When I pointed last week to the potential conflict that Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) can have on database developers and DBAs, I apparently struck a nerve. Some said I hit the nail on the head, while one said I was oversimplifying the matter and creating FUD.
But for some database developers and administrators -- and in many cases even higher up in the IT food chain, the unintended consequences of SharePoint's growth can lead to a lack of control for how data is kept in sync as more data ends up in MOSS.
"You don't have to be a developer to go in there," said Ed Smith, a systems analyst at Tetra Pak, a global supplier of packaging machines. "You can get two secretaries together, they can figure out what they want to do and they can start putting stuff in there."
While SharePoint is popular for storing and sharing documents and other unstructured content, when an individual has complex, structured data based on large numbers of rows columns, where multiple lists have to be joined together, and certainly when referential integrity is critical, it needs to be in a relational database server.
"We discovered that lists are the place to store information but they can't be substitute for tables and relations and of course referential integrity," wrote Prabhash Mishra, CEO of Skysoft IT Services Pvt. Ltd., based in Noida, India in an e-mail.
In an interview last week, Paul Andrew, Microsoft's technical product manager for the SharePoint Developer Platform, said many are already building custom applications on SharePoint that use a mix of SQL Server schema and tables within MOSS. "Of course, each has its own strengths, and each is better suited in different parts of an application," Andrew says.
Not all DBA organizations are wary of SharePoint. "My manager, the head of our DBA organization, loves SharePoint," wrote Kevin Dill, IT innovation analyst at Grange Mutual Casualty Co. in an e-mail. "For example, he regularly stores information on SQL clustering and business-specific SAS functions in the wiki and document library, for easy searching."
Dill added that SharePoint will not completely replace traditional DBAs. "While you can configure many aspects in the Central Admin, you still need DBAs to monitor data growth and backups," he said. "In fact, SharePoint can help DBAs maximize their time on the things that really matter, instead of provisioning little one-off databases for internal projects."
But in many shops, SharePoint is outside the purview of database developers and DBAs. One way to avoid the problem of allowing employees to work around them is for IT organizations to put controls over who is permitted to commit data to SharePoint servers. That's the case for the City of Prince George, BC.
"We've locked it down pretty much so that all they can do is put in content directly," says programmer/analyst Rob Woods. "Nobody else really has the option of doing any of this kind of stuff except for the IT staff."