After a whirlwind week of activity, I thought that it would be a good time to jot down a few observations from this year’s SharePoint conference, before life catches up and it all evaporates. One thing is certain is that the conference exceeded my expectations. Although it was light on new product information, it was more than made up by the wealth of best practices information from some absolutely stellar speakers. To be sure, the organizers had telegraphed this focus well in advance, and expectations were set correctly.
There conference was sold out, and while I never got an official number of attendees, the numbers that I heard ranged from 7,000 to 8,000. This is the attendance for a conference for a single product, which is really quite an achievement. In fact, at the keynote, Jared Spataro announced that SharePoint had sold 125 million licences to 65,000 customers making it the fastest growing product in Microsoft’s history. If SharePoint were a separate company, it would be in the top 50 software companies worldwide.
The keynote contained a single new announcement – that Business Connectivity Services will be available in Office365 before the end of the year. This is great news for my organization given that we specialize in both Office 365 and in Business Intelligence, but then, I may have been aware of this previously.
The demo highlight of the keynote was when Richard Riley demonstrated a 10 TB SharePoint farm with a single content database experience a SQL Server failure and fail over to a hot standby. This was a very impressive demonstration, but it was really just a demo of the new “Always On” features in the upcoming SQL Server “Denali”. I also feel the need to point out that just because you can have a 10 GB content database, it doesn’t mean that you should. As my friend Ziad Wakim whispered to me during the demo “try backing THAT up!”.
The sessions were the real meat of the show. In fact, I only skipped one time slot. In choosing my sessions, I was looking for 3 things – to fill in any gaps, or to confirm my field practices or to pick up demonstration tips, to see how Denali was being positioned within SharePoint, and to see any new development patterns and practices, particularly around Office365 and Azure. I didn’t get to everything that I wanted to, but I wanted to acknowledge the ones that I did.
On the development front, Andrew Connell laid out what I think will be the definitive design pattern for working with external data in Office365 and Azure. Fellow Critical Path Training founder Ted Pattison drove home the UI patterns in his talk on using jQuery and HTML5 with SharePoint. Between them, they mentioned a number of useful tools and add ins which I’ll document shortly in an upcoming post. As always, both presenters were highly entertaining.
On the BI front, I attended sessions by Carolyn Chau (Reporting Services), Kevin Donovan (Analysis Services), Peter Myers (PowerPivot), and John Hancock (PerformancePoint and PowerPivot). They outlined the BI features of SQL Server Denali that specifically pertain to SharePoint, in particular project Crescent, and the new version of PowerPivot. PowerPivot is now more than just an analysis tool, it’s also a designer for Analysis Services. Project Crescent is a power user tool meant to support ad hoc reporting. In fact, in my opinion, Crescent has the same relationship to Reporting Services that the current version of PowerPivot has to Analysis Services. In Carolyn’s last session she also noted that Denali would be released in Q1 2012 – we now have a “date”!
In the “best practices” category (I hate that term….) there were a number of standouts. Darvish Shadravan and Asif Rehmani gave some great insights into Infopath. What many don’t understand is how important Infopath is to SharePoint, particularly to Office365 where coding is significantly more problematic. Darvish was also monitoring a Twitter feed during the session to hand out swag, which I thought was a great idea. I’ll be using something similar for my next presentation for feedback at least. Asif was clear and concise as usual, and both sessions were highly entertaining.
Eric Shupps led an early morning session on performance tuning, an increasingly important topic for SharePoint farms. I took quite a few notes. I attended the session to confirm my deployment approaches, which I did, but also came away with a laundry list of items to add. Entertaining, and a very good use of my time.
The king of the User Profile service, Spencer Harbar delivered a clear and concise talk on the User Profile service. I follow Spencer’s blog quite closely, so many of the points that he made I was already aware of. However, I did pick up one technical tidbit that I was previously unaware of. The service requires that the synchronization account be granted the “Replicating Directory Changes” permission in Active Directory. This at times terrifies AD administrators, and it turns out that the name is bad. All that the permission does is to allow the account to read a change log. Spencer also made an excellent point in that the deployment of a user directory is 90% political and only 10% technical.
Finally, Christina Wheeler wrapped up the session with a spirited, if challenged talk on packaging Branding elements with Visual Studio. I have done extensive work with both branding and with solution packaging, but oddly, have never put the two together. I certainly will in the future. Christina was badly ill with bronchitis, and had to battle a possessed projection system, but did so without ever losing her sense of humour. I didn’t know Christina before attending, but will certainly seek her out in the future.
The best part of SPC is of course the networking events, of which there were several every night. Even though the big Disney night was a letdown in my opinion, the people more than made up for it. I left the conference knowing much more than I did going in, rekindled some (very!) old friendships and started a few new ones. Overall, a great conference.
Now the countdown begins to SPC 2012!!!!