Note: This product review is a paid service by Joel Oleson. I hope you enjoy it.
One of the biggest challenges to global deployments of SharePoint is dealing with poor Wide Area Network (WAN) performance. Essentially, global adoption can be a huge hurdle due to poor performance of page loads, file transfers, and just time wasted waiting for the system to respond. Many system administrators would tell you that you can't do anything about latency - the speed of light – which slows application performance over a WAN. Sure, you can pay more for more bandwidth, but in some offices, the cost for more bandwidth is really very expensive and cost prohibitive – and doesn't necessarily help performance. Fighting latency can be a losing battle. The usage of small WAN links in remote offices is also a huge hurdle. In addition, the more bandwidth you provide to end-users, the faster it is consumed.
There are options available to address bandwidth and latency concerns around SharePoint deployments. In fact, rather than deploying expensive SharePoint farms and trying to figure out how you're going to handle siloed deployments and replicating content, configurations, and security throughout globally distributed farms, there are real solutions that can help you stay centralized, save on hardware costs and operational costs as well as improve end-user productivity.
One such solution is Certeon's aCelera Platform for Application Acceleration and WAN Optimization. It is designed to allow you to keep SharePoint centralized and locate it where it makes sense for the business without worrying about potential performance implications. You are in control. You decide what is important. There are a number of techniques that Certeon has designed in its configuration to allow you to not only optimize your page renders but to optimize everything that you transfer. It can be configured inline, hanging off a router, and support optimizing not only SharePoint traffic, but all WAN traffic including other webservers, SQL, Oracle, NSF and CIFS or file server traffic If you want to, you can configure it out of line, and use it exclusively for SharePoint. But really, you may as well take advantage of the technology and accelerate other traffic as well. There is a lot of configuration flexibility provided that allows you to to use policies for routing if you so desire. You can even use ACLs to support specific groups of users. Certeon has "Application Blueprints" for specific Protocols and Applications, which means it understands the application and can be configured and tuned for specific applications – in this case SharePoint. The Blueprint optimizes the transfer protocols used by SharePoint so that it can operate most efficiently across the WAN. The result is significant acceleration of SharePoint.
Figure 1: Certeon – Manage Applications
The Certeon aCelera Platform can be deployed in a variety of ways:
- It can be deployed as a virtual appliance – aCelera Virtual Appliance – on top of HyperV, VMware or XEN
- It can be installed on WindowsServer 2008– aCelera for Windows. (Often these servers are already on site in remote offices so this allows you to leverage existing investments.)
- It can be deployed on the laptop or other client device with the aCelera Mobile Client.
In all of these cases the deployments and clients can be managed centrally in one place, through a GUI, for simplicity. As your needs grow the infrastructure can grow with you and can easily be expanded – without additional hardware - simply by adding license keys. In the beginning it may simply make sense to leverage the Windows Server for smaller offices, but as the small branch office grows to a larger regional office, you may find that a Virtual Appliance with a dedicated disk better fits the scalability and performance needs of the large office.
Certeon's aCelera platform uses as multi-layer approach to optimizing traffic including:
- Data deduplication
- Intelligent Caching
- Removal of unnecessary packets
- Protocol optimization to reduce round trips
- Integrated Quality of Service and traffic shaping
- SSL offload
Additional techniques are used, based on the Application Blueprint. The application protocols and logic determine other optimization strategies.
Configuration Management System
Certeon's aCelera Configuration Management System (CMS) software is an easy-to-use, sophisticated centralized deployment and configuration management solution for all aCelera instances in your WAN including:
- Datacenter and Cloud deployments
- Remote office deployments
- Mobile workforce deployments
aCelera CMS provides a comprehensive feature set to assist with deployment configuration and monitoring of aCeleras while providing you with rich analysis capabilities to help maximize your IT resources.
Figure 2: Configuration Management System Interface
The Dashboard which is part of the aCelera CMS allows you to determine what applications are being used and see the performance increases as well as the amount of bandwidth used – both with and without optimization. After the aCeleras are deployed, you can see what impact it has made. Have you seen an increase in SharePoint traffic? What percentage of traffic has been taken off the line through differencing and caching? By simply selecting specific ports and specific traffic types, you can see what is happening and what has changed with the rules.
Figure 3: Dashboard View of Applications by Type
A key differentiator is not only the differencing and intelligent caching but in the rules per protocol that shape the traffic and optimize for SharePoint traffic itself. Many other performance applications seem to either focus only on optimizing for the file transfers or the HTTP. I find it unique that it does focus on both the SharePoint specific rules but also in optimizing the transfer and traffic rules, as it relates to optimizing the protocol chattiness, differencing, caching, and reducing overall roundtrips required.
When you start drilling in on the protocols you can see even more data and what is happening on the wire. You can tell if it's file server traffic or, more specific, SharePoint application traffic. Over time you can see trends in how applications are used and optimized with the Certeon aCelera Platform.
One challenge in the performance optimization space is in the devices themselves. To accomplish differencing, you need two devices. This is accomplished by a Datacenter and remote location device, but what if there isn't any remote office IT infrastructure? In the case of Certeon, they have a couple of different solutions that provide flexibility for those smaller branch offices where there may not be any network closet or network equipment. Often it's a DSL or ISDN modem and not much more for two or three employees in a small office. In this case there are a couple of different options. First, there is the aCelera Mobile Client that supports even the lone road warrior who may not be at the office at all. Second, you have a virtual appliance or server image that can be configured. A third option is software that can easily be installed on a Windows Server that sits in the branch office. Routing rules can be added to route specific traffic through the image. The great news is that as your needs grow you can resize as you need. The needs for memory, CPUs, or hard disk space may also flex, and the Certeon solution is designed to flex with you.
Figure 4 – Mobile Client Performance View
What it ultimately comes down to is discovering where the real savings are. Did we save on bandwidth? Is it actually saving transfer on the wire? Understanding the real delta or difference in what would transfer is a wake-up call, but you still need to ultimately define what success is. I find that simply saying we want 5 second response time to the Intranet everywhere may be a dream. You need to know what your users expect, and demand for performance. Being able to get data off the wire and optimize for performance will make a difference. It also may mean it can prevent multiple deployments and supports consolidation… now that is music to the ears.
My Experience with Certeon
I met the Certeon team back in 2006 when I was working on the early versions of Microsoft's SharePoint Online. One of the customers we were working with had slow WAN links in Asia and a central headquarters in the US. We partnered up to deploy devices in all of their branch offices. We partnered up to deploy devices in all of their branch offices which cut the response time at least in half in most of the offices with more in some cases and less in others. Ultimately it was a good partnership. It was amazing how quickly the customer complained when it wasn't working.
A lot has changed in that time. Certeon has completely redesigned and reengineered their platform to a software-only solution and has built it form the ground up to take advantage of virtualization. As well, the new improvements in flexibility of centralized management definitely provide a much better story. In addition, the charts and interface design make it much easier to recognize and pinpoint the savings.
I'm again in a position where the global workforce I am working with has performance improvement demands, and to meet our adoption goals, we need to look at what we can do with network equipment or improvements to the website. I'll be looking hard at this space to look at the trade-offs of increasing bandwidth and analyzing the latency in the remote offices. We'll be tracking user experience and understanding where it makes sense to look at deploying Certeon's aCelera platform or other solutions to enhance the user experience and increase adoption.
Pros vs. Cons
With the Certeon solution, despite whether you use the client or the Windows Server, you are deploying a lot of code. You are looking at each regional or branch office. You've got a lot of offices to consider in contrast to a solution that does optimization directly on the SharePoint Server - which has its own set of cons . The good news is, this solution has been around for a long time and does have a reputation. The users know when the Certeon devices aren't working. Many customers have realized a gain in centralization by using Certeon.
The flexibility in clients vs. virtual images, such as the vShere client, offers a host of options and may be overwhelming, but it's good to have options. The users will be pleased to know they are not left alone. There is more than one option when considering the hub-and-spoke model of deployments.
Certeon is a trusted partner in the SharePoint performance optimization space. The dashboards and solutions are designed with your application in mind. Looking at aCelera will surprise you. It did for me. It continues to surprise me just how much chatter and sameness there is. There is a lot that can be optimized in the SharePoint space. Better performance means better adoption. It also means better solutions and happier customers. While it may end up seeming like a lot of effort, Certeon has done a lot of work to make life easier for the SharePoint and the network administrator. They really are attempting to take advantage of all possible optimization techniques.
In conclusion, I recommend first talking to Certeon and seeing a demo. You'll see the familiar SharePoint progress bars working with the familiar SharePoint interface. You're going to see it without being optimized and then with optimization. It's amazing! Check out
here for a free download for SharePoint optimization trial. You won't be disappointed.
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