I rarely discuss the things we do at Atos here. This time I’m going to make an exception, to tell you about a pretty neat hosting service we offer to our customers. So yes, you might regard this post as an advertorial and yes; you may contact me for more information. If that’s not your cup of tea, feel free to close this tab. But when you’re interested in hosting your SharePoint farms elsewhere, without losing the possilbity to use custom solutions, timer jobs and all other kinds of customizations, you should keep on reading.
Atos SharePoint Services
The service we offer is called “Atos SharePoint Services”. No no, not the most striking name, I know. But it covers best what it’s all about: SharePoint. There is a very basic website for it, which you can find at https://sharepoint.it-solutions.atos.net/. But you might notice marketing did not get any priority yet and the website will probably leave you wondering about some stuff.
Basically what we do is host SharePoint, that’s nothing new. Your users get SharePoint, we take on the administrative effort of managing servers, storage and all that kind of stuff. More companies offer the same, Microsoft being far out the biggest one with Office 365. But Office 365 introduces some problems, especially for those larger enterprises who already have big SharePoint environments. You probably know what I’m talking about: customizations. 365 doesn’t do solutions, so you’re kindly requested to rethink your entire environment and make apps instead. That’s all good and well, but most companies really don’t want to consider redoing all of their work all over again, especially since the app model is still undergoing changes.
Another issue is that you’re not getting into Central Administration with most hosted service offerings. Because Central Administration is a powerfull place where you might mess things up. And since the vendor is offering you SLA’s which contain statements about uptime, they do not want you to mess things up. So they usually revoke access to Central Administration and any change you want to do becomes a ticket in some kind of ticketing system.
So here comes the great part about our service. We support your existing customizations! And we support you making farm-scoped changes. And we also agree on SLA’s with uptime, depending on your requirements.
How do we do it?
Using the famous Spiderman quote: “with great power, comes great responsibility”. And yes, using Central Administration you can mess up a great deal. So how can we give you the flexibility you need and still guarantee our uptimes? By using a combination of:
- A self service portal
- Maintenance windows
Let me explain these one by one.
Self Service Portal
This can be considered as the heart of our service, next to SharePoint of course. The self-service portal can be considered as a detached version of Central Administration, you could also compare it with the Office 365 tenant admin site. On the self-service portal, we offer you all kinds of actions to perform, like creating a new site collection for instance. The portal also features a number of reports you can view to monitor the status of your farm(s).
The self-service portal enables all kind of actions which also include the more ‘dangerous’ things like uploading and installing solutions. But these actions are all queued and those queues are only processed within the maintenance windows we agreed upon. So you can upload your solution, but it will only get deployed within the maintenance window specified for that particular environment. You can deploy your solutions, we can guarantee our SLA’s. Nice, right?
You might wonder which actions you can do with this portal, well: a lot. But suppose you want to do something which is not possible by default, what then? Well, then we have a framework you can use to build your own custom action with plain .NET code. You upload this action, after which we do a quick review on it to make sure you’re not doing anything which might yeopardize the service. Once validated, your custom action becomes enabled to use at your command. And even better: you can also schedule these actions for a certain time, or recurring when you want the action to be performed daily for instance. Who needs timer jobs any more!?
The beauty is that you are not required to host your farm at Atos to use this. If you’re more comfortable hosting everything on-premises, that’s fine. We install an agent service which hooks your farm up to our self-service system. Where the server itself is hosted, does not matter. It can be on-premises, it can be Azure, or we can host it for you.
In todays world, more and more companies are looking towards automating their development process, doing things like continuous integration. Our self-service portal was built using a set of API’s and most of those are available to our customers as well. So, next to having the interface of the portal, you can also directly integrate with the API’s and automate everything. We supply you with some sample scripts as well, for instance on how to hook up your TFS environment to publish built solutions to a SharePoint farm automagically.
More and more API’s are made available with every update, and at the moment we’re working hard on making sure you can automate the entire deployment process of SharePoint Apps (yes, including the provider hosted bit you might want to deploy to IIS).
Now reading all this you might wonder how on earth we can combine this all with our SLA’s on uptime and performance. Well, I already explained the bit about the maintenance window, so that’s the first solution. Monitoring is the second one, because we use the portal and API’s to exactly track what you are doing. In case of any unexplainable downtime, we always check the logs to see if any actions were fired or API’s were used at that point in time. That way, we can usually proof pretty accurately that a certain change or action caused outage, or that deployment of a new solution was the culprit of performance degradation. We monitor the servers, the infrastructure, network, storage and any other things you might also monitor today in your on-premises installation.
Next to us using this data for SLA purposes, we also grant you the option to view the same data for more insight. That way, we can collaborate with our customers and communicate clearly about how your environment is doing. You’re getting more than just some checkmarks, your getting insight in resource usage, page requests and everything you might like to see. Transparancy for us, transparancy for you. And that way we probably don’t have to discuss about the need to add an additional front-end server to your farm, the reports will show you it’s needed.
As you might have noticed, I’m pretty excited about this service, because I really think it’s awesome. But… there’s more. We have some add-ons, of which you get some for free! These are things a lot of our customers requested and we made available for everyone to use. Here’s a pick of some of
Major bummer for most hosted environments: you cannot view the ULS logs any more. We have a solution for that, which is the ULS Viewer feature. After enabling this feature, site collection administrators can view the ULS log entries via a page in Site Settings. You can search for correlation ID’s and the best thing: it searches on all of the farm servers simultaneously, because we import the data from all servers into one central database. Problem solved!
Global site directory
When you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know I promote the use of site collections above subsites. But one major downside to a lot of site collections is the lack of a proper way to navigate them. We have built a site directory which lists all site collections in your environment and allows you to search and find the one you were looking for.
Self-services for end-users
The portal I discussed is one your administrators will use. It’s not what you want to publish to your end-users. So we designed some self-service parts which you can publish to your end-users. The most important ones are the site creation wizard and the self-service restore. The first can be used to allow users to create their own sites, and that’s including the host-named site collections Microsoft promotes for SharePoint 2013. The latter can be used to give the user the option to restore data from back-ups, without requiring an administrator to help. Powerful tools which can dramatically reduce your administrative load!
So how does this all sound? Like a pretty damn nice solution, right? We do SharePoint 2010 as well as 2013. We do it on-premises, in Azure, or hosted in our Atos Canopy Cloud. We allow custom solutions, custom actions as well as all of the out of the box API’s SharePoint has to offer. We give you a self-service portal, free add-ons and support from our 24/7 support teams. Our close partnership with Microsoft means we get support from their engineers within hours instead of business days. The size of your environment does not matter, actually one of our customers has one of the biggest SharePoint environments out there.
Using the Atos SharePoint Service means you can dramatically decrease your administrative effort , without losing any of the capabilities SharePoint has to offer. It allows you to focus more on what’s really important: your content and your end-users.