Consider your own SharePoint environment. How much money could you save on annual SQL licenses and SAN maintenance costs if you were able to reduce Binary Large Object (BLOB) content by 98 percent? You can easily achieve this by streamlining SharePoint SQL database use and moving it to a less-costly network-attached storage (NAS) or cloud storage environment.

Cost is just one benefit to be gained from taking control of your SharePoint environment. Other gains include enhanced performance, fast and secure backup and recoverability, simplified management, and ongoing insights into SharePoint behavior.

Let’s break the benefits down into four key areas and how to improve them.

1. Performance

Most performance gains achieved from taking a proactive approach to SharePoint management come from a few key vectors: document upload speed, download speed and content discoverability. Basically, this is how users gauge whether SharePoint is working or not.

Most organizations use SharePoint to manipulate documents -- opening, downloading, saving and uploading. Database access can limit performance significantly. Weighed down by large content files, bloated databases slow search and file upload and download speeds.

How do you tackle this?

There are two different approaches to increasing SharePoint performance. The first centers around the age old technique of “throw more hardware at it.” This can work and even show significant gains but additional hardware also precipitates additional database licenses, complexity and sprawl. The cost versus benefit of this approach is severely limited. Organizations need to approach this in a more intelligent way.

If the underlying performance issue is a bloated content database, then reducing that bloat by moving unstructured files (aka “BLOBs”) out of SharePoint can result in big performance gains. This approach can double effective upload and download speeds by using Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) to externalize data. A secondary benefit of this technique is that it dramatically speeds up full index crawls, thus improving content discoverability for users. RBS allows processes to completely bypass SQL and thus drastically improve BLOB input and output.

2. Backup and Recoverability

SharePoint backup speed is directly tied to the size of databases, in particular, SQL Server databases.

It follows that reducing the size of the database will decrease backup time. This can be accomplished in several ways.

First, deploy a smart backup solution. If you maintain multiple copies of the same BLOB in the database backups, your backup will balloon in size in the time it takes to complete a full backup. Ideally, try to maintain a single primary BLOB copy with a single backup. The best way to do this is through externalization -- separate the metadata from the unstructured content. A smart backup solution can backup and restore both SharePoint and external BLOB data.

Next, backing up the full database is inherently more time-consuming than backing up only the parts that change. The latter can be achieved using an incremental or differential approach. Differential backups contain all the changes since the last full farm backup was performed. Incremental backups contain all changes that have been made since the last incremental backup was taken. Incremental backups typically provide shorter backup times but longer restore times. Additionally, since incremental backups rely on each other, there is more risk because one corrupt backup will cause the rest to be useless.

Last, capture a high-fidelity backup -- one that backs up configuration files, workflow and customizations, as well as content and metadata. This ensures application-specific backup, which allows you to recover more quickly, easily and with lower risk.

3. Simplified Management

Managing a complex application that is growing and becoming more essential requires tools that simplify the experience and empower administrators to effectively control their environment. For example, administrators should seek a solution that can distill multiple backup activities into a single job, capture and backup full fidelity SharePoint, recover down to a single document -- all in the most easy-to-use fashion. No matter what specific features you seek, the solution should help make management easy and reduce complexity.

4. Application-Specific Insights

Monitoring tools generate lots of noise, but too frequently general purpose network and system monitoring tools are not tuned to the specific needs of an application. Complex, mission-critical applications require application-specific monitoring that dives deep into the key performance and operational attributes of the application, helping the administrator to effectively anticipate, plan and manage SharePoint. In a nutshell -- don’t settle for a non-SharePoint specific monitoring tool.

These four points should provide you with the basic building blocks and know-how needed to proactively run SharePoint, manage organizational expectations, and above all, take control.

Title image by Martin Good /