SharePoint: IaaS, Hardware Planning & Better Deployments

IaaS or “Infrastructure as a Service” providers like Windows Azure, Amazon AWS, Rackspace, etc. have whittled away at one of the longtime frustrations of SharePoint consultants everywhere… customers that want to define hardware before they should.

Obviously, every engagement is different, but this is one of those challenges that consultants face on a regular basis. Whether it’s due to an unpleasant internal procurement process, the desire to leverage existing servers or mismanaged stakeholder expectations, it makes it harder to succeed as a SharePoint consultant. Of course, you can push back, drawing the client’s attention to the multitude of reasons not to run out and buy the gear before you fully design the solution, but sometimes you don’t have a lot of options. You have to be able to spot the undertones of the decision and act accordingly.

You’re often forced to walk that line between helping the customer realize their vision and not alienating the very people that (likely) brought you in to begin with. When this happens, the deployment can and often does suffer.

Whether it results in:

  • Having to co-locate additional server roles on machines that weren’t spec’d for the increased load
  • Giving up some measure of redundancy
  • Breaking the news that the fancy new Office Web Apps server that they’ve had their eye on will have to wait or
  • Some other applied creativity

There’s usually a sacrifice to be made and its your job to ensure that its made as safely as possible.  You’ll never see an entirely blank canvas and finding ways to interpret and mitigate unfortunate variables is the name of the game.

Enter IaaS. All of the sudden, hardware isn’t really a concern. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not magic and it comes with its own complexities, but the hardware… click and pay. No more shoehorning the solution into existing servers, waiting for new ones to be delivered, racked & cabled, or any of the other logistical realities associated with physical server deployment that tend to drive the desire to build first and plan second.  That said, it is no silver bullet and its not always the right path for your customer.

As the consultant, you now have another tool in the toolbox.  It provides more flexibility in adjusting the design as you plan for the implementation. This flexibility allows you to create a more tailored solution and make fewer concessions without having to put your (or your customer’s) relationships harm’s way.

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