SharePoint has been around for the last decade in various forms, from a simple document repository for sharing to the super version we now have for On-Premises, to the Cloud version in Office 365. SharePoint as a core product has grown over time to accommodate business organizations, to consolidate services and components. The core idea historically was that SharePoint would be the “big daddy” of platforms, and you would never need to use anything else again. Though this to some extent has come to fruition, SharePoint still doesn’t do everything, and if you actually look at the Office 365 Infrastructure, SharePoint is being broken down to its core components to facilitate better performance and scale. For me this is a great thing, as for those of us using On-Premises versions we get the added benefits of this as future versions and updates are released.
Now for those of you that have implemented SharePoint or manage a SharePoint Solution, you have probably come to realize that one size does not fit all, and once it is being used it can grow significantly touching every area of your organization. This is why for me SharePoint gets added to the list of products that can be called an “Organic IT Platform”.
To understand this lets first understand what we mean by “Organic IT Platforms”. The idea behind this type of solution, is that the software or solution, grows almost exponentially based on users, content, scalability, performance and of course the business to the value. Sound familiar?
A few years ago the term “Organic Computing” was coined which refers to the idea of creating computer systems that are inspired by biology and organic properties. If we look at SharePoint, then truly it does match the idea of being “Organic” in nature. To see this focus on the core infrastructure.
Most platforms that a business would implement, tend to be very well defined, as far as servers and storage requirements. SharePoint on the other hand has many types of architectures to support the ever increasing customer solutions that are being built and needed. By now we will know that most SharePoint Environments tend to sit in the small to medium design, which based on Microsoft’s own documentation could be anyone of the following designs, or higher if needed.
Even though we have these diagrams from Microsoft (some have called these “Marketecture Diagrams”), one size does not fit all business. In fact if we really look at the designs, they don’t always work well, and in reality are not designed to be the “one-size” fits all. Too often choosing what we think is the best design can actually be the wrong one for your business needs. Deploying the right architecture can actually be a lot harder than just looking at the picture and making it happen. This problem arises because of journey SharePoint has taken to become the platform it is today. Each new version brings extra capabilities, as well as introducing architectural and design considerations that are different from the last one. Designing the right infrastructure, should be a well thought out process, based on your needs as a business and not just a “quick let’s deploy X topology” and we are good. The best rule to go with is that a SharePoint Farms always require some element of flexibility in the design and running.
The interesting thing here though, is that most diagrams for the core infrastructure designs do not include the rest of the infrastructure. Now you may wonder, “well I have all the SharePoint Servers listed, what else is there?”, if that is the case then we need to widen the diagrams a little, as SharePoint is kind of like an octopus with long tentacles that reach out beyond just the core platform.
So if we now look at any of the SharePoint Infrastructure designs we now need to add extra components, which would normally be outside of the remit of a product like SharePoint.
As you can see SharePoint potentially has requirements to interact with more than just the SharePoint Servers. This squarely makes SharePoint an Organic IT Platform as it reaches beyond the base services, in order to facilitate its purpose. In actual fact what is excluded from this diagram is any extra “line of business” applications and data connections that SharePoint will consume through its Business Intelligence components.
SharePoint truly has become more than the original document collaboration solution it originally was, now it has become the center of an IT Infrastructures, with everything either interacting, consumed by or presented through it. For us IT Professionals this means we can no longer just deploy it and hope it just does its thing. Careful planning and design is now needed to ensure it is deployed correctly, and does not just organically grow because a departments needs it to do XYZ, or the solution now needs to interact with other systems.
Better planning and design will help us as IT Professionals to ensure that SharePoint though organic in nature is controlled in a way that facilitate great end user usage and management.