:: By Paul Andersen, Array Networks ::
One of the biggest challenges to global deployments of SharePoint is dealing with poor wide area network (WAN) performance. Essentially, plans for global adoption can be thwarted due to slow page loads and file transfers and time wasted waiting for systems to respond. Many IT professionals would say that you can't do anything about latency – the speed of light – which slows application performance over a WAN. While this may be true, physical limits do not contribute significantly to poor application performance. In reality, the biggest challenge to centralization and data center consolidation is a combination of too much chatty traffic and not enough bandwidth. You can buy more bandwidth, but it can get expensive quickly and it won’t necessarily improve application performance. When you factor in the usage of small WAN links in remote offices – and the fact that the more bandwidth you provide to end-users, the faster it is consumed – fighting for application performance using bandwidth can be a losing battle.
Thankfully, there are options available to address bandwidth and latency concerns around deploying SharePoint. Rather than deploying SharePoint in expensive silos and figuring out how to replicate content, configurations and security throughout globally distributed farms, today IT professionals can take advantage of real solutions that assist with centralization, reduce hardware and operational costs and improve end-user productivity.
One such solution is WAN optimization, which utilizes a combination of de-duplication, compression, caching, SSL offload, traffic shaping, removal of unnecessary packets and protocol optimization to reduce round trips. By reducing the amount of data on the wire and streamlining the behavior of application traffic, WAN optimization allows businesses to centralize SharePoint without worrying about potential performance implications. You are in control. You decide what is important.
WAN optimization includes a number of techniques designed to optimize not only page renders but also everything that you transfer. Configured in-line or hanging off a router, WAN optimization will typically be able to improve the performance of not just SharePoint traffic, but also other WAN traffic including Web servers, SQL, Oracle, NSF and CIFS or file server traffic. In most instances, WAN optimization can be configured out-of-line exclusively for SharePoint or can just as easily be configured to accelerate other traffic traversing the WAN.
Choosing a Vendor
For organizations looking specifically at optimizing global SharePoint deployments, it is important to consider WAN optimization controllers that provide a compelling value proposition. One thing to look for are "application blueprints" which are tuned for specific applications – in this case SharePoint. The blueprint optimizes the transfer protocols used by SharePoint so that they operate more efficiently across the WAN and provide the end-user with a significantly accelerated experience.
The best application blueprints address not only differencing and intelligent caching but also the rules per protocol that shape and optimize the SharePoint traffic itself. While some performance solutions focus only on optimizing file transfers or HTTP; business should look for a solution that not only focuses on SharePoint-specific rules but also focuses on optimizing transfer and traffic rules as they relate to optimizing protocol chattiness, differencing, caching and reducing overall roundtrips required.
From an administrator standpoint, WAN optimization controllers should provide a high degree of flexibility in global SharePoint deployments, including the ability to set policies for routing, configure ACLs for multiple communities and select platform options best suited to particular applications, use cases and environments such as:
• Bare-metal hardware appliances
• Virtual appliances for Hyper-V, VMware or Xen
• Software for Windows Server 2008
• Software client for Windows laptops
As your needs grow, the infrastructure should be able to grow with you and expand simply by adding license keys. In the beginning it may make sense to leverage Windows Server for smaller offices, but as the small branch office grows to become a larger regional office, you may find that a virtual appliance with a dedicated disk better fits expanded scalability and performance requirements.
Whether supporting SharePoint in datacenter and cloud deployments, remote office deployments or mobile workforce deployments, WAN optimization controllers should include configuration management software that can assist with deployment configuration and monitoring of appliances, while providing analysis capabilities to help maximize IT resources.
Remote Offices & Users
Another challenge in the WAN optimization space is the devices themselves. To perform differencing, you need two devices. This is typically accomplished by data center and remote location devices, but what if there isn't any remote office IT infrastructure? With WAN optimization controllers that support a range of hardware and software platform options, IT administrators have a couple of solutions at their disposal to provide flexibility for smaller branch offices that may not have a network closet or network equipment. (Quite often, small offices have only a DSL or cable modem and two or three employees.)
One solution is a mobile client that supports lone road warriors who may not be at the office at all. Other solutions include virtual appliances or software that can easily be installed on a server residing in the branch office.
Ultimately, ROI for any solution comes down to discovering where the real value is. Did we save on bandwidth? Is WAN optimization actually reducing the amount of data on the wire? These are valid questions. However, real value lies in understanding the needs of the end-user in order to determine where centralization of SharePoint may be implemented. You need to know what your users demand in terms of performance. Being able to get data off the wire and optimizing application performance will help, and may make the difference in preventing multiple deployments or supporting a consolidation strategy.
About the Author
Paul Andersen is the Marketing Manager at Array Networks (www.arraynetworks.com). He has over 15 years of experience in networking, and has served in various marketing capacities for Cisco Systems, Tasman Networks and Sun Microsystems. Mr. Andersen holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from San Jose State University.