Axceler's ControlPoint 4.5 is a management solution that provides a means to manage SharePoint security, configure sites, plan for storage capacity, and generate reports on SharePoint content. Tightly integrated with SharePoint, ControlPoint is a SharePoint web application that can offload the statistics and data it collects to a SQL Server instance running on a server that's not hosting SharePoint.

Installing ControlPoint

ControlPoint supports all editions of SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2007. As a SharePoint web application, ControlPoint must be installed on a server running either all SharePoint roles or a SharePoint web front-end server. Although this requirement might seem like a potential disadvantage because of the increased complexity and load on SharePoint, it gives users access to ControlPoint's advanced management features through SharePoint, which provides a familiar and easy-to-use interface.

ControlPoint uses two databases: a content database that stores SharePoint content and a service database that stores administrative information and data collected from SharePoint. For this review, I installed ControlPoint on a server running SharePoint Foundation 2010 and used the instance of SQL Server 2008 R2 that was installed automatically with SharePoint Foundation 2010 to host the content database. I installed the service database on a separate server running SQL Server 2008 R2.

ControlPoint requires SQL Server 2008 R2 or SQL Server 2008 for its content and service databases when used with SharePoint 2010. If you want to use ControlPoint with SharePoint 2007, the database requirements differ slightly. SQL Server 2000 through SQL Server 2008 R2 can be used to host the content database, but only SQL Server 2005 through SQL Server 2008 R2 can be used to host the ControlPoint service database. Other system requirements are Microsoft IIS and Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 SP1.

To meet the necessary permission requirements, I used a domain account that had local administrator permissions on the SharePoint server, sysadmin permissions on my SQL Server 2008 R2 server, and SharePoint farm administrator permissions to both launch the installer program and specify the ControlPoint service account during the installation process. Installation went smoothly, with a prerequisite check identifying only one issue. The SharePoint Administration service wasn't running on my SharePoint server, which was easily rectified.

After the web application is installed on the SharePoint server, there's an activation process that involves entering a license key and letting ControlPoint activate the installation over the Internet. The license information must then be recorded by clicking a separate button, and the installation is updated and verified as activated.

Navigating ControlPoint

Despite ControlPoint running in a web browser, the rich UI lets you right-click items in the SharePoint hierarchy and select options from a context menu. This feature isn't something you always see in web-based applications, but it makes ControlPoint feel much more like a standard desktop program and makes its UI easier to use.

When you start ControlPoint for the first time, there's a message at the top of the UI informing you that a full discovery has never been performed. Unfortunately, it's not an active hyperlink so you need to know where to look to run a discovery operation. It's not hard to find, however; it's under the Manage ControlPoint tab in the Outlook-style panel on the left. Discovery is a scheduled task, but there's the option to run the task immediately. You can monitor the task's progress using the timer at the top of the window.

Using ControlPoint to Copy Sites and Site Collections

ControlPoint doesn't reinvent the wheel. Where SharePoint provides adequate administrative capabilities, ControlPoint hands you over to SharePoint to complete the task. One area in which ControlPoint provides welcomed additional functionality is when you're copying sites and site collections. Unlike native SharePoint administration, ControlPoint lets you manage sites, web applications, and site collections across an entire farm in a single operation.

The first task I attempted was to copy the default Team Site. The copy operation is in the Content context menu. When selected at site level, you're given the option to copy the whole site and all its content, including subsites. There's also an option to exclude child sites or copy just the site configuration without the content. In a separate window, I specified the URL for my new site and the path to the file in which the source and destination farms could write temporary files. You also have the option to specify how security should be applied to the new site (i.e., inherited from the parent or taken from the source site). Before the copy operation is run, a comforting Verify Request Action window is displayed with a summary of the selected operations.

After the copy operation has completed, you're automatically taken to the results window. Interestingly, there's an option to save the instructions to an .xml file, which you can later import when you need to repeat the same operation in the future. Deleting a site is easy, and you have the option to export the site contents before deletion.

When copying or moving a site or site collection in a multi-farm environment, the source selection is limited to the home farm but the destination can be in any farm. Also, copy and move operations can't be performed between SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2007 farms. Axceler has a separate product (Davinci Migrator) for SharePoint migrations.

ControlPoint's search function is limited to locating sites in your SharePoint environment, but the search can be based on advanced criteria. If you have more than one SharePoint farm, ControlPoint lets you run a search across multiple farms by selecting them in the left pane, right-clicking, and selecting Advanced Search in the context menu. Figure 1 shows sample search results.

Figure 1: Sample search results in ControlPoint
Figure 1: Sample search results in ControlPoint 

Using ControlPoint Policies and Groups

Using ControlPoint policies, you can control the SharePoint environment. For example, you can create policies that restrict lists, set quotas to limit storage on disk, and notify users when they exceed those quotas. ControlPoint policies are limited to the home farm in a multi-farm environment.

When creating a policy to restrict lists, you can select all lists or a specific type of list. Similarly, you can restrict all users or specific users by SharePoint group, Active Directory (AD) group, AD user, or permission level (e.g., Full Control, Contribute, Design).

There's comprehensive management for permissions, including the ability to create group associations. With the group associations, you can propagate membership and permissions from a model group to any chosen dependent groups.

You can configure object properties (e.g., settings for creating minor and major versions of documents) in bulk across an entire farm. With the standard SharePoint administration interface, such configurations would have to be completed manually for each object. Further, in ControlPoint, you can enforce settings and make them the default for new document libraries. There's a comprehensive list of auditing options for site collections, such as editing users and permissions, and checking items in or out. You can even create alerts to notify you when objects are modified.

Access to menu items in the ControlPoint interface can be controlled by ControlPoint groups. Access can even be given to ControlPoint features such as links on SharePoint pages, enabling standard users to get access to ControlPoint so they can administer their own sites without having to use the ControlPoint interface.

Using ControlPoint to Analyze Data

Data collected in ControlPoint's service database can be analyzed, thus avoiding the need to put a high load on your SharePoint environment to collect the necessary information. You can see the most or least activity for site collections, sites, lists, and list items. You can also check the activity level for documents and users. Analyses can be run over a given period for the purpose of identifying trends, although there are some restrictions if you're running a Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) based environment.

To run an analysis, you select the object (or objects) in ControlPoint, right-click, select Activity, and choose Activity By User or Activity By Document. Using the Interactive Analysis feature, you can work with a data set from a search in tabular format and create different types of charts. ControlPoint includes custom lists for farm, site collection, and web application statistics. You can use these custom lists to create SharePoint web parts that form the foundation for SharePoint dashboards. You can make the dashboards visible to users, administrators, or both.

On the Ball

ControlPoint offers a lot of advanced features, such as the ability to copy sites and site collections, and use existing sites as templates. These features will be especially valuable for large organizations that need to adhere to industry regulations and ensure that security is configured to a known standard across the SharePoint estate.

Solutions that offer many advanced features can be complex to work with, but that's not the case with ControlPoint. Everything is very logically laid out, and it's easy to find exactly what you want without having to scratch your head and dig deep into the UI. The documentation is also good.

The one major feature that I'd like to see in the product is an undo function. Although every action is logged, an undo function would give administrators confidence that, should the worse happen, there's a quick and easy way to roll back changes.

ControlPoint 4.5
PROS: Tight integration with SharePoint; well thought-out administration tool
CONS: Some functions restricted to the initial SharePoint farm added to ControlPoint; no rollback functionality
RATING: 4 out of 5
PRICE: Based on the size of the SharePoint environment (e.g., a license for one farm with multiple SharePoint web front ends and 5,000 users is $18,000)
RECOMMENDATION: If you need to manage a large SharePoint estate, standardize settings, and get a grip on security, ControlPoint is a good solution. It provides the necessary tools for administrators and SharePoint users alike.
CONTACT: Axceler • 866-499-7092 or 781-995-0063