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Jeremy Jameson - Founder and Principal

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Always create installation guides for predictable and repeatable deployments

An important deliverable on most projects I work on is some form of installation or deployment guide. For example, I typically provide clients with a document that details the step-by-step process of installing and configuring SharePoint Server 2010 based on their specific needs. Many projects involve multiple installation guides (for example, an installation guide for the initial release of a solution, followed by some sort of "upgrade" guide for subsequent releases).

Unfortunately, I've also been involved in some projects where environments are built with little or no documentation (despite strong objections on my part). For example, on the last project I worked on before I left Microsoft, the customer's Development/IT teams built the various SharePoint VMs with multiple instances of SQL Server installed locally and what seemed like every SharePoint service enabled (at least that was the case on the VMs I had access to). Those development VMs were excruciatingly slow at times and I finally ended up disabling a bunch of "junk" on the VM assigned to me (e.g. extraneous SQL Server instances and SharePoint services) just so I could get my work done.

On a related topic, I'm not sure whose idea it was at Microsoft to have the checkboxes for every service in the Farm Configuration Wizard be checked by default. If I had been a member of the SharePoint product group, I would have vehemently fought against that default configuration. While I agree the Farm Configuration Wizard is useful for some scenarios (e.g. demo environments and for small organizations that want to get up-and-running with minimal effort), I still think it would have been much smarter to leave all of the checkboxes cleared by default.

Wouldn't that also have been more inline with Microsoft's shift to provide a minimal attack surface with the out-of-the-box configuration? I suppose one could argue that since most of the SharePoint services are disabled by default, you can't blame Microsoft if you mistakenly click through the Farm Configuration Wizard and accidentally enable all 15 services (make that 14, as I was just counting them, I realized the Lotus Notes Connector checkbox is not checked by default.)

Note that much of the content in the installation guides that I provide is included on TechNet. For example, the following section of TechNet provides step-by-step procedures for installing SharePoint Server 2010 in various scenarios:

Deployment scenarios (SharePoint Server 2010)

Consequently you might be tempted to simply reference a few dozen TechNet URLs in your installation guide and call it done. However I strongly recommend against that for a number of reasons. First, the TechNet documentation is not always correct. After all, this documentation is created by people and everyone makes mistakes -- which leads to the second point. If you simply reference the content on TechNet, how do you know when it has changed (either to fix mistakes or when new content has been added)?

While you typically want to include updates and corrections in your installation process, you need to make sure this is done according to your change management process -- not Microsoft's. This will help ensure that all of your environments are built and configured in a consistent manner.

In my next post, I will provide a sample installation guide for an extranet solution based on SharePoint Server 2010 and Office Web Apps.

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