By Sanjay Singh
Microsoft SharePoint has become the global standard for enterprise content management. The amount of content stored and accessed through SharePoint is growing by leaps and bounds at a rate of roughly 75 percent every year. As the amount of content grows, so does its importance to enterprise users. Users need access to this critical information, at various times and locations.
SharePoint Challenge: Synchronization
As such, one of the challenges facing global enterprises is ensuring that SharePoint content is constantly up-to-date and synchronized for all end users. The days of a single SharePoint deployment for one office are largely extinct.
Most SharePoint deployments now have multiple farms and many must provide content, in real-time, to users that could be thousands of miles away from headquarters. Users around the globe are leveraging SharePoint to access and share documents, even in Antarctica. But without synchronizing content, none of it would be possible.
Syncing to Antarctica
A prime example of how unsynchronized SharePoint content can undercut productivity comes from Antarctica New Zealand, the Crown Entity of New Zealand responsible for executing government activities and research in Antarctica. The organization uses SharePoint as its primary information and collaboration platform for interaction between its head office in Christchurch, New Zealand, and Scott Base, its research facility located in Antarctica.
It's not exactly a stretch to imagine the difficulty with successfully collaborating on content in Antarctica through SharePoint, such as the distance from headquarters, the continent’s climate, and a lack of SharePoint infrastructure at the remote location. The challenge was made especially difficult because they needed to share information securely between offices with firewalls over a low bandwidth (64/256k), high latency (300ms) satellite data link.
While Antarctica New Zealand knew it had to synchronize content in real-time, especially for research, the native functionality in SharePoint wouldn't support what they needed. The most important aspect for Antarctica New Zealand was the ability to replicate a document’s workflow state and status, which allows its team to share research as it’s being conducted to where and when it’s needed. Without a third-party replication solution, the organization would risk losing critical information and missing the latest research data.
Antarctica New Zealand’s situation reveals one of the greatest concerns with SharePoint deployments that are located far away from headquarters – remote users will almost always have limited network access. Whether due to being on another continent or at sea, the poor connection can lead to trouble.
Like a storm looming in the distance, unsynchronized SharePoint content can have serious and dire implications if you are not prepared. If content appears available and current to your end users but is actually old and out-of-date, you run the risk of violating compliance regulations and negatively impacting productivity.
Syncing within SharePoint
Within SharePoint, the only way to synchronize content is at the database level, which enables organizations to keep the same content available to end-users. However, it fails to synchronize information such as versioning, workflows and metadata. This is more suited for a backup or recovery scenario. Unfortunately, many organizations are unaware of alternative methods, thus making the lack of native functionality for content synchronization a hidden obstacle for businesses.
SharePoint 2013 and Synchronization
The issues with unsynchronized content are multiplying, in part, because SharePoint adoption is likewise growing across organizations. The release of SharePoint 2013 will only stimulate this growth further, both in the number of users and the amount of content. For organizations on older versions, such as SharePoint 2003 or SharePoint 2007, the move to SharePoint 2013 will likely bring more users to the platform in more locations.
Another challenge associated with SharePoint 2013 is that companies must keep content in sync across different versions. There are many organizations that are now managing SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 farms simultaneously. In the very near future, it is very likely these same organizations must manage three versions – 2007, 2010 and 2013 – while ensuring the content is similar across all of them.
Plan Your Topology
With these challenges in mind, it is crucial to plan out your SharePoint farm topology to enable maximum synchronization, adoption and collaboration. The amount of content in SharePoint and the number of users are only going to increase and unsynchronized content is an often overlooked, yet very real problem for enterprises today.
If you plan accordingly and prepare your SharePoint environment for synchronization, you can eliminate these dangers and have all of your users – regardless of location – collaborating on the same version of the same document in real-time.
Sanjay Singh is the Product Manager for Metalogix Replicator, the award-winning SharePoint replication solution that ensures remote users have first-class access to the information they need to do their jobs. Sanjay has been working with SharePoint for the last five years as a user, site owner, and farm administrator. A graduate of the University of Waterloo with a Math degree in Computer Science and Statistics, he’s spent the majority of his career solving problems and getting people home a little earlier.