Two Key Roles and Requirements for SharePoint Farm Administration

Written by Kathryn Birstein. Posted in Administration & Infrastructure

Since Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is an application platform, not just an application, maintaining and managing a SharePoint farm requires many skills. The level of complexity is comparable to SAP, although SharePoint does much more than SAP. The required skills are so broad it’s almost impossible to find them in one person. However, most of what’s required can be found in two roles: System Administrator and SharePoint Development Leader (in many environments, some parts of the System Administrator role can be handled by standard server operation procedures (anti-virus, firewall, etc.).

SHAREPOINT SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR:

The System Administrator role in a SharePoint farm is very broad since it requires knowledge of both SQL Server and Windows Server. Many companies therefore look to their SQL Server DBAs to take on the role of SharePoint System Administrator since SharePoint stores all of its data in SQL Server databases.

However, the Windows Server knowledge required to build and maintain a SharePoint farm is considerable, and DBAs may not have the time or desire to acquire this knowledge. Therefore, the System Administrator role is often split between two people who work closely together: a Windows Server administrator and a SQL Server DBA.

The DBA skills required are the standard set required for any SQL Server database (backups and restores, log shipping, creating logins, monitoring performance, etc.) but the features of Windows Server that a SharePoint Administrator needs to have some knowledge of include:

  • IIS Manager and IIS 6/7 architecture
  • Server Manager and its functionality
  • Active Directory (including LDAP queries)
  • DNS
  • SMTP
  • Network Load Balancing (NLB)
  • Windows Firewall
  • Event Viewer and Performance Monitor
  • Powershell scripting

The SharePoint Administrator should also have a broad knowledge of Windows networking and authentication, particularly Kerberos. They should also be comfortable with using a variety of utilities such as Network Monitor 3.2, Fiddler, LDAP browsers, KLIST, ADSIEdit, etc. and know how to troubleshoot network connection and authentication problems.

The SharePoint Administrator also needs to acquire knowledge of the the SharePoint farm architecture and installation process and be capable of rebuilding the farm quickly. He or she also needs to be familiar with all the functionality of the “Central Administration” web application and the STSADM.EXE commands (some functionality is only available in STSADM) as well as the Shared Services functions, including managed properties, content sources, crawling, profiles, etc., and how it interfaces with the other parts of the farm.

The administrator should monitor the Event Viewer, Performance Monitor and SharePoint logs for any problems and be prepared to troubleshoot any problems. A Microsoft support contract of some sort is a must because issues will inevitably arise that are unique to your environment and therefore impossible to anticipate.

Monitoring of disk space, backups and other repetitive tasks can be handled by operational staff or with Powershell scripts written by the SharePoint Administrator (Powershell 2.0 has many SharePoint specific cmdlets and will be the primary admin tool for SharePoint 2010, replacing STSADM).

Although the system administrator need not be aware of all the myriad details of SharePoint functionality, he or she needs to understand SharePoint security and web application/site collection/subsite structure well and understand the problematic issues related to these features (i.e., security is held at the site collection level, web applications should be no more than 100 GBs because of backup/restore issues, etc.). A good understanding of how SharePoint interfaces with Office 2007/2003 is also critical. Since SharePoint is such a dynamic product, system administrators should also be prepared to follow the important SharePoint blogs to keep up with cumulative updates and service packs, new TechNet advisories, useful vendor add-on products, etc.

Finally, it’s important to note that the SharePoint Administrator is dependent on the assistance of many other parts of the IT infrastructure:

Incoming and Outgoing Email
Profile Imports   
Kerberos authentication   
Network Load Balancing (NLB)   
Alternate Access Mappings
Anti-Virus, Windows Updates, SAN backups, etc
Farm hardware health
SharePoint farm performance

Exchange and DNS
Active Directory
Active Directory (SPNs)
DNS
DNS
Operations Personnel
Operations Personnel
Network Personnel

SharePoint System Administration, therefore, is very much a team effort.

SHAREPOINT DEVELOPMENT LEADER:

Inevitably there will be parts of SharePoint that need to be changed to meet business requirements, so custom programming is almost always required. Fortunately, since SharePoint is at heart simply a ASP.NET web application, it is highly customizable. Along with a good understanding of ASP.NET, Javascript (especially the JQuery library), CSS and XSLT, the SharePoint Development Leader needs to have a good understanding of SharePoint architectecture and a thorough knowledge of SharePoint security. He or she must understand the details of SharePoint “solutions” and “features” and insist that all development is deployed according to SharePoint solution rules.

The Development Leader also needs to understand the special elements of SharePoint sites: Site Templates, Master Pages, Style Libraries, Web Part libraries, the importance of Core.js, etc. and where these elements are maintained on the farm servers. They should also have a good knowledge of IIS and the applicationhost.config, web.config and machine.config settings and their impact on SharePoint web applications.

The Development Leader should also be familiar with the web parts and delegate controls that come out-of-the-box with SharePoint and how to modify them. Depending on what features of SharePoint are in use, they may need to acquire specific skills. For instance, some companies make extensive use of InfoPath forms which involves an understanding of the InfoPath program, the limitations of browser enabled forms and the various ways to deploy InfoPath documents to SharePoint.

However, the real key to SharePoint development is to understand the out-of-the-box functionality and SharePoint web services well enough so that you don’t program something SharePoint does natively. Ideally, SharePoint development should consist mainly of tweaking functionality that is already there. Therefore, the successful Development Leader determines how to accomplish project requirements with the least amount of programming. In addition, he or she must also determine how to best accomplish the goal. Is a feature required or will a web part fit the bill? Is a custom site template required? Should custom content types be created? Is there a SharePoint web service that provides the needed functionality? And so on.

Finally, the Development Leader also must have a good knowledge of Central Administration and STSADM.EXE, especially the Search and Profile functionality, and should work closely with the System Administrator,  who should be fully aware of all custom development projects and have an opportunity to test them in an a QA environment before they are added to a production farm. The Development Leader should also act as a backup to the SharePoint System Administrator.

Kathryn Birstein
Author: Kathryn BirsteinWebsite: http://www.linkedin.com/in/kbirstein
Kathryn is a SharePoint Architect who has been working with Microsoft technologies for 20+ years and SharePoint for the past six. She has consulted with many companies incl. JPMorgan Chase, UBS, the Federal Reserve Bank, the NYPA & Alliance Bernstein.

Comments   

 
# Manish 2013-02-16 13:02
Quite well written article which covers lot of skills requiring on SharePoint.. Farm admin is really a jack of all trades :)
Manish
http://manish-sharepoint.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/how-to-learn-sharepoint-2010.html
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# rfarqleet 2010-04-19 04:18
Hi,

I completely agree with all that here is told
Your blog about this "Two Key Roles and Requirements for SharePoint Farm Administration" helped me a lot.

Thank you!

http://www.xavor.com/whatwedo/solutions/xavorsharepointadmintools.aspx
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# Eugene Rosenfeld 2010-02-23 11:24
Good post. I agree with Michael. Larger orgs will definitely split out the roles more. Typically, the first two roles to get split out (after the SQL) are the AD / DNS and Mail / SMTP.
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# Mauricio 2010-02-23 08:00
Really a good point well presented!
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# Michael Bierly 2010-02-22 19:46
good article. I have actually seen the admin role split across multiple people/groups in larger corps, but it is a pretty representative list of what is required in keeping SharePoint running. I have been lucky to do dev and admin and honestly, the admin part is quite daunting because of all the pieces it touches (unless split across groups as mentioned above).

I actually like the idea of the ping and pipe (up to and including Windows server), being split along with the heavy SQL lifting and letting the SharePoint admin focus on the SharePoint piece, though free to interact with the ping and pipe and SQL teams where necessary... but again that is in a larger org. In a small one person shop, just climb on and enjoy the ride :-) ... and learn to search the net
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# Jeff Jones 2010-01-31 12:35
The myriad of skills need can be daunting but your description is very accurate and complete Kathryn.

I've been doing SP admin for 7 years now and have learned a tremendous amount about other related systems. It's great experience but requires an open mind willing to learn about MUCH more than just SharePoint.

I might add active Monitoring to the above. URLs, HTTP logs, Event logs, SCOM, whatever you can. This provides faster pro-active responses instead of waiting for help desk tickets and allows the admin to become deeply aware of the system. I even wrote a utility (EventCombCSV) at http://comb.codeplex.com/ to help with this effort by proving a daily digest email.

Best,
@spjeff
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