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  By Geoff Evelyn, SharePoint MVP and owner of SharePointGeoff.com.

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

As the seasonal period quickly approaches, the discussions concerning what happens to supporting SharePoint over the holiday either approaches, or has been covered, or even assumed.

The Christmas period is of course where your SharePoint sponsors are more likely to show a little more concern than normal about how their SharePoint platforms are going to be monitored over the period.

So then, let’s remind ourselves of the holiday period in question - basically, the days that will relate to anyone, is the week of Christmas starting from the 23rd through to the 28th. There are two days pretty much important to us guys in the UK over the seasonal period, especially in Scotland - Christmas Day and New Years day. Then there is Boxing Day when it’s likely that you would be relaxing in front of the telly, or sledging, or skiing - using that day to wind down after the Christmas day madness. Then there's the two days after Boxing Day, the 26th and the 27th, where relaxation, relief and playing with the various presents, and getting stuck in to food :)

So that means that over the period you are likely to do over those two days, probably a combination of one or more of the following not be in the Office, switch off the mobile, inform people you are not available?

So chances are, that on the days in question, you will be chilling out, and possibly even like me having a choice Mince pie, a Glass of port (or more - like Rum)...

But this is not about what you will be doing over those periods away from the office. It is about how you are going to support SharePoint, isn't it?

First, let’s consider the available types of support:

· On Premise SharePoint Support / IT Support combined / Outsourced

· Off-Premise Office 365 Microsoft provisioned Support

· Third party product support

 

Throwing caution to the wind

My dad once said to me when I was a lot younger that in order for Santa Claus to know what present I would like, that I should write a letter, and throw it into the wind when it was blowing north, so that the letter would reach the north pole.

Of course, by doing that I eventually realized that the letter would not get there, unless my dad without me seeing ran like the clappers to retrieve the letter once I threw it out of the window.

Clearly, I was throwing caution to the wind, assuming things would happen - luckily for me, most of the times when I did throw that letter, things would work out - but only because there was a contingency - my dad, running like the clappers.

This relates in a way to the lack of responsibility those charged with SharePoint management judge the level of the support needed to ensure the availability of SharePoint services over an important period, like Christmas! There is not enough preparation carried out preceding the Christmas period by some organizations, to ensure that there is adequate coverage of SharePoint support. In some organizations, instead, there is a laissez faire approach, by simply throwing caution to the wind. Or, worse still, their IT support departments will not think to include SharePoint as system that should be monitored, and instead not including those with basic knowledge of SharePoint on the support desk.

Take this real scenario which happened a while back. Fictional company used though, however, if their now SharePoint support individuals are reading this article, they will definitely remember this event!

Five days leading up to Christmas day. Fabrikam has an IT Support department, and a number of individuals who are tasked solely with looking after SharePoint, called 'SharePoint Admins'. These SharePoint Admins look after the platform solely, there are no monitoring systems in place except for the server monitoring systems (alarm bells ringing already - no pun intended). A member of IT Support asks what the SharePoint Administrators will be doing on Christmas day.

"We won't be around, that's for sure..." ... "SharePoint looks after it’self" - pipped the SharePoint Administrators. "We will just take a peek at midday to make sure all is well".

IT Support reports this discussion to the IT Support Manager. The IT Support Manager waves his arm saying 'that's not a problem, we have IT Support people on the desk who know a little of SharePoint, nothing can really go wrong'.

Over the next 4 days, no more is mentioned as the company 'winds down'. On the 23rd of December, the CEO puts a Christmas message to the communication team who then puts the message in an announcement list on the Fabrikam SharePoint Extranet.

Christmas Day. At 9.30am that day, the CEO of the company, with his family in the Seychelles, decides to show a friend the message that was put on the SharePoint Portal on the 23rd. When attempting to display the announcement, the web page displays an error. Concerned, he raises a call into IT Support. IT Support try to get hold of the SharePoint Administrator, who has switched off his mobile because he is at the top of the hill where he lives, sledging. The CEO asks whether there is anyone else who can help, but IT Support have no knowledge of anyone and neither do they have any other contact number for the SharePoint Administrator.

The SharePoint Administrator calls in at midday to find chaos. The CEO is fuming because he has no idea whether anyone saw the announcement, and even if they tried saw the error which was embarrassing. IT Support have stated to the CEO that they do not know how to fix the problem, which is embarrassing. And, guess what, the SharePoint Administrator, who fixes the issue in minutes finds that the rest of his day is spent building confidence with the CEO and IT Support - he is embarrassed.

That SharePoint Admin threw caution to the wind. And in doing so, assumed the following:

1: No one will care whether SharePoint is available or not

2: The SharePoint Admins does not care whether SharePoint is available or not

3: The SharePoint Admins assumed that the problem will 'fix it’self'

4: The SharePoint Admins assumed that they will eventually be told or will find out themselves that there is a problem, and that no one will moan when they do, or how long it takes to correct the problem.

5: That if a problem occurs where SharePoint is not available that there is no financial impact or otherwise

 

Preparing for Christmas

You must prepare your SharePoint environment to be supported over the Christmas period. This is just like preparing for Christmas it’self. Doing things like putting up a Christmas tree, carefully putting up decorations without falling off ladders, writing Christmas cards, posting them, wrapping presents (carefully) without getting the sellotape stuck on the wrong part of the wrapping paper and making a mess. You put effort into doing all of that because you want to make others comfortable and yourself prepared. Therefore, there is no difference when it comes to SharePoint support.

There are a nine things you could put in place, so that you can ensure that SharePoint is supported over the Christmas period:

· Make it clear the days when there will be SharePoint cover over the period. When on holiday, for example, ensure that there is phone contacts and that is communicated to IT Support and your SharePoint sponsor.

· Ensure that the contact details have a backup. One number is not enough. Consider adding on the home phone number or the number of the place you will be staying / visiting on the key days. Reasons for this could be bad mobile coverage, or you could be travelling

· Ensure that there is a remote method of you accessing the SharePoint environment. Most organisations using on-premise SharePoint have a method whereby individuals can log in over the Internet using say a Citrix / VPN / Xen Desktop etc. connection.

· Ensure that a member of the IT Support team is aware of any resolutions that can be used for 'possible issues'. For example, one issue could be that in order to quickly reset an application pool for a SharePoint site to go into IIS on a relevant server, etc.

· Ensure that there is a list of the infrastructure, and details of any specific login information.

· Based on point (3) above, try to log into the SharePoint environment at least once a day to quickly check the status of the environment.

· Ensure that relevant third party information concerning their levels of support is listed and the details made known to IT Support.

· Provision monitoring systems for IT support which includes the status of key services to the SharePoint platform (on-premise).

· Provision monitoring services which includes the status of services for Office 365 Tenants

 

On-Premise and Off-Premise Support

At a very basic level, the provision of support for SharePoint over a Christmas could be divided two segments - the SharePoint 'supporter' - the associated services 'supporter'.

For on-premise SharePoint, the levels of support is:

1: The SharePoint 'supporter'. The person(s) responsible for managing the products provided in SharePoint services.

2: The Associated services 'supporter'. The person(s) responsible for providing support for the infrastructure and associated services.

The interesting aspect of Off-Premise (e.g. Office 365) Support is that there is in effect, also two levels:

1: The SharePoint 'supporter'. The person(s) responsible for managing the products provided in the Office 365 tenant - e.g. SharePoint Team Sites and relevant products in those sites.

2: The Associated services 'supporter'. The person(s) responsible for providing support for the Office 365 tenant.

Both of these, on-premise and Office 365 have monitoring tools. Both have the priorities and service delivery of support defined to SLAs, which is communicated to the person responsible for managing the products provided. This information is then cascaded in an understandable form to the client.

There is a huge amount of monitoring tools available to on-premise SharePoint support (default and third party provisioned), which I will not go into (and there are a huge number of articles that describe them). However, SharePoint Online does not, by default have the same capabilities available for those managing them to configure monitoring easily. However, Office 365 is starting to catch up though. For example, the Office 365 Admin app for the Windows Phone 8 is available which allows those responsible for supporting Office 365 to connect to their organization’s Office 365 service status on the go. The app enables them to view service health information and maintenance status updates from their mobile device. You can also filter information by service subscriptions and configure app data refresh intervals.

To get the app for Windows Phone 8, please visit here.

Office 365 also has the Office Message Centre. The Message Centre is located in the Microsoft Online Portal. The Message Centre is the central hub for communicating with you about Office 365. And in there you will find the topics including those in the Admin Task Newsletter, messages on new feature releases, and other important information. More information about the Office Message Centre is here.

 

Conclusion

I hope by reading this article you have understood the importance of providing adequate and understandable SharePoint support over the Christmas period. The ability for you as a SharePoint 'supporter' to be forewarned of issues so that at the very least clients can be informed is vital. For on-premise, the ability to be contacted, or the ability provided to IT support to be able to deal with common issues, provides a service which in the eyes of the SharePoint sponsor is 'good'. So I do hope that you are able to take points from this article and apply them to your SharePoint support cover proposals....

I'd like to finish up by wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!

About the Author

MVP LogoGeoff Evelyn is a SharePoint MVP, and likes to be known as a “Hands on” Technical Evangelist and works as a SharePoint Solutions Architect. He has published many articles, guides and books about SharePoint. With over 25 years of experience in information systems, he is a Fellow of the Institute of the Analysts and Programmers, a Fellow of the Institute of Computer Technology, a Member of the Institute of Management Information Systems, a Prince 2 Practitioner, with MCDST, MCSD, MCTS, MCITP Microsoft certifications and is M.O.S (Microsoft Office Specialist) Certified.