scripting with the OOTB tools a simpler and more straightforward experience. For example, one big gap that exists with the OOTB tools is that there is no way to groom a backup set. Each backup you create using Backup-SPFarm, for instance, adds to the backups that existed before it. There’s no way to groom (or remove) older backups you no longer want to keep, so disk consumption grows unless manual steps are taken to do something about it. That’s where my cmdlets come in. With Remove-SPBackupCatalog, for example, you could trim backups to retain only a certain number of them; you could also trim backups to ensure that they consume no more disk space (e.g., 100GB) than you’d like.

The CodePlex project is in alpha form right now (it’s brand spankin’ new), and it’s far from complete. I’ve already gotten some great suggestions for what I could do to continue development, though. When I combine those ideas with the ones I already had, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to shape the project into something truly useful for SharePoint administrators.

If you or someone you know is a SharePoint administrator using the OOTB tools for backup scripting, please check out the project. I’d really love to hear from you!

SharePoint Saturday Denver

SharePoint Saturday DenverAs I type this, I’m in Colorado at the close of the third (annual) SharePoint Saturday Denver event. This year’s event was phenomenal – a full two days of SharePoint goodness! Held on Friday November 11th and Saturday November 12th at the Colorado Convention Center, this year’s event was capped at 350 participants for Saturday. A full 350 people signed-up, and the event even had a wait list.

On the first day of the event, I delivered a brand new session that I put together (in Prezi format) titled The Essentials of SharePoint Disaster Recovery. Here’s the amended abstract (and I’ll explain why it’s amended in a second) for the session:

“Are my nightly SQL Server backups good enough?” “Do I need an off-site disaster recovery facility?” “How do I even start the process of disaster recovery planning?” These are just a few of the more common questions that arise when the topic of SharePoint disaster recovery comes up. As with most things SharePoint, the real answer to each question is oftentimes “it depends.” In this business and process-centric session, we will be taking a look at the topic of SharePoint disaster recovery from multiple perspectives: business continuity planner, technical architect, platform owner, and others. Critical concepts and terms will be explained and defined, and an effective process for analyzing and formulating a disaster recovery plan will be discussed. We’ll also highlight some common mistakes that take place when working to build a disaster recovery strategy and how you can avoid them. By the end of this session, you will be armed with the knowledge needed to plan or review a disaster recovery strategy for your SharePoint environment.

The reason I amended the abstract is because the previous abstract for the session didn’t do enough to call out the fact that the presentation is primarily business-centric rather than technically focused. Many of the folks who initially came to the session were SharePoint IT pros and administrators looking for information on backup/restore, mirroring, configuration, etc. Although I cover those items at a high level in this new talk, they’re only a small part of what I discuss during the session.

On Saturday, I delivered my “’Caching-In’ for SharePoint Performance” talk during the first slot of the day. I really enjoy delivering the session; it’s probably my favorite one. I had a solid turn-out, and I had some good discussions with folks both during and after the presentation.

As I mentioned, this year’s event was a two day event. That’s a little unusual, but multi-day SharePoint Saturday events appear to be getting some traction in the community – starting with SharePoint Saturday The Conference a few months back. Some folks in the community don’t care much for this style of event, probably because there’s some nominal cost that participants typically bear for the extra day of sessions. I expect that we’ll probably continue to see more hybrid events, though, because I think they meet an unaddressed need that falls somewhere between “give up my Saturday for free training” and “pay a lot of money for a multi-day weekday conference.” Only time will tell, though.

On the Horizon

Event though 2011 isn’t over yet, I’m slowing down on some of my activities save for SharePointBAC (my new extracurricular pastime). 2012 is already looking like it’s going to be a big year for SharePoint community activities. In January I’ll be heading down to Texas for SharePoint Saturday Austin, and in February I’ll be heading to San Francisco for SPTechCon. I’ll certainly cover those activities (and others) as we approach 2012.

Additional Reading and Resources

  1. Event: SharePoint Saturday Columbus
  2. Company: Idera
  3. Webcast: “Caching-In” for SharePoint Performance
  4. Webcast Slides: “Caching-In” for SharePoint Performance
  5. Location: My blog’s Resources section
  6. Event: SharePoint Saturday Cincinnati
  7. Blog: Stacy Deere and Stephanie Donahue’s “Not Just SharePoint”
  8. SPS Cincinnati Slides: “Caching-In” for SharePoint Performance
  9. SPS Cincinnati Slides: SharePoint 2010 Disaster Recovery: New Capabilities, New Possibilities!
  10. Blog: John Ferringer’s “My Central Admin”
  11. Whitepaper: New Features in SharePoint 2010: A Disaster Recovery Love Story
  12. CodePlex: SharePoint Backup Augmentation Cmdlets (SharePointBAC)
  13. Event: SharePoint Saturday Denver
  14. Tool: Prezi
  15. SPS Denver Slides: The Essentials of SharePoint Disaster Recovery
  16. SPS Denver Slides: “Caching-In” for SharePoint Performance
  17. Event: SharePoint Saturday The Conference
  18. Event: SharePoint Saturday Austin
  19. Event: SPTechCon 2012 San Francisco
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