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Case study: Teck corporate Intranet (SharePoint Server 2013)

SharePoint 2013
 

Applies to: SharePoint Server 2013

Topic Last Modified: 2014-04-14

Summary: Learn how Teck used SharePoint Server 2013 to build a multilingual, multiple-location intranet for corporate users around the globe.

Teck is a Canadian resource company responsible for mining and mineral development focused on copper, steelmaking coal, zinc, and energy. Teck is also a significant producer of specialty metals, like germanium and indium. The company is headquartered in Vancouver, Canada and has offices all over the world.

Teck's previous corporate intranet was based on SharePoint Server 2010. Over the years, Teck created multiple intranet sites across the company, many of which were stand-alone sites. Other offices, like the one in Santiago, Chile, were not connected to the corporate intranet at all. These factors combined to create a scenario in which content was out-of-date, of poor quality, and difficult to find. It also meant that employees around the globe couldn't view multilingual or location-specific news or content.

Teck decided to use SharePoint Server 2013 to build a new, centralized intranet that is multilingual and that supports global locations. According to Microsoft Consultants Mike Taghizadeh (SharePoint Architect at Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS)), JP Poissant (Senior Consultant from MCS), and Mark Massad (Senior Consultant from MCS), "The requirements were complex and challenging. We knew this would take careful planning and design and a real commitment from Teck to complete this project. The migration aspect alone to SharePoint Server 2013 was significant."

In this article:

Teck defined the following mission statement for the project:

Develop a new, bilingual, global intranet site that will be a simple, intuitive, and relevant central source for corporate communications, managing and promoting the sharing of information, and a foundation for fostering culture and community at Teck.

The new SharePoint Server 2013 corporate intranet at Teck is a global hub that lets Teck employees find relevant content quickly, and view and publish both multilingual content and personalized content based on location. The following list highlights goals of the project:

  • Streamline content authoring from multiple locations

  • Centralize content from multiple locations

  • Enable multilingual and language-neutral content authoring and viewing

  • Enable location and language preference switching

  • Build personalized, location-based site navigation

By using SharePoint Server 2013, content authors in different locations can create content in different languages. Content authors use SharePoint Server 2013 to enter content and tag it with metadata that shows it in different areas of the site.

The new design uses variations together with cross-site publishing to reuse content from one variation site in the context of another variation site. This content reuse is done by using the Content Search Web Part, not the usual functionality of the variations feature. For more information about the variations feature, see Variations overview in SharePoint Server 2013.

For the initial rollout, Teck provided English and Spanish content with Vancouver and Santiago corporate location personalization. The corporate intranet was designed so that other languages and locations could easily be added in the future.

Content is authored in place and translated, and Content Search Web Parts are used to publish content across site collection boundaries. Variations are used to enable the translation of multilingual content, whereas language-neutral content is created in subsites below the variation sites.

Multilingual content (list items and pages that will be translated) uses the following authoring workflow:

  1. Content is created in the language of the Content Authoring group. For example, if the Content Authoring group is in Santiago, content iscreated in Spanish. Relevant metadata is attached to the content, a location is added from a controlled list, and a language tag of All (Neutral), EN, or ES is added. These items are used later to help filter the results in the Content Search Web Parts to show appropriate content to users.

  2. After the content is finished, the approval process starts. If the content is approved, its status is changed to Published, and a copy is propagated to the target variation site.

  3. The content author approves the content as is so that Content Viewers see the untranslated content in the original language while they wait for it to be translated.

  4. The content is translated, and the translated version is sent for approval.

  5. After the translated content is approved, it is published. Content viewers now see the content in the target language.

Content Owners and Approvers see all the versions of the pages. Content Viewers see only the latest published version of the page.

Language-neutral content (list items and pages that won't be translated) uses a simplified authoring workflow:

  1. Content is created on a language-neutral site for the location where it belongs.

  2. When the content is finished, the approval process is started. For some content, the Content Owner might decide that no approval is required.

  3. If the list item or page is approved, its status is changed to Published, and the list item or page is visible to Content Viewers.

The core concept of multiple-location and multilingual targeting is based on the user's preference of location and language:

  • Location preference A user's location preference is stored in his or her SharePoint User Profile. A custom property, TeckUserLocation, was added to the User Profile store. The first time that a user accesses the intranet, he or she is asked for the preferred location, which updates the User Profile. This lets the user's preference persist across all devices used to access the intranet. At any time, the user can change the preferred location by choosing another location on the Change Location menu in the intranet header, which updates the User Profile. After a user chooses a new location, he or she is redirected to the home page, which then shows content and navigation targeted to the new location.

  • Language preference Language targeting is based on the user's chosen browser language. By default, the multilingual user interface and multilingual experience in SharePoint Server 2013 are based on the browser language. Intranet language targeting for content and navigation also uses the same mechanism. To view the intranet in a different language than the default browser language, the user has to change the language in the browser settings and then browse back to the home page for the new language to take effect.

Because of the requirement to support multilingual and multiple-location content, Teck built a custom navigation solution to deliver personalized navigation based on location when a user views content. They used the same custom navigation providers for both global (primary) navigation and current (secondary) navigation.

In both cases, the navigation provider detects whether the current context is the /Global/ or /Search/ site collection. If it is, the provider switches the context to the site collection of the appropriate location, based on the user's preferred location stored in the User Profile, and uses that site collection's navigation term set to show the navigation links. The user sees his or her location's navigation, even though that user is on a /Global/ page or item or in the Search Centre site collection. Both navigation providers also use a set number of first-level navigation term nodes and ignore any first-level terms more than the maximum number permitted.

For the current navigation provider, Teck implemented custom logic to override the standard behavior of showing Parent, Current, and Child nodes. Instead, it shows Grandparent, Parent, Current, and Sibling nodes. Thus, the user always sees three levels of navigation nodes. They also implemented custom URL pattern matching for Item Details pages and List Library views, where a URL match isn't found in the navigation term set. In these cases, recursive logic is applied to find a matching term by trimming the current item's URL up to the previous "/." Basically, the logic keeps trimming the URL until it reaches the base URL and finds the best possible match. This was needed because the site structure doesn't always match the navigation term hierarchy. For example, they used a custom display form for Announcements so that it resembles a branded page to the user, even though it's a DispForm.aspx page and not a publishing page.

Teck created a corporate intranet site where employees can view both corporate (global) content and location-specific (local) content on a single site, in their preferred language, based on their location. This multilingual and multiple-location approach was enabled by using personalization features based on role, permissions, and localization. The site presents only content that is relevant and available to a particular user. Users see relevant global and local content and, to a limited degree, role-based content. This reduced the number of pages shown to users and eliminated the need to dig through pages of meaningless content to find relevant content.

Global content is intended for all Teck employees, authored in English, and translated into Spanish. Local content is intended for Teck employees based on location (Vancouver or Santiago) and is specific to the locale. Local content is language-neutral and is not translated into other languages.

The old intranet site was organized based on the organizational structure of the company. For example, "Departments and Groups" was a major section on the site. To find a certain type of content, a user had to know which department or group provided that content.

The new site is organized based on the informational structure of the content. Content is grouped by type—for example, "News" and "Policies and Procedures"—not by the department or group that supplies it. In the new structure, content is grouped in new categories that cross various providers.

To combine all the existing sites into a centralized intranet, each major entity was given its own site collection. The following figure shows all the site collections and the logical relationships between them.

Diagram of the Teck site collection hierarchy

This design helps to make sure that the architecture will scale as content grows. It handles many language requirements and locations, provides central and localized control of content management, and helps to make sure additional locations can be brought on board quickly and with minimal dependency on setup and configuration. This approach also lets site collections be hosted where they are needed. For example, the authoring site collection for Santiago is hosted in the Santiago data center. But, the instances of the Global and Vancouver site collections in Santiago are read-only.

To meet the multilingual content requirement, Teck used the variations feature to author content in a primary language and then translate it to another language, as needed. The following figure shows the variation site hierarchy Teck used and how content from the English source is copied and linked to Spanish target sites.

Diagram of the Teck variation site hierarchy

Each site collection on the intranet is set up for content authoring and publishing with variation labels for each language that content will be translated into. Each site collection can host sites that do not use variations. Content created on these sites is considered language-neutral and is not translated.

Teck used a generic design pattern as the base pattern for global and location-specific content. Each site collection includes core resources like Master pages, Style Libraries, Assets Libraries, Settings, and other features. They enabled the variations feature, and created labels for "en-ca" and "es-cl" to enable content publishing in English and Spanish. Each site collection also contains the managed metadata and navigation term sets for all locations in the required languages.

Diagram of the Teck generic data model

The variation source site is used to create structure and author content in a primary language for multilingual content. This includes lists, libraries, and other content on publishing sites, as needed. Additional lists, libraries, and other sites that do not participate in the variations process are also included.

The variation target sites include one or more sites that receive linked content from the variation source site translated into the appropriate language. These sites can also contain content like lists, libraries, and other sites that do not participate in the variations process.

Each site collection can also host additional sites that do not participate in the variations process. This lets the model be flexible to support other non-variation content scenarios. For example, a location can use an additional site in this structure to manage another aspect of the location.

Each site collection and site has properties that are used with the Content Search Web Part queries to show content on pages based on location and language. The property site.Locale is an existing property automatically set by SharePoint Server 2013 that returns the locale of the local site or language template (for example, "en-ca" or "es-cl"). The property SiteCollection.TeckLocation is a custom property that was added to the site collection, and it returns the name of the location (for example, "Vancouver" or "Santiago").

The SiteCollection.TeckLocation property is also used to check which URL the user is directed to (http://connect.teck.com/Vancouver or http://connect.teck.com/Santiago). This property is set when the user goes to Set Preferences or chooses Change Location in the site header.

The global and local design patterns use the same generic design pattern, with several changes. The global design pattern has the following differences:

  • The global site doesn't use other language-neutral sites.

  • Language-neutral content is authored the same as content authored for translation.

  • There is no location personalization.

The local design pattern has the following differences:

  • Content is created by location (Vancouver or Santiago) and is specific to the locale.

  • Authored content is language-neutral and isn't translated. This content is authored on other sites outside the variation sites.

  • The location can be personalized.

  • Global content is translated and shown in the appropriate language.

Teck uses an environment made up mostly of virtual machines. Only host machines and the storage area network (SAN) use physical computers. All other servers, both computers that are running SharePoint Server 2013 and computers that are running SQL Server, are virtual machines. The following diagram shows the physical server architecture.

Diagram of Teck physical server architecture

In this architecture, each host is paired for fault tolerance. Any server or host computer can be removed, and the solution should continue to run. There is also a disaster recovery mirror of the whole environment that includes component redundancy, to cover the possibility of a total blackout of the data center.

Teck used the SharePoint 2013 product line architecture from Microsoft as guidance to drive consistency across each deployment. It's aligned with the SharePoint Online service description and service levels to maximize performance and resource usage while simplifying operational support. The production farm architecture consists of three WFEs, two application servers, four search servers, and two database servers. The production architecture is duplicated in data centers in both North America and South America.

Diagram of the Teck production farm architecture

Table: production farm server specifications

Farm role Physical or virtual Processor RAM Disk size

WFE #1

Virtual

Four cores

32 GB

200 GB

WFE #2

Virtual

Four cores

32 GB

200 GB

WFE #3

Virtual

Four cores

32 GB

200 GB

Application server #1

Virtual

Four cores

32 GB

200 GB

Application server #2

Virtual

Four cores

32 GB

200 GB

Search server #1 (index/QPC)

Virtual

Eight cores

32 GB

800 GB

Search server #2 (index/QPC)

Virtual

Eight cores

32 GB

800 GB

Search server #3 (crawl, admin, analytics, CP)

Virtual

Eight cores

32 GB

500 GB

Search server #4 (crawl, admin, analytics, CP)

Virtual

Eight cores

32 GB

500 GB

SQL Server #1

Virtual

Eight cores

32 GB

1,024 GB

SQL Server #2

Virtual

Eight cores

32 GB

1,024 GB

Teck uses a virtualized environment for staging and user acceptance testing (UAT) that emulates the setup of its production site. The staging and UAT architecture is identical to the one used for production, whereas the test and integration environments use scaled-down architectures. Teck also uses the UAT environment for scheduled performance testing. By using an environment that is identical to the production environment, they can understand the expected behavior of the production environment under stress.

As a result of replacing their corporate intranet with SharePoint Server 2013, Teck was able to simplify how they manage their intranet and reduce the duplication of content. It let them create the first-ever intranet available in both English and Spanish for their employees. And, it let users access one central source for information and news from across the company by seamlessly integrating both global and local information into a single view.

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