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One of the criticisms lodged against SharePoint is that you install it one day and the next day you end up with thousands of sites. Each site brings with it potential security risks from improper security settings and massive storage consumption resulting from, among other reasons, content dumping.
Even assuming you don't have either problem, it's always better to have a well managed SharePoint environment than one without appropriate controls on usage. That's where site provisioning comes in.
To be honest, there's no magic formula for managing the site-provisioning process on SharePoint. Different companies will have success with different approaches. But there are some guidelines that enable every organization to both provide flexibility to its end users and ensure an appropriate framework to help manage growth, security and usage.
Workflow for site provisioning approval
The use of workflow for controlling the provisioning process is one of the most underused tools available to every SharePoint administrator. Designing a workflow to govern site creations for certain users and sites will ensure SharePoint won't get out of control. In addition, administrators can monitor the site creation process and gather valuable statistics on usage.
The challenge is that SharePoint does not have any native site creation actions within the workflow framework. But there are vendors that sell some terrific workflow add-ons for SharePoint. Nintex, Skelta Software and K2 are just a few companies that produce workflow bolt-ons with site creation action within their products.
If you don't have the budget to buy a workflow tool, consider creating a workflow action in Visual Studio or hiring a developer to do it for you. Then, you can create your own workflow process in SharePoint Designer.
Custom site definitions of templates
Although the act of provisioning is generally just the creation of a site, make sure that these sites also conform to your organization's standards —whether that's structure, content or metadata. Site definitions and site templates allow users to create sites that conform to a specific structure and enable particular SharePoint features.
SharePoint ships with several site definitions, including a team site, document workspace and a meeting site. You can also download a few of Microsoft's "Fabulous 40," which is a collection of additional site definitions. If none of those provides the right structure, consider creating one of your own.
SharePoint has a feature in every site that allows you to save an existing site as a "site template," which is similar to a site definition in that it allows you to create new sites based on the template. You can even preserve content in the template. Alternatively, you can use a free site definition generator tool in the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) Software Development Kit.
Create specialized site collections
Site collections are a special construct within SharePoint. As their name suggests, they represent a collection of sites within SharePoint. In a collaborative environment, where one site represents collaboration among a number of parties, the site collection contains multiple collaboration spaces for various "projects."
What makes site collections somewhat unique is that there is a whole set of site collection-specific management functions. This means you can enable features, control certain aspects of security and set quotas for individual sites from a centralized location.
Creating different site collections for different categories of collaboration or project work allows SharePoint administrators to make subtle adjustments to each site collection that are appropriate for the category of collaboration within that collection.
Use site collection quotes to control storage consumption
SharePoint is often criticized for massive storage consumption. To be fair, storage consumption is more often the result of poor storage management or unfettered site creation than a fault of SharePoint as a product. In fact, SharePoint has a built-in storage quota feature to enable administrators to limit storage consumption.
SharePoint administrators can create quota profiles that set the maximum site storage consumption and then apply different profiles to different site collections. This translates to limiting every site in the collection to the maximum storage size set in the quota.
Quotas are especially effective for constructs like My Sites in MOSS, but they are also very useful for more collaborative environments in purely WSS environments.
Tie sites to business processes
Whether or not you have implemented MOSS in the enterprise, it's likely that you have WSS. And you probably have at least one use of WSS related to project work. As such, it makes sense to take the next step: Tie WSS sites to other business processes or applications.
This might mean integrating a project initiation process that begins by filling out an InfoPath form and results in the automated creation of a WSS site, along with adding the URL of the WSS site in a line-of-business application. When business users interact with either the line-of-business application or SharePoint, there will be an obvious link between the use of the tools and the purpose for that work.
Now, when the project or process ends, another automated process can back up any relevant data in the WSS site and dispose of it. In this way, the process that began with filling out the InfoPath form, which resulted in the creation of the project site, also cleans up the site once the project or process ends.
Site provisioning in SharePoint is easy, but it's often uncontrolled. By following a few of these recommendations, you can keep your SharePoint environment in check.
Shawn Shell is the founder of Consejo Inc., a consultancy based in Chicago that specializes in Web-based applications, employees and partner portals, as well as enterprise content management. He has spent more than 19 years in IT, with the last 10 focused on content technologies. Shell is a co-author of Microsoft Content Management Server 2002: A Complete Guide, published by Addison-Wesley, and the lead analyst/author on the CMSWatch SharePoint Report 2009.
This was first published in July 2009