As SharePoint user adoption increases, so does the amount of data that must be stored in SharePoint. Although rapid adoption indicates effective collaboration, this content explosion can easily outstrip SharePoint’s basic storage configuration.
This causes an outcry both from end users, who complain about SharePoint’s slow performance, and SQL Server DBAs, who protest that SharePoint is taking up too much expensive server space and processing power. All of this can lead to dissatisfaction with a once-loved platform.
Here are five storage-related issues in SharePoint that can kill performance, with tips on how to resolve or prevent them.
Problem #1: Unstructured data takeover. The primary document types stored in SharePoint are PDFs, Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files, and large Excel spreadsheets. These documents are usually well over a megabyte.
SharePoint saves all file contents in SQL Server as unstructured data, otherwise known as Binary Large Objects (BLOBs). Having many BLOBs in SQL Server causes several issues. Not only do they take up lots of storage space, they also use server resources.
Because a BLOB is unstructured data, any time a user accesses a file in SharePoint, the BLOB has to be reassembled before it can be delivered back to the user – taking extra processing power and time.
Solution: Move BLOBs out of SQL Server and into a secondary storage location – specifically, a higher density storage array that is reasonably fast, like a file share or network attached storage (NAS).
Problem #2: An avalanche of large media. Organizations today use a variety of large files such as videos, images, and PowerPoint presentations, but storing them in SharePoint can lead to performance issues because SQL Server isn't optimized to house them.
Media files, especially, cause issues for users because they are so large and need to be retrieved fairly quickly. For example, a video file may have to stream at a certain rate, and applications won't return control until the file is fully loaded. As more of this type of content is stored in SharePoint, it amplifies the likelihood that users will experience browser timeout, slow Web server performance, and upload and recall failures.
Solution: For organizations that make SharePoint “the place” for all content large and small, use third-party tools specifically designed to facilitate the externalization of large media storage and organization. This will encourage user adoption and still allow you to maintain the performance that users demand.
Problem #3: Old and unused files hogging valuable SQL Server storage. As data ages, it usually loses its value and usefulness, so it’s not uncommon for the majority of SharePoint content to go completely unused for long periods of time. In fact, more than 60 to 80 percent of content in SharePoint is either unused or used only sparingly in its lifespan. Many organizations waste space by applying the same storage treatment for this old, unused data as they do for new, active content, quickly degrading both SQL Server and SharePoint performance.
Solution: Move less active and relevant SharePoint data to less expensive storage, while still keeping it available to end users via SharePoint. In the interface, it helps to move these older files to different parts of the information architecture, to minimize navigational and search clutter. Similarly, we can “unclutter” the storage back end.
A third-party tool that provides tiered storage will enable you to easily move each piece of SharePoint data through its life cycle to various repositories, such as direct attached storage, a file share, or even the cloud. With tiered storage, you can keep your most active and relevant data close at hand, while moving the rest to less expensive and possibly slower storage, based on the particular needs of your data set.
Problem #4: Lack of scalability. As SharePoint content grows, its supporting hardware can become underpowered if growth rates weren't accurately forecasted. Organizations unable to invest in new hardware need to find alternatives that enable them to use best practices and keep SharePoint performance optimal. Microsoft guidance suggests limiting content databases to 200GB maximum unless disk subsystems are tuned for high input/output performance. In addition, huge content databases are cumbersome for backup and restore operations.
Solution: Offload BLOBs to the file system – thus reducing the size of the content database. Again, tiered storage will give you maximum flexibility, so as SharePoint data grows, you can direct it to the proper storage location, either for pure long-term storage or zippy immediate use.
It also lets you spread the storage load across a wider pool of storage devices. This approach keeps SharePoint performance high and preserves your investment in existing hardware by prolonging its useful life in lieu of buying expensive hardware. It’s simpler to invest in optimizing a smaller SQL Server storage core than a full multi-terabyte storage footprint, including archives.
Problem #5: Not leveraging Microsoft’s data externalization features. Microsoft’s recommended externalization options are Remote BLOB Storage (RBS), a SQL Server API that enables SharePoint 2010 to store BLOBs in locations outside the content databases, and External BLOB Storage (EBS), a SharePoint API introduced in SharePoint 2007 SP1 and continued in SharePoint 2010.
Many organizations haven't yet explored these externalization capabilities, however, and are missing out on significant storage and related performance benefits. However, native EBS and RBS require frequent T-SQL command-line administration, and lack flexibility.
Solution: Use a third-party tool that works with Microsoft’s supported APIs, RBS, and EBS, and gives administrators an intuitive interface through SharePoint’s native Central Administration to set the scope, rules and location for data externalization.
In each of these five problem areas, you can see that offloading the SharePoint data to more efficient external storage is clearly the answer. Microsoft’s native options, EBS and RBS, only add to the complexity of managing SharePoint storage, however, so the best option to improve SharePoint performance and reduce costs is to select a third-party tool that integrates cleanly into SharePoint’s Central Administration. This would enable administrators to take advantage of EBS and RBS, choosing the data they want to externalize by setting the scope and rules for externalization and selecting where they want the data to be stored.
Chris McNulty is a strategic product manager and evangelist for SharePoint Solutions at Quest Software. He is a MCTS, MCSE, and a member of the Microsoft Solutions Advocate and MVTSP programs. A frequent speaker at events around the world, he's the author of the SharePoint 2010 Consultant’s Handbook, and other books, and writes at SharePoint For All and the KnowPoint blog.
For more information on SharePoint performance issues, see Dan Holme's article "10 Reasons Why SharePoint Performance Can Slow."