Storage Optimisation for SharePoint

Sarju Raja, VP EMEA, AvePoint, outlines some key considerations for SharePoint storage to ensure that all business objectives can be met without breaking the bank.

The amount of data businesses are required to store is growing at an exponential rate. In fact, a study released by research firm IDC, “Extracting Value from Chaos,” states the world’s data is doubling every two years. This rapid growth of data certainly applies to organisations utilising Microsoft SharePoint, and is driving a growing need for an effective storage infrastructure that must fulfil several important needs: support scalability, offer simple and robust management capabilities, and can’t break the bank.

SharePoint automatically stores data in Microsoft® SQL® Server content databases – high performance, high cost Tier 1 storage. As a relational database, SQL is highly efficient at storing structured data, but is significantly less so when dealing with larger, non-relational data streams such as Word documents, PDF files, and video files – which are also known as Binary Large Objects (BLOBs). As BLOBs can account for up to 95 percent of all data in a typical organisation, the efficiency of data storage in SharePoint can be negatively impacted. So, what can be done to optimise SharePoint storage?

One of the biggest challenges when implementing a SharePoint environment is to get employees to adopt and use the new collaborative platform. During this roll-out process, end-users will commonly find data stored in two different locations: the legacy file share, which could be a personal or departmental drive, and the new SharePoint platform itself. Not only does this make it difficult to search and locate business critical information, but supporting large amounts of duplicate data in multiple systems increases the required server space. From both a business and IT perspective, significant cost and management implications come as a result of handling data across two platforms in a disjointed manner. To solve the issue, third-party tools like AvePoint’s DocAve Software Platform can help to connect legacy platforms into SharePoint databases. By synchronising metadata and corresponding security across the platforms, data can be easily accessed, searched, and managed through SharePoint, regardless of where it is actually hosted. In addition, this approach allows users to connect to file-share hosted documents larger than 2 gigabytes (GB), which natively cannot be uploaded directly into SharePoint environments. From an end-user perspective, DocAve can allow for all data to be accessed through one platform, encouraging swift adoption. Additionally, by creating a seamless link between SharePoint and the native file share, stale data and large files can be stored on lower cost storage, offering both long- and short-term cost savings to the business.

Using third party tools to connect to legacy platforms is one way that businesses can optimise SharePoint storage when implementing a SharePoint environment. However, there are several other options to help keep the cost of storage in check. One option would be to leverage aggressive content lifecycle management policies to remediate or delete SharePoint content that has not been accessed or modified in a specified time frame, potentially leveraging SharePoint’s Information Management policies to do so. Another would be to set stringent site quotas and locks, and limit versioning settings to prevent users from uploading significant amounts of data in various sites and lists or libraries.  But for organisations that wish to optimise SharePoint storage while keeping content accessible to end users, they are limited to two main options, both of which leverage Microsoft’s BLOB Storage APIs (EBS or RBS) to externalise data onto lower tiered storage. BLOB externalisation in itself does not reduce the total storage footprint of an infrastructure for SharePoint. However, it is an important first step because it does enable businesses to transfer the storage burden to more cost-effective tiers.  The cost savings can be tremendous: Some large organisations report savings of millions of pounds a year from storage optimisation efforts focused on BLOB externalisation.

The first option is for businesses to develop systems internally to enable the movement of BLOBs away from SQL server onto lower tiered, cheaper physical storage. However, introducing either the EBS or RBS APIs via customised or the FILESTREAM provider requires intense customisation in order to properly manage the communication between SharePoint and the non-SQL Server ‘BLOB store’, making management complex and time consuming.

Businesses that do not have the internal resources to manage EBS and RBS have the option of working with third-party solution providers to optimise SharePoint storage. This approach offers organisations the option to offload specified data to tier 2 or 3 storage based on customisable filters, like content properties, file type, or file size, and more static SharePoint data can even be stored in the cloud, which is not recommended for SharePoint out-of-the-box due to the latency restrictions required for Microsoft supportability. In reality, working with third-party tools to improve the lifecycle of content in SharePoint can help businesses manage these large unstructured files without having to make unnecessary investments in Tier 1 storage systems that would be required to support additional SQL Server bloat up front, offsetting cost in the long-term.

As businesses look to externalise large amounts of data to lower tiered storage, current trends are pointing towards the use of the cloud as a popular choice for businesses. The cloud provides a safe route for organisations to test the water by perhaps hosting more static, non-critical information content in the cloud. There is however a strong appetite for internally hosted SharePoint data, and this seems unlikely to change in the near future as businesses are required to adhere compliance regulations that require data to be stored locally to meet service level agreements. With this in mind, businesses will look to utilise a hybrid model in order to keep critical information on the internal infrastructure, whilst externalising more static, non critical data to cheaper cloud storage.

Data growth is expected to continue at a rapid rate over the next decade, with IDC predicting that the world’s data is doubling every two years . IT Administrators charged with the management of SharePoint deployments will be required to be savvy with storage to cope with this exponential data growth. Optimising storage will enable businesses to make the most of existing assets while ensuring that IT infrastructure is available and scalable as business needs dictate. BLOB externalisation is a key enabler of this optimisation process in SharePoint environments, allowing for increased application performance at the Tier 1 level through improved data and storage management.

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