Tuesday, 16 April 2013

#spevo13 Day one round up @spevo13

Sessions attended

What’s new for IT Pros in SharePoint 2013

Useful session covering a wide range of the new stuff in SP 2013. Highlights for me:
  • Shock horror SP2013 needs more RAM 
  • Custom notifications for scheduled maintenance etc. promote themselves to the status bar area in the browser 
  • Self-service site creation can be locked down to the site level and fix it to particular templates 
  • Preview 2013 sites from 2010 point of view 
  • SharePoint machine-based translation services translates documents, pages or entire sites 
  • Cloud-based translation services 
  • Upload a document, translate it, index/search it in any language 
  • Work management service for aggregating tasks across multiple environments: SP, Exchange, Project server, Lync (and anything else you hook into it) 
  • Sparse columns mitigate against reserved column space for zeros and null values - should REALLY assist 

Harnessing SharePoint’s Data Access Technologies

Todd Bleeker gave a great overview of the Deprecated (but still really useful) data access technologies used in SharePoint and some useful pointers regarding the core technology mix for SP2013 and future versions of SharePoint.

The main message was that we’ll still all be having to refer back to deprecated methods for a while yet, not least because the new _api way of accessing SharePoint RESTful services is still without service documentation, so unlike the SP2007/2010 asmx services where you could plug them into Visual Studio and have it list out method calls etc., with the new _api route in SP2013 you are very much shooting blind, which of course will have a knock-on effect for development times.

He spoke a bit about how to extend use of existing asmx services with Marc Anderson’s SPServices (and of course Marc is already looking at whether or not to progress this across to the new _api RESTful model in SP2013), which was useful for anyone in the room not already aware of how you can really improve your use of SharePoint without having to write server-side code.

That was probably the biggest take-away for me – we will all need to be focusing our development skills on the platform agnostic, client-side languages, like JavaScript and combining it with the RESTful service endpoints available in SharePoint 2013. That should be our primary focus when approaching a new development project, not least because more and more clients will be moving to off-premise SharePoint hosting (because as server requirements balloon with each new version of SharePoint and storage needs expand, the argument for on-prem gets harder to make) and in that environment you can forget server code altogether. If you can’t make it work with REST then drop back to CSOM/JSOM and as a ‘final resort’ drop to server OM.

Really, this shouldn’t be much of a shock to anyone who has been doing SharePoint dev for a while. The server OM, whilst relatively stable, has always been a bit of a clunky option to deploy to, maintain and support (I should know, I do far more with state-machine workflows than is healthy). Meanwhile the asmx services were a signal to the new RESTful direction and you can see that Microsoft are going to preference the whole ‘O’ arena (OData, OAuth) going forwards.

Combine knowledge of REST and JavaScript (and its key extension technologies like JQuery, Knockout, SPServices, etc.) with a spot of MVC and WCF for running your own data endpoints to combine with the SharePoint native endpoints.

Workflows with Visual Studio 2012, workflow manager and web services

Andrew Connell’s excellent session was only marred slightly by the failing WiFi at the venue. He ploughed through the technical difficulties with aplomb and still managed to conduct us through the new model of declarative-only workflows in VS 2012/SP 2013, which looks to be powerful and easy to use for the rapid production of complex state-based or sequential workflows.

The first thing to recognise with workflows in SP2013 is that there are substantial infrastructure level changes with the introduction of Workflow Manager 1.0. This is an excellent step forwards and in my opinion this, in conjunction with the new declarative model for workflow development, will mean that workflow (perhaps coupled with search) is the biggest area of positive change in SP2013.

Setup of WFM 1.0 is pretty straightforward, just install that, Service bus and a few CUs and you’re good to go.

Once you’re up and running the VS experience is neat and straightforward. Producing initiation and association forms is leagues apart from previous workflow dev and no, you don’t even need to mess around with correlation tokens and Guids any more.

Rather than cracking open workflow1.cs as we’re all used to, the pure declarative model in SP2013 means no code whatsoever. Let me repeat that, no code in the workflow layer AT ALL. Any code must be abstracted out as a separate business process layer within a workflow (Todd Bleeker’s insistence that we learn WCF pays off again!) and referenced as a web service call. This might sound like a disadvantage, but what it actually does is keep the workflow much more maintainable and focuses workflow development on the workflow, rather than on other business logic areas.

You no longer declare properties or fields, you specify variables or, in the case of custom activity development arguments that can be in/out, and declare how they will change or be updated as the workflow progresses.

It’s now very easy to log the activity of your workflow (to a console app listening to the workflow running in WFM 1.0, for example) and to report its status to the users interacting with it ‘SetUserStatus’ looks to become a staple ‘call out’ for most workflows.

You can also easily (though with one gotcha relating to button generation that I’m sure will be fixed soon) set custom task outcome options and in general the task generation and form association development model is leagues ahead of what we’re used to in SP WF development.

I’ll be writing more posts on WF development in the coming weeks and will be doing a series on ‘you used to do X, now you do Y’ type transition posts from SP2007/10 to SP2013 WF development.

Building the On premise app service

Steve Smith gave us a useful overview of the centrality of the new App model to SharePoint 2013 (virtually every out of the box feature is deployed as an app in SP2013, doc libraries, lists, etc.) and how to build your own App Service, link it to your SharePoint env and add apps.

I’m not going to go into great detail about it here (probably the subject of a new blog post later) but Steve outlined a ten step programme for getting from no app management service to adding your first app to the newly setup app management service.

One of the more interesting parts of the app management service is that it will not only host SharePoint apps but office apps as well. In my environment I already have to deploy office plugins to end users and if they were able to more easily self-manage this through the app management service that could relieve an onerous activity on my part and get them what they need faster and in a more targeted fashion (you can set permissions on a per-app basis to control who can see what). The app catalogue even has the concept of ‘featured apps’ so that your organisation can pick out the things that will help people the most.

Assessing Customer Environments: Preparing to Upgrade or Migrate to SharePoint 2010/2013/365

This was an ‘overview’ type session with some useful info on the common pitfalls encountered when assessing upgrade routes for SharePoint. There are some things that just aren’t possible with SP2013 (no in-place upgrade, as we all know) and others that are new, but not particularly well served (no automatic tool for migrating to Office365, for instance).

The main message was a pretty simple one: there’s no one size fits all solution, you will need a strong business case for the upgrade (because it will involve significant cost) and you’ll need to make sure you’ve investigated all of your options before making the leap, wherever your aiming for.

Dodgy WiFi

Whilst the conference venue and session content has been excellent so far, the WiFi has not. The venues’ facilities in this respect clearly are not up to scratch when it comes to coping with a techie conference and it has materially affected a couple of the sessions I’ve attended (not least Andrew Connell’s excellent session on VS workflow development)


Good networking to be had at SharePint and the exhibitors reception beforehand. The conference party tomorrow night promises to be something pretty special, more on that tomorrow!

What's on the board for Tuesday

I'll be attending the following sessions:
  • The Power that is Powershell 
  • Taking your information architecture in a new direction with SP2013 
  • Upgrading, deploying and scaling out SharePoint search 
  • BI with SharePoint 2013/Office365 and Excel 2013 
  • Solving Enterprise search challenges with SharePoint 

- rob