How to Overcome SharePoint Performance Headaches

Microsoft SharePoint is increasingly becoming a victim of its own success: As more departments start to use it, bottlenecks occur and performance suffers. To combat this, some companies are rolling out third-party storage systems that move large data sets off SQL Server.

By John Moore
Wed, April 03, 2013

CIO — Call it the SharePoint crawl.

Professional Healthcare Resources, a home healthcare and hospice company based in Annandale, Va., had been running SharePoint since December 2007. At first, PHR used the collaboration system to house contact lists, weather information and office announcements. But the platform soon saw increased activity: Human resources began storing most of its forms and documents on SharePoint, while IT launched a help desk ticketing system.

As the amount of content grew, employees bumped up against performance issues. Users searching for data on SharePoint reported wait times of one minute or longer. "It became very slow," notes Hussein Sh-Ibrahim, director of IT at PHR. "I had to find where the bottleneck was coming from."

PHR's experience is not uncommon. SharePoint installations may start life as workgroup systems, but they typically don't stay that way. Other departments find new ways to take advantage of the system. The number of users grows, the data housed in SharePoint expands and performance often suffers. That's a particularly worrisome development for business-critical deployments.

Glacial search times aren't the only consideration for expanding SharePoint systems. Other growing pains include slow document upload and download times, long backup windows, and latency headaches for remote users.

"I would attribute a lot of those issues to suboptimal design and suboptimal infrastructure," says Kenneth Lo, CEO of Kattelo Consulting, a San Francisco-based company that provides SharePoint consulting services and runs its own business on the technology. "When the foundation is shaky, it's hard to build a big house on top of that."

Storage Adversely Affects SharePoint Performance

When SharePoint performance problems surface, storage frequently takes the blame. User demand may overwhelm storage—and SharePoint's underlying SQL Server database isn't designed for the unstructured data that organizations seek to distribute, industry executives contend.

Storage turned out to be the root problem at PHR. Sh-Ibrahim's SharePoint troubleshooting considered the network, server and storage. The problem came down to slow hard drive response time. PHR initially stored SharePoint data in internal storage, but later moved the data to a storage-area network (SAN). Last year, the company began considering storage workarounds from Dell EqualLogic and smaller players such as Astute Networks and Nimble Storage.

During these discussions, Sh-Ibrahim learned that many companies were moving to flash solid-state drives as a more-responsive alternative to traditional hard drives. He found price to be an issue, as other IT managers exploring flash storage have discovered. The Astute ViSX flash-storage appliance, however, provided to be more cost effective, Sh-Ibrahim says.

PHR moved its SharePoint server to the ViSX hardware and the performance bottleneck disappeared. "We don't have complaints about system slowness," Sh-Ibrahim says. "I can focus on other projects."

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