Service Applications in SharePoint 2010

I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently getting up to speed with SharePoint 2010.  One of the features that surprised me the most is the new Service Applications framework. 

TechNet defines Service applications as “a resource that can be shared across sites within a farm or, in some cases, across multiple farms.”  Previously resources were shared between sites using the Shared Service Provider (SSP) model.  The SSP model worked fairly well with simple deployments but little information was available for complicated distributed deployments which led to a lot of frustration.  In addition, one of the big complaints was that the SSP was only available for MOSS versions and was not available for WSS.  The Service Applications framework has been built directly into Foundation services which makes it available to all flavors of SharePoint. 

A Modular Approach

SharePoint Server 2010 ships with services for all of the main MS Office apps, Search, User Profiles, Managed Meta-Data, Performance Point, and BCS.  Not only can you define which applications are configured, but you can manage the associations so that the applications can be exposed to specific SharePoint web applications.  Since it is possible to deploy the same service multiple times you can support different configurations and authentication models to support more complex deployments.  In addition there are situations where you can use FAST search on some applications and regular Search on others in the same farm.  There are an unlimited number of deployment possibilities.

SharePoint 2010 Service Applications

Since the framework is open this provides real opportunities to the ISVs in areas like vertical applications in just about every area.  Some of the ECM and BPM vendors have been heavily integrated with SharePoint for years so I think this can only make their offerings that much more powerful.

Another advantage to the modular approach is that it is possible to for both Microsoft and the ISVs to provide new services or service versions outside of the typical long release cycle.  I’m hopeful that this will enable some of the currently evolving technologies and features to catch up. 

Planning Considerations

In some recent articles I outlined some considerations for Site Topology Planning [Article 1, Article 2].  In addition to segmenting the applications and sites therein, you will also want to start to draw out the service associations as well.  For example you can determine how many search or user profile providers do you need.

All of this segmentation does has a potentially negative side effect.  Each of these services has its own database and potentially its own IIS Application Pool, which best practice dictates has its own dedicated domain account.  It is easy to see how the number of accounts, application pools and databases would get out of hand.  This was a common complaint I heard in many smaller environments with MOSS, and it is exponentially worse with 2010.  In my opinion the new model has many more advantages than disadvantages.  I will not let a few extra databases and accounts influence my application and service association decisions. 

Summary

The Service Application model in SharePoint 2010 offers up a lot of flexibility and expandability allowing implementers to tailor the deployment to the specific business needs.  I encourage everyone to evaluate the new model thoroughly before making any upgrade or migration plans in order to maximize the value of the new services.

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