The first day of SPTechCon is behind us now and I was fortunate in that I was able to attend several sessions. The Exhibit Hall opens today, so I will be busy talking to people who are new to Bamboo, and as always, I hope to see some of our existing customers. But before that all starts, I wanted to recount and share some of what I learned yesterday.
I started off attending Jason Himmelstein‘s session called SharePoint Performance: Best Practices from the Field. This session caught my attention since I often hear from customers who think SharePoint could or should be a bit faster. The room was full – I wasn’t surprised that I wasn’t the only person interested in this topic. Jason is a great speaker and I learned a great deal. He covered Infrastructure Design, Hardware Requirements, Network Recommendations, Physical server vs. Virtual, SQL Server performance, and a bunch of other things. He started talking about analyzing your “customer” requirements. This includes the need for high availability, disaster recovery, location awareness, and, of course, budget constraints. He also talked about concurrency and how each organization usually has its own definition of what this means. Some organizations define it as the number of concurrent users accessing the farm within a five secone time span. For others, the time span is 15 minutes. As you can imagine, the farm requirements for each would be quite different. He had a great example of a real-life scenario he had come across. He described a SharePoint farm with two WFE servers, an App server, and a DB server. The machines were within the range that Microsoft recommends (i.e., four cores, 16GB RAM, NLB on the WFEs). In an organization of about 20,000 total users, the system became non-responsive when there were about 500 concurrent users on the farm. These concurrent users were doing simple creation/updates to items in SharePoint lists. What was the problem? SharePoint should be faster. It took the team about ten days to figure out what the problem was. They analyzed the network, the DB server, and everything else they could think of. Everything seemed to be humming along. The problem, found using Task Manager to check the WFE servers, was that the two WFEs were CPU bound. They were maxed out. The resolution to the problem: add more cores to the existing WFE servers or simply add another WFE. They added a WFE and the farm started humming along. The lesson learned? Monitor, monitor, monitor, and don’t overlook the WFEs.
Next, I attended Mark Miller’s keynote, Intuitive Interfaces: Past, Present, and Future. As always, Mark gets you thinking. He talked about the convergence of technologies, specifically these three: portable music, mobile phones, and PCs. He wondered what technologies will be converging next. He brought three guests to the stage. Dan Corr talked about 3-D immersive technology. Dr. Michael Wu came up next, talking about user participation and how get your users to behave. According to BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model, the convergence of motivation, ability, and a trigger are what results in a behavior. To get the behavior you need, make it fun; make it like a game. This is sometimes referred to as “gamification.” The third guest was Marc Anderson. Marc focuses on Middle Tier Development – that space between the server and the client. He and Mark Miller talked about the limitations of technology, and how they are often our perceived limitations, and not actually real. They are based on our experiences. Those of us who remember having to walk up to the TV in order to change the channel have different experiences than those who have only ever used a remote control. In other words, imagine what technologies will converge in the future because of the experiences (or lack of perceived limitations) of today’s youth. It really got us thinking!
Next on my agenda was Jennifer Mason’s Creating Simple Dashboards Using Out-of-the-box Web Parts. I create a lot of dashboards when training our customers, or when demonstrating our products to prospects. Dashboards are still one of the main things that organizations are looking for to display in their portals. The main Web Parts that Jennifer used in her presentation were list view Web Parts. She showed them deployed to various types of sites and pages. She showed them connected via Web Part connections. The presentation confirmed for me the value of third-party Web Parts – especially products such as Bamboo’s List Rollup Web Part and Data-Viewer Web Part. Without them, your dashboards typically show data from lists on just one site, and are pretty boring style-wise.
After lunch, I caught Randy Drisgill and John Ross talking about SharePoint branding in their presentation titled Intro to Branding. I’m always interested in what is possible with branding, and surprised when I see a website that is running on SharePoint but looks so different than what I’m used to seeing. Randy and John broke their discussion into three types of branding: Low effort, Middle effort, and Full effort. I learned how you can create a new theme in Microsoft PowerPoint and upload it to your SharePoint site collection. Creating a theme in PowerPoint is fairly easy, and you can export it to a THMX file. This file can then be uploaded to SharePoint. So if you aren’t happy with the themes that are available out-of-the-box, this is an alternative. I also learned some new tricks about interrogating CSS using Firebug – something I will certainly look into more when I get back to the office. Finally, they pointed us to a great overview of what is invovled in branding an example site, a blog post which walks you through how to brand an Adventure Works site. It’s something else I want to review in detail when I get back.
My last session of the day was Marc Anderson’s Creating a Great User Experience in SharePoint. Like Jason Himmelstein, Marc also started his session talking about learning what your users are doing. He stressed that it is important for developers to sit with their users to see how they use a system. He admitted that this seems obvious, but that few people do it. He is concerned that “too many developers eschew SharePoint as a collaboration tool.” He reminded us that speed matters – a study a professor at UMASS Amherst concluded that people’s patience lasts about two seconds. Size also matters – one of Marc’s pet peeves is a SharePoint site with a large, high definition image on the Home page. Everyone that lands on that page needs to wait for the image to render – why put it there? Most people don’t have the patience to wait for it to render. He also talked about how most views contain too much information. You only need to show the information needed to make a decision. Cutting out unnecessary information speeds up your page. However, the only way you will be certain of what information is the most important is to sit with your users and talk to them about it. SharePoint is a great tool for prototyping – use it for that! Let your users try some things out and then tweak things based on their feedback. Thoughts of Mark Miller’s keynote came back to me when Marc talked about a great user experience as being one that results from several iterations – when an organization “converges” on the answer. That is something in which I truly believe.
Well, I’m off to the Bamboo booth in the exhibit hall today. Please stop and say “hello” if you are in the area!