How well do you know your SharePoint infrastructure? From my experience this question is not readily answered and often avoided altogether. After all, SharePoint is a broad technology with a number of complexities so it's only natural that these discussions come with a certain degree of apprehension or uneasiness. Nonetheless, as an IT professional or business manager we must broach the subject to do our jobs effectively.
The infrastructure of a SharePoint implementation is its foundation and directly impacts the health of the farm. A SharePoint farm that is reliable, scalable, performs well, and is maintainable relies upon utilizing suitable hardware, creating an appropriate topology, and ensuring things are configured correctly.
A poorly architected infrastructure can pose unexpected challenges resulting in loss of productivity and loss of confidence in your SharePoint deployment. An infrastructure audit is a proactive way to assess the status of your organization's environment and can help ensure the future stability of your farm.
At the very least, an infrastructure audit provides you with a base level of understanding about your environment. It allows members of your organization to be on the same page when talking about infrastructure related issues and can help address common questions where the answers are not always straightforward. Is your environment configured according to best practices? Do you have the ability to scale your farm up or down? Do you have a verified backup and recovery plan?
A properly executed infrastructure audit can help identify areas of risk to key business operations that rely on SharePoint. It can pinpoint performance bottlenecks and in some cases can even uncover options to reduce software and licensing costs by consolidating existing hardware.
An ideal SharePoint infrastructure audit provides a complete, end-to-end assessment of existing and planned infrastructure. This involves an investigation of the environment, including network, servers, and workstations. Some of the areas of investigation are:
- SharePoint service configuration
- web application, site collection configurations and databases
- network and account security
- the business continuity plan and implementation
- solution performance and monitoring
- scalability and planning for future needs
Recommendations can then be provided to introduce or improve system monitoring, enhance security, and adhere to common best practices.
A SharePoint infrastructure audit does not come without its challenges. Like any kind of audit, an infrastructure audit has the potential to uncover problems. Nobody likes bad news, but I would suggest that in this case bad news is actually good news! By exposing these problems it helps you take steps towards resolving issues that might otherwise go undetected. Remember, the longer these problems go unaddressed the more potential they have to fester and wreak havoc sometime down the road, often when we least expect it or can least afford it.
An infrastructure audit can also be politically sensitive as it can reveal issues that can result in finger-pointing and blame being assigned rather than focusing on the recommendations of the audit itself. It's important to keep in mind that SharePoint is complex and your environment is constantly evolving, so issues that are discovered now are not necessarily the result of something done wrong in the past. Try to focus more on resolving the issues and when possible, use an outside audit to prevent politics from getting in the way.
An infrastructure audit can pose logistical challenges as well. Ensuring all the right people are available at key moments in the process can be difficult. If hardware and human resources are geographically distributed this can also be an encumbrance. In addition, some of the tests we need to run can be intrusive and often need to be scheduled outside of regular working hours.
Finally, there are some technical challenges that may be encountered when performing an infrastructure audit. Sometimes there is little or no documentation to prepare for the audit (likely the reason we're doing the audit!), so you're often required to understand the complexities as you go. In addition, integration with line of business applications, services, and data sources can often add to the complexity.
Real world scenario
Habanero was recently approached by a company in the healthcare sector that was preparing to deploy a new workflow solution to facilitate a number of document management processes. They had some questions surrounding their infrastructure and whether or not it would support their intended usage levels while maintaining optimal performance and security. The Habanero infrastructure team was dispatched on site to work closely with the client's internal IT resources. An objective investigation was made into several areas of the environment including hardware, topology, installation, configuration, and storage. In addition, operational concerns about performance, backup, recovery, and scalability were also assessed. Issues discovered in each area were analyzed from a risk and impact perspective and assigned a priority level of low, medium, or high.
If you are a business manager or IT professional there is value in taking the time to assess your organization's understanding of its SharePoint infrastructure. A bit of planning and care can make all the difference to a successful and maintainable SharePoint implementation. Regardless of the shape and size of your organization, an infrastructure audit will help build confidence that your SharePoint foundation has the ability to meet current and future needs.