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Several customers that we have been working recently have been wanting to use SharePoint globally, often with offices in remote parts of the world where internet bandwidth is limited. How well does SharePoint work in these scenarios? What are the options available to someone looking to deploy SharePoint and make it accessible across a low bandwidth WAN or internet connection?
The version of SharePoint in use is a good starting point and may be an easy win. SharePoint 2010 and earlier versions weren’t exactly renowned for being lightweight on bandwidth. This has changed significantly with SharePoint 2013, where optimisations such as the new Minimal Download Strategy can achieve up to a 40% improvement in the use of available bandwidth (Microsoft figures). If you have bandwidth problems or concerns, then an upgrade to 2013 is certainly going to help, and it brings with it the numerous additional benefits of the new version.
It’s amazing to see how many old style .doc, .xls, and .ppt files are still in use. The new formats: .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx introduced in 2007 are typically around a third of the size of their older counterparts. A bulk conversion is a relatively simple exercise (for example using PowerShell) and it can save gigabytes or terabytes of storage, as well as reducing bandwidth needs when users are uploading or downloading files. A further advantage of these file formats is that when documents are opened from SharePoint and a change is made, only the changes are sent back upon save. With the old formats the entire document is sent back to SharePoint, even if just a single character is changed in a 10Mb document.
Office Web Applications, an optional component in SharePoint 2010 and 2013, will render Office documents in the browser. This is beneficial for users who are on the road and perhaps using computers that don’t have the right version of Office installed. But additionally, Office Web Applications makes better use of bandwidth. Only the pages that a user goes to are downloaded, and they are downloaded as needed, rather than a long wait at the start while an entire document downloads.
Network devices such as Steelhead from Riverbed or BIG-IP WAN Optimisation Manager from F5 apply sophisticated techniques of caching and compression to reduce network traffic, in some cases very significantly.
I’m not a great fan of replicating content between SharePoint sites because of its inherent complexity and technical challenge, especially when a two way synchronisation or a global search is needed. A simpler option is to allow users to take offline copies of documents, using SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint 2013 or a third party tool such as Colligo.
When thinking how best to address bandwidth issues it’s essential to quantify the problem through measurement and capacity planning, so that you can be sure that the solutions you choose will deliver what is needed.
Ian Woodgate is Managing Director of PointBeyond Limited, the UK’s leading SharePoint Business Application specialists. Ian has a background in financial services and and IT. He has worked with SharePoint since its first release as a developer and subsequently as a solution architect. Ian regularly speaks at events around the country, focusing on the subject of delivering business applications using SharePoint, and wrote PointBeyond’s white paper ‘Delivering Maximum Business Value With A SharePoint Based Application Strategy’. He also runs the SharePoint UK user group meetings in Southampton. You can contact Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @IanWoodgate