There is no denying that SharePoint is finding its way into more and more organizations and people from all aspects of a company find themselves interacting with, working on and designing for the corporate SharePoint deployment. Often they find themselves dealing with terms such as Farm, Web Application, Site Collection and other SharePoint terms that, for them, hold various other meanings and connotations. Today I thought I would share with you an analogy I’ve been using for sometime now whenever I need to describe the SharePoint architecture. Whether you’re a techie, the marketing guy or even a CEO, relax and come along for the ride.
Imagine, if you will, that you are a space explorer who has been tasked with finding and colonizing a new world to help support and bring new life to your dying home planet and its population. You have been traveling through the cosmos and have at last located a planet you feel will do very nicely for your purposes. You land your craft and establish your base of operations from where you will begin the task of colonizing this new world. As you are the first person to set foot on this new world you get to name it and call it SharePoint. You have now claimed your planet, your Farm, for your home world's population to use and have your base of operations established, Central Administration, from where you can control the colonizing effort. Now the task of terra-forming must begin as you need to prepare the world to welcome it’s new inhabitants.
The first thing you need to do on this new world is create the continents upon which you can build the structure of this new world. How many continents you need is up to you and the requirements set forth by the home worlds governing rulers. Each continent will provide you with a land mass that you can then carve up into manageable units. These continents server as the web applications of your SharePoint farm and provide you with the address space, or URL, that your population will use to find their new homes.
Once you have the continents prepared you can now divide them up into individual countries that will actually govern and rule the people of your planet SharePoint. Each country is a sovereign state and will be responsible for the safety and security of its people. Countries do not share resources with other countries as resources are vital to the health and welfare of the people of that country. Furthermore, in its initial state, each country maintains a closed border policy. This means that citizens of one country cannot travel to or visit any other country. Now it is possible for one country to decide to open its borders and grant entry to the people of another country, but that is strictly up to each country on a case by case basis. These countries are the Site Collections in your SharePoint deployment
Countries can be large, small; they can be a single kingdom or they can be further divided into additional political entities such as states or provinces. Each state can have its own set of rules and security, but it still must conform to certain rules put forth by the countries governing rulers. Much like the United States is made up of 50 states, each state with its own rules and policies, each state must still abide by certain federal laws and regulations. Unlike countries, however, there is free trade between the states or provinces of a given country and the citizens of that country are free to travel from state to state. Now while it is possible for a state to enforce its own security and close its borders to some of the population, this can hinder the functioning of the country, as a whole, and interfere with the general feeling of co-operation that you are trying to foster on your new world. The states or provinces are the Sites in our SharePoint deployment.
Your states can be further divided into counties and cities as you see fit or the need drives your colonization effort. At any level though you will have offices and services that are used by your people to do their work or store their belongings. These are the lists and libraries that will populate your sites and subsites throughout your Site Collections within the Web Applications that are all part of your new SharePoint Farm.
So what have we got here? You find a planet, your farm. You establish a base of operations, Central Administration. You create continents, Web Applications. On the continents you establish countries, Site Collections. You can divide the countries into states or provinces, Sites or Subsites. These can be further sub-divided as needed. You create offices, schools, stores, etc., lists and libraries. Bingo, SharePoint.
If someone comes along who doesn’t like how you have setup your world or the rules you have established, well, they can go find another planet and start their own SharePoint farm. After all, it’s your world.