Tableau server has a multi-tenancy feature called “sites” which is mainly for enterprise customers. Site strategy is one of the hot topics at the most recent Silicon Valley Enterprise Tableau User Group meet-up. Many people are not clear how to use sites.
This blog covers three areas about Tableau sites:
- Basic concepts
- Common use cases
- Governance processes and settings
1. Basic concepts about Tableau sites
Let’s start with some basic concepts. Understanding those basic concepts will provide better clarity, avoid confusions, and reduce hesitations to leverage sites.
Sites are partitions or compartmented containers. There is absolutely no ‘communication’ between sites. Nothing can be shared across sites.
Site admin has unrestricted access to the contents on the specific site that he or she owns. Site admin can manage projects, workbooks, and data connections. Site admin can add users, groups, assign site roles and site membership. Site admins can monitor pretty much everything within the site: traffic to views, traffic to data sources, background tasks, space, etc. Site admin can manage extract refresh scheduling, etc.
One user can be assigned roles into multiple sites. The user can be site admin for site A and can also have any roles in site B independently. For example, Joe, as a site admin for site A, can be added as a user to site B as admin role (or Interactor role). However Joe can’t transfer workbooks, views, users, data connections, users groups, or anything between site A and site B sites. When Joe login Tableau, Joe has choice of site A or B: When Joe selects site A, Joe can see everything in site A but Joe can’t see anything in site B – It is not possible for Joe to assign site A’s workbook/view to any users or user groups in site B.
All sites are equal from security perspective. There is no concept of super site or site hierarchy. You can think of a site is an individual virtual server. Site is opposite of ‘sharing’.
Is it possible to share anything across sites? The answer is no for site admins or any other users. However if you are a creative server admin, you can write scripts run on server level to break this rule. For example, server admin can use tabcmd to copy extracts from site A to site B although site admin can’t.
2. Common use case of Tableau sites.
- If your Tableau server is an enterprise server for multiple business units (fin, sales, marketing, etc), fin does not wants sales to see fin contents, create sites for each business unit so one business unit site admin will not be able to see other business unit’s data or contents.
- If your Tableau server is an enterprise platform and you want to provide a governed self-service to business. Site approach (business as site admin and IT as server admin) will provide the maximum flexibility to the business while IT can still hold business site admins accounted for everything within his or her sites.
- If your server deals with some key partners, you do not want one partner to see other partner’s metrics at all. You can create one site for each partner. This will also avoid potential mistakes of assigning partner A user to partner B site.
- If you have some very sensitive data or contents (like internal auditing data), a separate site will make much better data security control – from development phase to production.
- Using sites as Separation of Duties (SoD) strategy to prevent fraud or some potential conflicting of interests for some powerful business site admins.
- You just have too many publishers on your server that you want to distribute some admin work to those who are closer to the publishers for agility reasons.
3. Governance processes around Tableau sites.
Thoughtful site management approaches, clearly defined roles and responsibilities, documented request and approval process and naming conversions have to be planned ahead before you go with site strategy to avoid potential chaos later on. Here is the checklist:
- Site structure: How do you want to segment a server to multiple sites? Should site follow organization or business structure? There is no right or wrong answer here. However you do want to think and plan ahead. On our server, we partition our data, contents and users by business functions and geography locations. We create sites and site naming conversions as business_functions, or business_ geography. For example (Sales_partner, Marketing_APAC, Finance_audit, etc). When we look at a site name, we have some ideas what site is about.
- How many sites you should have? It completely depends on your use cases, data sources, user base, levels of controls you want to have. As a rule of thumb, I will argue anyone who plans to create more than 100 sites on a server would be too many sites although I know a very large corporation has about 300 sites that work well for them. Our enterprise server has 4,000 end users with 20+ sites. Our separate Engineering server has 4 sites for about 1,000 engineers.
- Who should be the site admin? Either IT or business users (or both) can be site admins. One site can have more than one admin. One person can admin multiple sites as well. When a new site is created, server admin normally just adds one user as site admin who can add others as site admins.
- What controls are at site level? All the following controls can be done at site level:
- Allow site admin to manage users for the site
- Allow the site to have web authoring. When web authoring is on, it does not mean that all views within the site are web editable. The workbook/view level has to be set web editing allowed by specific users or user groups before the end user can have web editing.
- Allow subscriptions. Each site can have one ‘email from address’ to send out subscriptions from that site.
- Record workbook performance key events metrics
- Create offline snapshots of favorites for iPad users.
- What privileges server admin should give to site admins? Server admin can give all the above controls to site admin when the site is created. Server admin can change those site level settings as well. Server admin can even take back those privileges at anytime from site admin.
- What is new site creation process? I have new site request questionnaires that requester has to answer. The answers help server and governance team to understand the use cases, data sources, user base, and data governance requirements to decide if their use cases fit Tableau server or not, if they should share an existing site or a new site should be created. The key criteria are if same data sources exist in other site, if the user base overlaps with other site. It is balance between duplication of work vs. flexibility. Here are some scenarios when you may not create a new site:
- If the requested site will use the same data sources as one of the existing sites, you may want to create a project within the existing site to avoid potential duplicate extracts (or live connections) running against the same source database.
- If the requested site overlaps end users a lot with one existing site, you may want to create a project within the existing site to avoid duplicating user maintenance works.
As a summary, Tableau site is a great feature for large Tableau server implementations. Sites can be very useful to segment data and contents, distribute admin work, empower business for self-service, etc. However site misuse can create a lot extract work or even chaos later on. Thoughtful site strategy and governance process have to be developed before you start to implement sites although the process evolves toward its maturity as you go.