Saturday, March 10, 2012

The merits of high availability

Ever since I've joined Professional Advantage I have been doing lots of workshops with stakeholders and end users. And every time we unveil an issue in the trenches, which upper management had no idea of, I get this great sense of excitement. The chance to increase user adoption rates, deliver true value, and get users excited about SharePoint.
This was NOT the case at my last workshop.
Users were having troubles saving certain documents to SharePoint directly and were annoyed with having to save locally, then the file share, and then upload to SharePoint. So I showed them how to map drives, navigate SharePoint using the file system, and save directly to SharePoint. They loved it. I was on a roll and then I suggested the unthinkable. To only work in SharePoint. The reaction took me by surprise: "What?! We can't do that! What if SharePoint goes down again ? How am I supposed to work?"
The confidence of users in using SharePoint as the central document management system had been destroyed over the last three years through constant crashes and unavailability. Effectively the SharePoint system was not treated as a mission critical system and was not properly configured, monitored, or maintained.
When I broke the news to management they were quite surprised at my diagnosis. Death through neglect.

Rebuilding that trust in the system will be a very hard uphill battle. More importantly, if management is serious about adopting SharePoint as the central collaboration and document management tool then they will have to make sure it does not fail again.
Effectively that leaves them with two options.
Either build a redundant high performing farm in-house. With load balanced web servers and at a minimum, mirrored database servers. Make sure the farm is properly installed, optimized and monitored. And ensure they have the needed technical support available 24/7 to address any critical issues and perform proactive maintenance.
Outsource high availability to a service provider who can promise 99.999 uptime guarantee.
Who better to choose than Office 365? Aiming at the performance and availability of that environment would cost six figures easily. But for as little as 7$ per user per month an organization could be leveraging the complete muscle power of a server farm that has not only massive hardware redundancy built in, but also is redundant across continents!

Some organizations do the math based solely on monthly subscription vs SharePoint foundation, which is free. But too few do the high availability calculation and realize too late that some confidence can not be rebuilt.