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SPSUK 2011 BI Dashboards Presentation

December 3, 2011 2 comments

Its been a long time since my last blog post – too long.  Something that kept me busy of the past few months was SharePoint Saturday UK which I organised along with my buddies @WorTony and @Brettlonsdale.  This was a fantastic event and we had some amazing feedback.  Look out for more SharePoint Saturday and SharePoint User Group UK meetings in the New Year!

I also gave a session at the SPSUK event on a Business Intelligence case study of a project which has also kept me busy this year. This project was to deliver a prototype BI solution for TAFE Queensland using the Microsoft BI stack.  This was an extremely challenging but exciting project, and the aim of the presentation was to share my project experience and highlight some of the lessons learned.  I also demonstrated how to construct some reports from Excel when connected to an OLAP Cube, and also some of the PerformancePoint dashboards we delivered as part of the prototype.

My slides are available on SlideShare for your reference.  Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

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Categories: Uncategorized

SharePoint Best Practices Conference – Football Tournament

March 24, 2011 3 comments

That’s ‘soccer’ to North Americans and Australasians Smile

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Yes, that’s right, I have decided to organise the traditional curtain raiser for the European Best Practices Conference – a five-a-side football tournament.  Game On!

The general idea is to bring together as many conference attendees, speakers and organisers together for a fun afternoon to catch up, play some football or simply spectate and grab a beer from the bar.  Many people will be travelling on Sunday from all over the world to meet at THE No1 SharePoint Conference, and this is a great way to meet up and literally ‘kick-off’ the week.

Here are the details:

Venue

Powerleague London City – 5-a-side pitch, all weather outdoor, bar on site (nice).  It is located between Old Street and Liverpool Street tube stations (about 10 minute walk from either).

Date/Time

Sunday 10th April, 4pm-6pm

Teams:

Last years ‘World Cup’ didn’t pan out to well thanks to the infamous Ash Cloud, and I have decided this year will be more of a Wacky Races style event with teams as follows:

– Combined Knowledge

– Lightning Tools

– Team US

– Team UK

– Team Rest of the World

Players:

I currently have a list of approximately 15 people who have expressed a wish to play.  If you do wish to play, please get in touch ASAP via email (mark@id-live.com) or Twitter (@m_macrae) or via a comment on this post.

I will contact all players shortly to inform them of kit requirements etc.

Spectators:

The more the merrier – just turn up if you can make it.

Sponsorship:

Obviously none of this comes for free.  Currently my organisation Intelligent Decisioning Ltd are sponsoring the pitch hire, but if anyone would be interested in sponsoring the SharePint afterwards for example, please let me know.

Ethos:

HAVE FUN Smile

Categories: Uncategorized

Importing CRM 4.0 Organisation Fails while Adding Users

February 16, 2011 3 comments

Every now and again I’ll get stuck on a problem and it will consume me for days.  In these situations, there are scraps of information on the InterWebs but not quite that killer blog post which nails your problem.  Well I’m hoping this is going to save some others a few days of madness…

Scenario

You are attempting to import a CRM 4.0 organisation from one deployment to another. In my case, I was trying to import a copy of my production organisation into UAT.  During the import, the process fails with the following error in the import log:

10:55:16|  Error| Failed to add user using the DistinguishedName = CN=test test,OU=Test Users,OU=Restricted,DC=XXX,DC=local, Account Name = XXX\testSystem.Reflection.TargetInvocationException: Exception has been thrown by the target of an invocation. —> System.DirectoryServices.DirectoryServicesCOMException (0x80072035): The server is unwilling to process the request. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80072035)
   …
10:55:16|  Error| An error occurred when populating Microsoft CRM user groups. Ensure that CRM user accounts are accessible from the current domain and run the wizard again.System.Reflection.TargetInvocationException: Exception has been thrown by the target of an invocation. —> System.DirectoryServices.DirectoryServicesCOMException (0x80072035): The server is unwilling to process the request. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80072035)
  

Checks:

I was pretty confident this was a permissions issue on Active Directory due to the ‘System.DirectoryServices’ signatures in the error.  However the following checked out to be true:

– Account running the Import had rights on the destination OU and subsequent security containers to create objects (users) for the new deployment.  I double checked by running AD Users & Computers on the CRM Server as the account I used to run the import.  I then manually created some user accounts inside the CRM Security Groups e.g UserGroup_GUID

– Both source and destination deployments were on the same RollUp (Rollup 8 in this case).

 

Solution:

So the AD security all checks out.  Why on earth was the import failing??? During my frantic Googling, I came across a comment which suggested that the account used to run the Import MUST be in the same Domain as where the CRM deployment is based! 

My account wasn’t! This may sound strange, but the reason was that the CRM deployments originally lived inside the LONDON domain.  The production deployment was moved to a SWISS domain, but the CRM Users remained in the LONDON domain, including the CRM Admin user.  This was the guy I was using to run my failed import to UAT.  The domains were trusted both ways, and as I mentioned above, I had no problem manually adding users into the UAT security groups?

However, when I ran the import wizard using an authorised user account native to the UAT deployment’s domain, hey presto – the import was SUCCESSFUL!

I still do not understand why this matters, however I hope the solution helps someone out there one day!

Categories: Uncategorized

SharePoint 2010 BI Tools Round Up

November 26, 2010 2 comments

Recently I have given a presentation on the Business Intelligence tools available for SharePoint 2010 and its related infrastructure (e.g. SSRS).

I delivered this session at the inaugural SharePoint Saturday UK event which I also co-organised earlier this year.  Also more recently, I delivered this at the SharePoint User Group in Cambridge.

The key points I try to get across to the audience are as follows:

– All Business Intelligence tools built into SharePoint are only available with Enterprise CALs BUT its still a far cheaper alternative to the other big players. 

– For non Enterprise and even Foundation users, SQL Reporting Services (SSRS) is your friend.  If you have a Standard SQL 2008 R2 licence, make the most of SSRS to deliver dashboards, reporting and geo-spatial mapping.  You even have a top quality report authoring tool in Report Builder, and all your content can be managed like any other document (workflow, versioning etc).

– Again for the non-enterprise, take a look at the Google/Bing APIs for charting and mapping. 

– Lots of tools to solve quick (tactical) problems for BI in SharePoint such as the Chart Web Part, Status Lists

– Use PerformancePoint when you have OLAP Cubes as your data source.  It is the best tool for ‘exploratory’ reporting.

My presentation slides can be found on slideshare here: Business-Intelligence-Armoury-Whats-the-Best-Tool-for-the-Job

Enjoy! 

Categories: Uncategorized

Is a Single Server Sufficient for a SharePoint Deployment?

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Most people would instantly answer “NO!” to this question, however the true answer is “It Depends!”.

At the SharePoint User Group UK meeting on September 22nd 2010, I delivered this presentation on the subject, covering many of the considerations when planning a new SharePoint Deployment. 

Despite low attendance, everyone chipped in with their experiences and it was one of the most enjoyable sessions I have ever conducted.

My presentation is viewable here on SlideShare

Categories: Uncategorized

What Future for ProClarity Analytics?

September 14, 2010 5 comments

So PerformancePoint Services within SharePoint 2010 has brought across more views and features from the ProClarity Analytics Server (PAS) application, including the trademark Decomposition Tree in a new stylish Silverlight front end great!

But what about the remaining ProClarity features and views? Can you continue to run PAS after upgrading/moving to SharePoint 2010? When does support for PAS retire? Can any existing PAS views/reports be migrated over to PerformancePoint Services 2010?

All of the above, burning questions in my head and through much resourcing, and conversations with Microsoft PPS Product Team and Technical Advisory Service, I thought I would consolidate and share the information I have and the deductions I made from it…

Background

ProClarity Corp was acquired in 2006 by Microsoft to help accelerate Microsoft’s position in the Business Intelligence space.

The ProClarity Suite of products comprises the following:

Component Description
ProClarity Analytics Server (PAS) Server component which stores authored reports/dashboards, controls connections to data sources and renders dashboards.
ProClarity Dashboard Server Additional server component to store and control the dashboard design and layout.
ProClarity Dashboard Studio Client tool used to author dashboard designs and import views from PAS.
KPI Designer Add on to PAS which allows authors to create KPIs directly in PAS using a wizard driven environment.
ProClarity Desktop Rich client desktop authoring tool.
ProClarity Web Professional Thin client web based authoring tool.
ProClarity SharePoint Viewer A SharePoint web part for displaying views direct from PAS.

Microsoft Support for the ProClarity Suite

There is a firm support timeframe for version 6.3 of the ProClarity suite of software available at the Microsoft Support Website. This basically provides clear dates for end of support:

Mainstream Support Retires: 10/07/2012

Extended Support Retires: 10/07/2017

Support for ProClarity in a SharePoint 2010 Farm

ProClarity is a separate product from SharePoint and PerformancePoint Services, with an entirely different architecture.  So much so, that ProClarity remains a 32-bit application only, whereas its posh offspring is now 64-bit only.

However, IIS7 supports a mix of 32-bit & 64-bit web applications on the same Web Server, and Microsoft supports having ProClarity installed on your SP2010 Web Servers – but is this wise?

In my view, if you wish to keep ProClarity Analytics Server running alongside your SharePoint 2010 Farm in order to access the features and richer designer plus your existing PAS content, you should keep PAS running on its own WFE server and well away from your SharePoint WFEs.  My reasons for this are as follows:

1. Microsoft advises this 

2. Treat ProClarity as if it were another substantial SharePoint Service Application.  It will consume resources, so scale out, and place this on its own server.

3. There are a number of configuration changes required to get the 32-bit ProClarity web server to run alongside your 64-bit SharePoint web applications.  Obviously you do not need to make risky changes to your farm if this thing gets pushed out to its own server.

Migration Path for PAS Content

There is currently no migration path for PAS content to PerformancePoint 2010. There are also no publicised plans to create this migration path. Therefore, when mainstream support expires in 2012, you would be left with a set of views/reports/dashboards with only an unsupported product to view them through and maintain them, and with no way of moving them off here other than manually recreating in PerformancePoint where possible.

In Summary

In light of the above, my advice would be to only persist with installing/configuring ProClarity alongside your SharePoint 2010 farm if you already have legacy ProClarity dashboards/views and you wish to continue to support these. 

I would advise against using ProClarity because of a business need to use a view which doesn’t exist in PerformancePoint.  It is likely that the view can be created using one of the other tools at your disposal e.g. Visio Services, SSRS, Excel Services…

If you do continue to use and create ProClarity views, just be aware that in under two years time, you could be unsupported and with no way of escaping it!

Categories: Uncategorized

Dedicated SharePoint Installation Account

September 10, 2010 1 comment

The conversation about installing SharePoint Server using a dedicated installation account, and the principle of ‘least privileges’ is not a new one and I refer to an article written by Spence Harbar many moons ago which still applies today.

However I still come across many situations where a dedicated install account is never considered, and (more worryingly) even quite a few situations where installing using the Farm Account (also known as the DBA Account) is considered!

You should absolutely 100% NOT be installing SharePoint using the Farm account or any other service account, for the following reasons:

– It’s a service account and therefore should not have any logon rights at all.

– It should only have the permissions assigned to it by the configuration wizard.  None should be assigned manually before or after.

The Dedicated SharePoint Installation Account

A dedicated account should be used to Install SharePoint and any Service Packs/Hotfixes, run the Configuration Wizard, and run any STSADM/Powershell scripts on the farm.  This is because:

1) It is granted the highest permissions of any of the SharePoint server accounts, and you don’t want these privileges assigned to your service accounts:

Local Administrator on each SharePoint Server

SQL Server Roles: dbcreate + securityadmin

2) It has no influence on the running of the farm so if it gets locked out (because someone keyed in the test farm password three times for example) it has zero consequence.  It is even recommended it is disabled when not in use.

3) It also keeps things nice and tidy and prevents giving high permissions to Tom Cobley and all to perform farm admin. Yes, you may not be able to identify culprits who make mistakes, but you shouldn’t be giving this account out on a whim either.

This hangs over from MOSS 2007 and the best practise is pretty much identical.  Yes, there is a known bug with the User Profile service where admin rights must be temporarily raised on the farm account (but then rescinded), but this is no reason to do run any of the installation as MOSS Farm!

The only exception is when configuring a DEV machine, but if you train bad habits you’ll end up executing them for real!

Categories: Uncategorized