Friday, October 8, 2010

SharePoint Architecture: Centralized or Decentralized?

By Christian Buckley

An important question to answer when moving to SharePoint 2010 is how to design the new environment: centralized, with a traditional, top-down managed portal; or a decentralized environment, featuring user-driven collaboration? Many companies struggle with this decision, and for good reason: These decisions determine how the environment will be managed, how customizations will be supported, and the level of difficulty of future upgrades.

Most organizations are familiar with the centralized environments of intranet portals. Some of the benefits within a centralized SharePoint environment include consistent use of content types and workflows, reduced metadata duplication, and documented customizations that make system updates and platform upgrades much easier. This model is easier for supporting and training end users, managing business processes, controlling information policies, and providing metrics and key performance indicators.

But there are downsides to the centralized model. It takes a lot of design and planning; requires more upfront work and maintenance; requires an increased reliance on governance and formal change control boards; and has difficulty managing across site collections and portals.

Most end users prefer a more decentralized environment where they can control when and how they collaborate. From an administrative standpoint, there are definite advantages, such as little or no planning, very little upfront effort to deploy, and low time/cost to train end users.

With decreased emphasis on taxonomy and business process management, most decentralized systems work across site collections and portals. These systems more closely mirror the consumer-based collaboration platforms users are accustomed to using, such as social networks and microblogging sites.

The downsides to this approach are that they decrease consistency, increase metadata duplication, and make taxonomy management complex. Decentralized environments are also hard to update, support and train on, manage information policies with, and upgrade.

One of the primary benefits of SharePoint 2010 as a platform is the use of services. By deploying shared services at the enterprise level, companies can utilize the flexibility and collaborative benefits of the decentralized model, allowing end users to collaborate organically while still maintaining some degree of control over taxonomy and metadata, source data, InfoPath forms and critical business processes. Sites and site collections can consume these services as needed, but retain local control over every other aspect of their environments.

There still remain administrative impacts, such as the need to define roles and service owners, as well as the need to define your governance model for these services, but overall, SharePoint 2010 offers the enterprise much more power and flexibility that more closely mirrors the ways modern teams connect and collaborate.

Christian Buckley is director of product evangelism at echoTechnology, an Axceler company.

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