When I joined Microsoft back in 2006 to help build out the Microsoft Managed Services offerings — a precursor to the SharePoint Online platform within Office365 — I spent a good deal of time talking with customers and partners about improving the performance of SharePoint across multiple locations: from deployment and architectural best-practices, to content synchronization and WAN optimization.
I always loved the customer interactions, working directly with the end user and administrators, and pushing that feedback back to the product teams. In my current role as a technology evangelist, I spend a good portion of my time with customers and partners, listening to their experiences, providing guidance where I can, and doing my best to surface questions and issues when I don't know the answer.
One of the most common issues that customers raise is around optimizing their SharePoint environments. People want to get the most out of the investments they've already made, and while many organizations are slowly making plans to move their data assets into the cloud as a way to reduce infrastructure costs, the reality is that the cloud is not yet a viable option for most of their intellectual property — and so they're looking for ways to improve performance, reduce storage costs and implement stronger disaster recovery and high-availability solutions with existing on premises infrastructure, or through hybrid solutions that will allow them to start taking advantage of cloud cost efficiencies.
Optimizing SharePoint for Global Deployments
In the #CollabTalk Tweet Jam held last month, we tackled the topic of geographically-dispersed teams and SharePoint, touching on the areas of distributed management, performance, and synchronization — all of which factor into the themes of SharePoint disaster recovery and high-availability, among others.
When the panel was asked about the best ways to support high-availability of their SharePoint environments (or even versions) across geographies, the responses were fairly straightforward. Nick Kellett (@nickkellett), SharePoint MVP and CTO of Toronto-based consultancy StoneShare, focused on changes within SharePoint, such as a streamlined information architecture, with consistent navigation and taxonomy, as well as consistent branding and user interface.
Other experts, like Michael Noel (@michaeltnoel), another SharePoint MVP and consultant with San Francisco-based Convergent Computing, and Bradley Geldenhuys (@bradgcoza), co-founder of GTconsult in south Africa, focused their comments on issues outside of SharePoint, such as SQL costs and other core infrastructure, but also provided guidance on areas where cloud or hybrid (with both on premises and cloud components) could improve these cost efficiencies.
Moving from high-availability to disaster recovery planning, some of the panelists began to offer up some of their real-world experiences, detailing past projects with SharePoint replication or synchronization at the application level or at the database level. A good portion of the Tweet Jam revolved around this topic (you can find a summary of the event here via Storify), and after the event I followed up with three of the panelists to expand on the topic of SharePoint replication.
SharePoint Content Replication
I first reached out to my colleague, Mark McGovern (@docpointmark), to get a vendor perspective on the problem areas replication addresses. I asked Mark about Microsoft's stance on SharePoint optimization in general, and content replication specifically, as the need for bi-directional, high-fidelity content replication for fast, global access remains a critical need for many organizations.
Microsoft has always been very supportive of partner solutions to address gaps within their various platforms. While Microsoft may provide guidance around optimizing your SharePoint environments, they rarely come out and endorse a specific solution or category of products, knowing that there are multiple options out there.
Microsoft’s guidance has been around how to optimize your environment out-of-the-box, and really helps highlight where replication can provide tremendous value. To improve access for remote users, they recommend that you do not necessarily set up multiple SharePoint farms, but use a central farm and do the following:
- Optimize your web pages
- Employ improved client tools like SkyDrive Pro, SharePoint Workspace 2010 and Office Web App Servers
- Improve your network connections
- Employ Windows services like BranchCache
- Use WAN accelerators
Many clients understand that they have challenges in geographically dispersed and low bandwidth environments, but oftentimes they do not realize there are solutions in the partner ecosystem. There are a lot of “a-ha” moments once they see and understand what replication can provide, such as immediate, live, bi-directional replication over low bandwidth networks, synchronization of content across multiple farms, and even across multiple versions of SharePoint, and replication of live, in-process workflows."
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