Hello there! Welcome to the first part of a series on how to prepare, install, configure and administer a SharePoint 2013 farm. This series will cover almost end-to-end how to get a SharePoint farm started, how to manage it, and what to think about for its future needs.

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I anticipate this series to be about six parts in all, which will cover the following areas:

  1. Prepare for a SharePoint farm

    In this section, we will look at what you should be thinking about for your farm, and what not to. Also, we will prepare for a production environment and a test environment using a scenario-based company that we will call Federal Bureau of Employment (FBE), and finally a scenario for a personal user who just wants a SharePoint farm to practice with, thereby giving you the feel of both worlds. The word “prepare” in this case also means knowing the kind of personnel that you would require for the successful setup of the farm.

  2. Install a SharePoint farm

    In this section, we will look at the setup files required for a successful installation of a SharePoint farm, including prerequisites, add-ins, the actual SharePoint setup file and its dependencies, and any additional 3rd party setup files (if any), and from there we will actually commence the installation process.

  3. Configure a SharePoint farm

    In this section, we will begin the nitty-gritty of looking around within the farm for components that are already running and those that will need our help to get what we want out of it, which is why it is called “configure.” We will need to set it up in such a way that it will do what it is supposed to be doing either directly or as a dependency.

  4. Administer a SharePoint farm

    In this section, we will go through what an administrator will be managing in a farm, such as security, look and feel, backup, and what other support end users will require for a productive daily office life.

These are the coverage areas we will be looking at. I will try as much as possible to keep you interested and not bore you, considering that there is quite a whole lot of detail to take in. However, in the end, you will have a full reference material to get you started.

I think I am ready. You are ready as well, so let’s take the first plunge by looking at how to prepare for a SharePoint farm.

WHAT DO YOU NEED A SHAREPOINT FARM FOR?

To understand the various uses for a SharePoint farm, here are a few things that could make you want to go this route. You are an upcoming SharePoint enthusiast, and somehow you have managed to look into the future, magically so to speak, to see that about 16 months from now you will be the chief consultant to a fictitious company owned by the government called the Federal Bureau of Employment. Let us meet this company, and let us meet you.

SCENARIO 1
Upcoming SharePoint Enthusiast

You are a young individual who is trying to make something good out of your life. You have passion, foresight, and you are up-to-date on economic trends around the world. You have in the past shown enthusiasm to hone new skills and forge ahead irrespective of your course of study in higher institution. You have discovered statistically speaking that an IT professional has the highest rate of employability across any and every sector in any and across any country. You have just acquired a new 64bit laptop with 1TB hard drive space, and 8GB of memory. You want to foray into the SharePoint consulting space, and you want to know all that there is to know in preparing, installing, configuring and administering a SharePoint farm in preparation for your future, where you have been able somehow, magically, or by your intuition, foreseen that you will be solely responsible as a consultant to the Federal Bureau of Employment in 16 months.

SCENARIO 2
Federal Bureau of Employment

The FBE was set up to create jobs for the population and to manage the workforce of the United States. They are responsible for gathering statistics about the employment status of the population of the country and to provide valuable input that the government uses in its planning. Their records are used for financial planning and as part of the budget of the United States. The bureau has offices in all of the United States, with a total staff strength of 2,000 people. The bureau is looking for ways to share information and collaborate. You have been consulted as a member of a 12 member power team to find a viable solution that is robust and scalable. You were also informed that cost is not a problem.

SCENARIO 3
Federal Bureau of Employment

The board of the Information Systems (IS) department of the Federal Bureau of Employment (FBE) has received approval from top management to setup a SharePoint farm. The IS head has requested that you prepare a presentation for the 12 member team on how you plan to implement a production environment, and a pre-production environment. He has also informed you that the network infrastructure you require is available and state of the art. You have also been informed that the IS team comprising the domain administration team, database team, UNIX team, and governance team, are available to work with you on any support you may require.

WHAT DO ALL THESE MEAN?

The scenarios pictured above reveal to us that you are a beginner with SharePoint and you want to learn. The scenario also reveals to us that you have to be prepared for your future in consulting as a SharePoint subject matter expert. Let us use the word “architect.” So, you want to be a SharePoint Architect. You now therefore need to know the “how-to” for your future gig.

Let’s start with your 64bit laptop specification. You have a 1 terabyte (TB) hard drive and an 8GB Random Access Memory (RAM). You are running Windows 8 operating system. The following are your first tasks to get started in SharePoint:

  1. Obtain virtualization software such as VMware (http://vmware.com), Microsoft Virtual PC, or Virtual Box (http://virtualbox.org). This software behaves as if it were a physical computer. It is however required to work on a physical computer, from which you can now create as many other virtual computers as you want, and all within the limit of your physical computer’s hardware resources. Download and install the virtualization software. For my screenshots and demonstrations I will be using VMware Workstation 10, shown below:

  2. Download the following files from the Microsoft website, especially the ISO images. An “ISO” image is a virtualized copy of a physical DVD. Or obtain them by purchasing physical DVDs of the following software:
    1. Microsoft Windows Server 2008 or Microsoft Windows Server 2012 (ISO image)
    2. Microsoft SQL Server 2008 or Microsoft SQL Server 2012 (ISO image)
    3. Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 or Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 (ISO image)
    4. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 or Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 (ISO image)
    5. dotnetfx35setup.exe (executable)
    6. FilterPack64bit.exe (executable)
    7. MSChart.exe (executable)
    8. MSSpeech_SR_en-US_TELE.msi (executable)
    9. rsSharePoint.msi (executable)
    10. SharedManagementObjects.msi (executable)
    11. SpeechPlatformRuntime.msi (executable)
    12. sqlncli.msi (executable)
    13. SQLSERVER2008_ASADOMD10.msi (executable)
    14. SQLSERVER2008_ASAMO10.msi (executable)
    15. SQLSERVER2008_ASOLEDB10.msi (executable)
    16. Synchronization.msi (executable)
    17. Windows6.0-KB968930-x64.msu (executable)
    18. Windows6.0-KB976394-x64.msu (executable)
    19. Windows6.1-KB974405-x64.msu (executable)
    20. Windows6.1-KB974405-x64_WIF.msu (executable)
    21. Windows6.1-KB976462-v2-x64.msu (executable)

The list is quite a handful. These files are the prerequisites you will need for the operating system installation and operating system updates, as well as the SharePoint software and the SharePoint update. Others included are the database system software and the database system update. Some of the files listed are other dependencies for certain functionalities that will be required later at the configuration and administration phase of SharePoint usage. Rather than wait to meet a brick wall later in the configuration, proactively preempt the brick wall and have Thor’s hammer ready to smash through it.

It is important to note that some of these dependencies are published on the Microsoft website, and you can know them ahead, or simply wait to run into problems to know that you will need them. Either way works. It is however better to have known them ahead. It can save you a whole lot of trouble later.

SO WHAT’S NEXT?

Having obtained all the necessary files, let’s proceed to open our VMware installation and create the following virtual machines.

CRITICAL INFORMATION

SharePoint is a client-server system. It comes as a 64bit operating environment system. It requires a functional domain system, and an email system to already be on the ground before it is installed. This means that even though we want to install SharePoint, we cannot really get down to it, without preparing the network infrastructure first. This is pretty much similar to a 3-course meal or 5-course meal, where the main dish is in the middle as item 3.

What benefit does this offer you? It means that you are required to have some good understanding of domain administration, database administration, and email systems administration in addition to your SharePoint skills.

So our first task is really not to install SharePoint, but to prepare a fully functional domain environment. At the very least, all the services is in the domain that SharePoint needs only, so have no fears because we will not be delving into Group Policies, or Remote Access and the rest of them.

These are what we need:

  1. A Domain Controller – On this machine we will run the domain name service (DNS), the domain host configuration protocol (DHCP), and Internet Information Services (IIS). We will also configure this server to host the Exchange Server (email system). We will call this box the DCEX-1.
  2. The SharePoint Server – On this machine we will have the SQL Database services running as well as the SharePoint server itself.
  3. The Client Operating System – On this machine will be Windows Vista or Windows 8 that will simulate a user connecting to the farm environment to consume services and get work done.

This means that at least two (1 and 2) of these 3 boxes have to be up and running in our environment for a smooth operation.

CRITICAL CAVEAT

Now this is not a one-size-fits-all setup that has been described above for the total number of boxes required for this virtual environment. In fact, we can have all services running in one single virtual machine, meaning we can have one box acting as the domain controller, DNS server, DHCP server, Exchange server, SQL server and SharePoint server. Just as long as you have enough memory assigned to it. Remember that we only have 8GB of RAM, and SharePoint is a very memory intensive system.

WHY DID WE LUMP SQL SERVER WITH SHAREPOINT SERVER ON THE SAME BOX?

This is a very important question. All activities of SharePoint are based on the SQL server so they must be able to talk to each other every second of the 24/7 operations you will be carrying out. The domain controller can be shut down and SharePoint will be just fine and nobody will notice anything, at least for our scenario. The email system can be totally shut down too and nobody would notice anything, at least for our scenario where there is no end user yet.

OPTIMAL PRACTICE AND RECOMMENDATION

In our case, remember we have 8GB of RAM on a 64bit laptop with 1TB hard drive space. I make the following recommendations based on the following arguments:

Argument 1: The domain controller service will become redundant after setup. We require it only for making the SharePoint server box join the domain as a member server, as well as to make the client machine join the domain as a client. The DNS and DHCP service of the domain controller is required for this service. The only other time we will need the domain controller is when we need to do User Profile Synchronization (UPS).

Argument 2: The email service that will run on the domain controller will become redundant after setup. We require the email server service only during the first few steps of SharePoint configuration to let SharePoint know the name or IP address of the email carrier.

So therefore, 2GB of RAM will suffice for these two services on this one box, which we can eventually shut down when we have no need of it, and turn it back on when we do. After the farm is configured and fully ready, we will strip the memory on this server from 2GB to 1GB, and subsequently leave it in a shutdown state till needed when we boot it up. This will help us manage the performance of our physical machine and virtual machines on an On-Demand basis.

Argument 3: The SQL database service and the SharePoint server will run on 4GB of RAM. This is because there will be no huge read/write operation as yet on the database end, as the only connected read/write operation will be coming from our configuration steps, and from the only client operating system that we have available, which will only be connected also on an On-Demand basis.

Argument 4: The client operating system will run Windows 8 on a 1GB memory, and will be powered up only when needed to make client connections for testing purposes of website (intranet, extranet) page load, workflow email testing, Single-Sign On testing, etc. Other than these tests, the box will be in a shutdown state.

So, therefore, this means our total memory allocated to virtual machines out of the 8GB available to the physical machine, give and take, is 6GB. This is fair enough, if you don’t have an elaborate gaming system minimized to the taskbar or your Google Chrome browser opened in different tabs thereby hogging all your system resources redundantly.

This is how we conclude this first part of the series on Preparing. In the next part we will commence the creation of the specific hard drive requirements for our various boxes, such as system drives, data drives, log drives, partitions, as well as the installation of the server operating systems and getting the domain infrastructure ready. In that chapter, we will dwell a little bit more on the VMware software itself, if not a bit too extensively.

Until then, go through this chapter again and absorb its contents because you will definitely need them again when in our virtual 16 months’ time you will be planning physical server requirements for the 2,000 staff-strong Federal Bureau of Employment. Cheeriooooo!