Launching Your SPO Site or Portal

In this short post I cover the SharePoint Online (SPO) Launch Scheduling Tool and why you should get familiar with it before you launch a new SPO site or portal.

Getting Set To Launch Your SPO Site?

I’ve noted that my style of writing tends to build the case for the point I’m going to try to make before actually getting to the point. This time around, I’m going to lead with one of my main arguments:

Don’t do “big bang” style launches of SPO portals and sites; i.e., making your new SPO site available to all potential users as once! If you do, you may inadvertently wreck the flawless launch experience you were hoping (planning?) for.

Why "Big Bang" Is A Big Mistake

SharePoint Online (SPO) is SharePoint in the cloud. One of the benefits inherent to the majority of cloud-resident applications and services is “elasticity.” In case you’re a little hazy on how elasticity is defined and what it affords:

“The degree to which a system is able to adapt to workload changes by provisioning and de-provisioning resources in an autonomic manner, such that at each point in time the available resources match the current demand as closely as possible”

This description of elasticity helps us understand why a “big bang”-style release comes with some potential negative consequences: it goes against (rather than working with) the automatic provisioning and deprovisioning of SPO resources that serve-up the site or portal going live.

SPO is capable of reacting to an increase in user load through automated provisioning of additional SharePoint servers. This reaction and provisioning process is not instantaneous, though, and is more effective when user load increases gradually rather than all-at-once.

The Better Approach

Microsoft has gotten much better in the last bunch of years with both issuing (prescriptive) guidance and getting the word out about that guidance. And in case you might be wondering: there is guidance that covers site and portal releases.

One thing I feel compelled to mention every time I give a presentation or teach a class related to the topic at hand is this extremely useful link:

https://aka.ms/PortalHealth

The PortalHealth link is the “entry point” for planning, building, and maintaining a healthy, high performance SPO site/portal. The page at the end of that link looks like this:

I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting Microsoft’s guidance for launching portals in the screenshot above. In short, The CliffsNotes version of that guidance is this: “Launch in waves.”

The diagram that appears below is pretty doggone old at this point (I originally saw it in a Microsoft training course for SPO troubleshooting), but I find that it still does an excellent job of graphically illustrating what a wave-based/staggered rollout looks like.

Each release wave ends up introducing new users to the site. By staggering the growing user load over time, SPO’s automated provisioning mechanisms can react and respond with additional web front-ends (WFEs) to the farm (since the provisioning process isn’t instantaneous). An ideal balance is achieved when WFE capacity can be added at a rate that keeps pace with additional users in the portal/site.

Are There More Details?

As a matter of fact, there are.

In July of this year (2021), Microsoft completed the rollout of its launch scheduling tool to all SPO environments (with a small number of exceptions). The tool not only schedules users, but it manages redirects so that future waves can’t “jump the gun” and access the new portal until the wave they’re in is officially granted access. This is an extremely useful control mechanism when you’re trying to control potential user load on the SPO environment.

The nicest part of the scheduling tool (for me) is the convenience with which it is accessed. If you go to your site’s Settings dropdown (via the gear icon), you’ll see the launch scheduler link looking you in the face:

There is some “fine print” that must be mentioned. First, the launch scheduling tool is only available for use with (modern) Communication Sites. In case any of you were still hoping (for whatever reason) to avoid going to modern SharePoint, this is yet another reminder that modern is “the way” forward …

If you take a look at a screenshot of the scheduler landing page (below), you’ll note the other “fine print” item I was going to mention:

Looking at the lower left quandrant of the image, you’ll see a health assessment report. That’s right: much like a SharePoint root site swap, you’ll need a clean bill of health from the SharePoint Page Diagnostics Tool before you can schedule your portal launch using the launch scheduling tool. 

Microsoft is trying to make it increasingly clear that poorly performing sites and portals need to addressed; after all, non-performant portals/sites have the potential to impact every SPO tenant associated with the underlying farm where your tenant resides.

(2021-09-15) ADDENDUM: Scott Stewart (Senior Program Manager at Microsoft and all-around good guy) pinged me after reading this post and offered up a really useful bit of additional info. In Scott’s own words: “It may be good to also add in that waves allow the launch to be paused to fix any issues with custom code / web parts or extensions and is often what is needed when a page has customizations.” 

As someone who’s been a part of a number of portal launches in the past, I can attest to the fact that portal launches seldom go off without a hitch. The ability to pause a launch to remediate or troubleshoot a problem condition is worth scheduler-controlled rollout alone!

Conclusion

The Portal Launch Scheduler is a welcome addition to the modern SharePoint Online environment, especially for larger companies and organizations with many potential SPO users. It affords control over the new site/portal launch process to control load and give the SPO environment the time it needs to note growing user load and provision additional resources. This helps to ensure that your portal/site launch will make a good (first) impression rather than the (potentially) lousy one that would be made with a “big bang” type of launch.

References and Resources

One Tool to Rule Them All

Microsoft released the second iteration of its Page Diagnostics Tool for SharePoint. If you have an SPO site, you NEED this tool in your toolbox!

Last week, on Wednesday, September 18th, 2019, Microsoft released the second iteration of its Page Diagnostics Tool for SharePoint. An announcement was made, and the Microsoft Docs site was updated, but the day passed with very little fanfare in most circles.

“The One Ring” by Mateus Amaral is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

In my opinion, there should have been fireworks. Lots of fireworks.

What is it?

If you’re not familiar with the Page Diagnostics Tool for SharePoint, then I need to share a little history on how I came to be “meet” this tool.

Back in 2018, the SharePoint Conference North America (SPCNA) was rebooted after having been shutdown as part of Microsoft’s consolidation of product-specific conferences a number of years earlier. I had the good fortune of making the cut to deliver a couple of sessions at the conference: “Making the Most of OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online” and “Understanding and Avoiding Performance Pitfalls with SharePoint Online.”

Sometime in the months leading up to the conference, I received an email from out-of-the-blue from a guy named Scott Stewart – who at the time was a Senior Program Manager for OneDrive and SharePoint Engineering. In the email, Scott introduced himself, what he did in his role, and suggested that we collaborate together for the performance session I was slated to deliver at SPCNA.

I came to understand that Scott and his team were responsible for addressing and remedying many of the production performance issues that arose in SharePoint Online (SPO). The more that Scott and I chatted, the more it sounded like we were preaching many of the same things when it came to performance.

One thing Scott revealed to me was that at the time, his team had been working on a tool to help diagnose SPO performance issues. The tool was projected to be ready around the time that SPCNA was happening, so I asked him if he’d like to co-present the performance session with me and announce the tool to an audience that would undoubtedly be eager to hear the news. Thankfully, he agreed!

The audience for our performance talk at SPCNA 2018

Scott demo’d version one (really it was more like a beta) during our talk, and the demo demons got the better of him … but shortly after the conference, v1.0 of the tool went live and was available to download as a Chrome browser extension.

So, what does it do?

Simply put, the Page Diagnostics Tool for SharePoint analyzes your browser’s interaction with SPO and points out conditions and configurations that might be adversely affecting your page’s performance.

The first version of the tool only worked for classic publishing pages. And as a tool, it was only available as a Google Chrome Extension:

The Page Diagnostics for SharePoint extension in the Google Chrome Store

The second iteration of the tool that was released last Thursday addresses one of those limitations: it analyzes both modern and classic SharePoint pages. So, you’re covered no matter what’s on your SPO site.

What Can the Tool Tell Me?

For one thing, the tool can get you the metrics I’ve highlighted that are relevant to diagnosing basic page performance issues – most notably, SPRequestDuration and SPIisLatency. But it can do so much more than that!

Many of the adverse performance conditions and scenarios I’ve covered while speaking and in blog posts (such as this one here) are analyzed and called-out by the tool, as well as many other things/conditions, such as navigational style used, whether or not content deployment networks (CDNs) are used by your pages, and quite a few more.

And finally, the tool provides a simple mechanism for retrieving round-trip times for pages and page resource requests. It eliminates the need to pull up Fiddler or your browser’s debug tools to try and track down the right numbers from a scrolling list of potentially hundreds of requests and responses.

How Do I Use It?

It’s easy, but I’ll summarize it for you here.

1. Open the Chrome Web Store. Currently, the extension is only available for Google Chrome. Open Chrome and navigate to https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/sharepoint directly or search for “SharePoint” in the Chrome Web Store. However you choose to do it, you should see the Page Diagnostics Tool for SharePoint entry within the list of results as shown below.

2. Add the Extension to Chrome. Click the Add to Chrome button. You’ll be taken directly to the diagnostic tool’s specific extension page, and then Chrome will pop up a dialog like the one seen below. The dialog will describe what the tool will be able to do once you install it, and yes: you have to click Add Extension to accept what the dialog is telling you and to actually activate the extension in your browser.

3. Navigate to a SharePoint Online page to begin diagnosing it. Once you’ve got the extension installed, you should have the following icon in the tool area to the right of the URL/address bar in Chrome:

To illustrate how the tool works, I navigated to a modern Communication Site in my Bitstream Foundry tenant:

I then clicked on the SharePoint Page Diagnostics Tool icon in the upper right of the browser (as shown above). Doing so brings up the Page Diagnostics dialog and gives me some options:

Kicking off an analysis of the current page is as simple as clicking the Start button as shown above. Once you do so, the page will reload and the Tool dialog will change several times over the course of a handful of seconds based on what it’s loading, analyzing, and attempting to do.

When the tool has completed its analysis and is ready to share some recommendations, the dialog will change once again to show something similar to what appears below.

Right off the bat, you can see that the Page Diagnostics Tool supplies you with important metrics like the SPRequestDuration and SPIIsLatency – two measures that are critical to determining where you might have some slowdown as called out in a previous blog post. But the tool doesn’t stop there.

The tool does many other things – like look at the size of your images, whether or not you’re using structural navigation (because structural navigation is oh so bad for your SPO site performance), if you’re using content delivery networks (CDNs) for frequently used scripts and resources, and a whole lot more.

Let’s drill into one of the problem items it calls out on one of my pages:

The tool explains to me, in plain English, what is wrong: Large images detected. An image I’m using is too large (i.e., larger than 300KB). It supplies the URL of the image in question so that I’m not left wondering which image it’s calling out. And if I want to know why 300KB is special or simply learn about the best way to handle images in SharePoint Online, there’s a Learn More link. Clicking that link takes me to this page in Microsoft Docs:

Targeted and detailed guidance – exactly what you need in order to do some site fixup/cleanup in the name of improving performance.

Wrapping-Up

There’s more that the tool can do – like provide round trip times for pages and assets within those pages, as well as supply a couple of data export options if you want to look at the client/server page conversation in a tool that has more capabilities.

As a one-stop shop tool, though, I’m going to basically start recommending that everyone with an SPO site start downloading the tool for use within their own tenants. There is simply no other tool that is easier and more powerful for SharePoint Online sites. And the price point is perfect: FREE!

The next time you see Scott Stewart, buy him a beer to thank him for giving us something usable in the fight against poorly performing SPO sites.

References and Resources

  1. Company: Microsoft
  2. Browser Extension: Page Diagnostics for SharePoint
  3. Microsoft Docs: Use the Page Diagnostics for SharePoint tool
  4. Conference: The SharePoint Conference North America
  5. Presentation Resource: Making the Most of OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online
  6. Presentation Resource: Understanding and Avoiding Performance Pitfalls with SharePoint Online
  7. LinkedIn: Scott Stewart
  8. Blog Post: The Five-Minute Page Performance Troubleshooting Guide for SharePoint Online
  9. Blog Post: Caching, You Ain’t No Friend of Mine
  10. Tool: Telerik Fiddler
  11. Web Page: Chrome Web Store Extensions
  12. Microsoft Docs: Optimize images in SharePoint Online modern site pages

Obtaining Performance Metrics for SharePoint Online Modern Pages

In this post, I’ll show you how to obtain page performance core metrics from Modern SharePoint Online pages. It’s easier and more reliable than trying to obtain the same data from classic pages.

Background

It was quite some time ago that I wrote my Five-Minute Page Performance Troubleshooting Guide for SharePoint Online – a little over a year-and-a-half ago, actually. Since that time, SharePoint Online (SPO) has continued to evolve relentlessly. In fact, one slide I’ve gotten into the habit of showing during my SPO talks and presentations is the following:

FiveYearWarning

The slide usually gets the desired response of laughter from attendees, but it’s something I feel I have to say … because like so many things that seem obvious, there’s some real life basis for the inclusion of the slide:

OldPost

The exchange shown above was the result of someone commenting on a post I had shared about limitations I was running into with the SharePoint App Model. The issue didn’t have a solution or workaround at the time I’d written my post, but Microsoft had addressed it sometime later.

BestBeforeDateThis brief exchange highlights one of the other points I try hard to make while speaking: PAY ATTENTION TO DATES! It’s not safe to assume (if it ever was) that something you read online will stay accurate and/or relevant indefinitely.

In any case, I realize that much of what I share has a “born on date,” for lack of a better label. I’ll continue to share information; just note when something was written.

End of (slight) rant. Back to the real topic of this post.

Modern Pages

Since I had written the previous performance article, Microsoft’s been working hard to complete the transition to Modern SharePoint in SPO. I feel it’s a solid move on their part for a variety of reasons. Modern pages (particularly pages in communication sites) are much more WYSIWYG in nature, and SharePoint Framework (SPFx) web parts on modern pages make a whole lot of sense from a scalability perspective; after all, why assume load on the server (with classic web parts) when you can push the load to the client and use all the extra desktop/laptop power?

As good as they are, though, modern pages don’t obey the standard response header approach to sharing performance metrics. But not to worry: they do things more consistently and reliably (in my opinion).

Performance on a Modern Page

SPRequestDuration (the amount of time the server spent processing the page request) and (SP)IISLatency (the amount of time the page request waited on the server before getting processed) are critical to know when trying to diagnose potential page performance issues. Both of these are reported in milliseconds and give us some insight into what’s happening on the server-side of the performance equation.

Instead of trying to convey these values with response headers (as classic pages do – most of the time), modern pages share the same data within the body of the page itself.

Consider the following page modern page:

PerfPage

If this were a classic publishing page and we wanted to get the (SP)IISLatency and SPRequestDuration, we’d need to use our browser’s <F12> dev tools or something like Fiddler.

For modern pages, things are easier. We turn instead to the page source – not the response headers. Grab the page source (by right-clicking and selecting View page source) …

PerfPageSource

… and you’ll see something like the following:

SourceMetrics

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that you’ve got to have some sense of what you’re seeking within the page source – there’s a lot of stuff to parse through. Doing a simple <CTRL><F> search for iislatency or requestduration will land you on the content of interest. We’re interested in the metrics reported within the perf section:

PerfUpClose

The content of interest will be simple text, but the text is a JSON object that can be crunched to display values that are a bit easier to read:

Metrics

The other thing you’ll notice is that a lot of additional metrics are reported along with the page processing metrics we’ve been looking at. In a future post, I’ll try to break some of these down for you.

Conclusion

“Modern” is the future of SharePoint Online. If you haven’t yet embraced modern lists and pages, consider dipping your toe in the waters. As we’ve seen in this post, Modern also makes it easier to obtain performance metrics for our pages – something that will make page performance troubleshooting significantly more predictable and consistent.

References and Resources

  1. Blog Post: Five Minute Page Performance Troubleshooting Guide for SharePoint Online
  2. Office.com: SharePoint Classic and Modern Experiences
  3. Office.com: What Is A SharePoint Communication Site?
  4. Microsoft.com: Overview of the SharePoint Framework
  5. MDN: Response Header
  6. Telerik: Fiddler
  7. JSON Viewer: Code Beautify