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Planning Your Tableau Server Deployment, Part 1

So you’ve bought yourself a shiny new tableau server license, congratulations! Now you need to get your server installed and set up in your company. Easy right? Installing Tableau server is actually pretty easy. The tricky bit is getting everything organised beforehand, so you a) don’t get stuck waiting for additional information mid-install, and b) you can make a running start getting your content structure in place.

You’ll need someone in your IT to architect the system, or perhaps you’ll read the documentation and do it yourself, or perhaps you’ll bring in a consultant like us. IT will then need to provision the hardware for you. They’ll also need to set up a few things to make sure the server will work as expected. Actually, come to think of it, there’s a list of stuff that you should think about to help get you prepared. Here is Part 1 of such a list.

Deploying and managing a Tableau Server involves a set of responsibilities that I categorise into two different roles – one role that owns or administers the content on the server (the content admin), and another that architects and maintains the server and underlying system (the system admin).

Ownership of these roles will vary – in your world it could just be you doing both of these roles, or each of these responsibilities could be divided across large teams of people. Either way, the same rules apply.

In this post, we’re going to talk about planning considerations for the content admin role. Keep an eye out for part 2 where we will talk about planning a Tableau Server deployment from an IT/sysadmin perspective. Keep in mind that this is a list of things to think about in advance of installation/configuration/day-to-day maintenance. I’ve purposely not included subjects to consider post-install, for example server housekeeping and backups etc.

8 tips for content admins when planning a Tableau Server deployment

1. What is your development process going to look like?

Are you a company that works to a traditional software development lifecycle? You might want to organise your server into areas that mimic SDLC environments, e.g. UAT/production. That’s fine, but you’ll also want a sandbox area where users can play around. Think about the different environments you need and make a note of these. Keep in mind that the traditional concept of a development environment actually fits Tableau Desktop perfectly. Develop in Tableau Desktop, then publish to Tableau Server for testing and finally, promoting to production.

2. Understand the Tableau Server content hierarchy

Understand the difference between sites and projects. These enable you to organise and group your content into logical buckets, but the two have very different purposes. My rule of thumb? Avoid sites unless you have a rock solid use case for multi-tenancy. Group your content using projects instead, for greater flexibility.

3. How are you going to organise your content into this structure?

Will you group your content by environment, business area, author, or function? Think about your audience for this content, how do you need to control permissions to each group of content? Map this out against the server hierarchy, keeping in mind how sites and projects work.

4. How will you organise users, groups, and set permissions, and maintain these?

You’ll most likely use your internal Active Directory for user authentication to Tableau Server. Did you know you can also import Active Directory groups into the server too? This is a good way to manage access and permissions to tableau content, without having to manually create and manage groups of users on the server itself. You might find your Active Directory already has a set of groups set up that match with the permissions model required to access content on your server. Then all you have to do is import these and keep them in sync.

Read our article on how Tableau Server permissions work, updated for v.9.2 here; or if you are still on v.8.x then read this great post by my colleague Chris Love.

5. How often will you upgrade? (Partner with the system admin role on this one, this should be a joint decision)

Tableau have an aggressive release cycle, typically putting a new maintenance release out every month, two or three point releases per year, and one major release every year. If you have a nimble IT department then it’s wise to upgrade as often as possible to take advantage of new features and bugfixes, but first be sure to test the new release on one of your non-production environments (did you know you’re allowed up to three server instances with one Tableau Server license key?) Larger businesses might want to consider upgrading once per quarter, or just twice a year. I wouldn’t recommend leaving an upgrade any longer than that: the frequency with which Tableau introduce new features into their products mean your users will be missing out on new functionality for a long time if you only upgrade once a year.

6. I don’t know the answer to half of these questions, how am I going to plan all this out, I need help!

Power users to the rescue! If your whole business is new to Tableau, then try to identify those users that are going to be doing most of the publishing to Tableau Server and get them involved in this planning process. They will need additional permissions to publish to the server, and you may even want to designate some of them as project leaders, or even server or site administrators so that they can control users and content on the server. If you are new to Tableau Server, but have users that have been using Tableau Desktop, then definitely let them know about the pending server deployment, and consider creating an internal forum to discuss Tableau and share best practices.

7. Simplify everything you’ve planned until now.

A common mistake when deploying Tableau Server is to go overboard creating loads of different environments, sites and projects, which will confuse and demotivate your publishers and users. Look at what you’ve planned so far and ask yourself if you really need all that structure? Look for opportunities to make things simpler before proceeding.

8. Avoid the top 10 pitfalls of deploying Tableau server

This great post from zen master Mark Jackson describes some common deployment pitfalls when implementing Tableau Server. Definitely recommended reading.


That’s all for now. Comments welcome, is there anything we’re missing off this list?

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series where we talk about planning considerations for the system admin role

Jonathan MacDonald

London, UK

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