07 January, 2011

SharePoint 2010:Remote BLOB Cache

By default, a SharePoint farm uses content databases on SQL Server as its only data source. Farm content generally includes documents and pictures, which can each be on the order of several megabytes in size. Files and other unstructured data have historically been stored as binary large objects (BLOBs) within the database.

While there have been many improvements in the way that BLOBs are handled within a SQL Server database3, there are limitations. The VARBINARY(MAX) data type is used for native BLOB storage, and can accommodate files up to two gigabytes (2147483648 bytes) in size. In rare circumstances, this may not be adequate for all of the files that will be stored in the farm. Also, the performance of writing BLOBs to and retrieving BLOBs from the database is generally not as good as the performance offered by file systems, which can degrade users’ perception of a SharePoint solution.

Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) feature pack is available for SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2; it provides libraries and APIs that allow SQL Server to interact with BLOBs stored outside of the database. SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 R2 provide a data type called FILESTREAM that allows BLOBs to be stored within an NTFS volume, but managed by the database. This feature cannot be directly used by SharePoint4, but there is an RBS provider for FILESTREAM that can be used with local SharePoint databases (such as those often employed by SharePoint Foundation 2010); this local database requirement makes the FILESTREAM provider for RBS unsuitable for most farm-based architectures. For farm deployments with separate database servers, RBS providers other than FILESTREAM may still be used.

For example, a provider for a dedicated external store, such as an EMC2 Centerra system, that makes use of the SQL Server RBS API calls may be employed. These RBS providers allow third-party products to leverage RBS to store and retrieve files that reside outside of the database. Using Remote BLOB Storage requires configuration of both SQL Server 2008 (or SQL Server 2008 R2) and SharePoint Server 2010. These systems are expected to offer higher performance for reading and writing large files, but will generally require special attention when administering sites or performing backup/restore operations.

SharePoint 2010: Central Administration Improvements

Central administration has been redesigned completely with features like a ribbon interface that is similar to Office 2007 and 2010 products. The ribbon is context-aware, and makes accessing the subtasks within any selected functional area more intuitive. The central administration site looks similar to Windows control panel, where different tasks and activities are grouped into categories. The new home page also provides convenient access to most common tasks by grouping them together into categories such as application management, monitoring, security, backup, and so on.

Backup and Restore

Microsoft added a few very important enhancements to SharePoint backup and recovery. SharePoint 2010 provides several levels of granularity for performing backup and restore. This includes farm configuration, site collections, sub sites and lists.

The central administration site provides a simple interface to perform full backup and restore, perform granular backup or configure backup settings. In earlier versions of SharePoint, administrators built a secondary farm to perform granular recovery of SharePoint content. This is no longer required with SharePoint 2010. In SharePoint 2010, administrators can perform content restore from unattached content databases. Using unattached content database feature, you can connect to a content DB restored to any SQL server in the network and use SharePoint 2010 to browse the contents of the database. An administrator will be able to restore content at a very granular level.

Similar to any other administrative function within SharePoint 2010, you can automate or script your backups using Windows PowerShell. Every backup and restore activity that can be performed using central administration can also done at the command-line using PowerShell. Windows PowerShell also provides a few more additional backup/restore options such as file compression and SQL snapshots which are not available through central administration webpage.

SharePoint 2010 Health and Monitoring

SharePoint 2010 includes new tools to monitor
health and track performance of a SharePoint farm. This includes features such as unified logging, developer dashboard, usage database, SharePoint maintenance engine, and out-of-box usage reports. Most of these improvements are done to provide a more proactive way of monitoring and reporting. Administrators can also use PowerShell cmdlets to monitor the health of a SharePoint farm.

The integrated Health Analyzer identifies common problems and provides prescriptive guidance to help administrators
resolve them. The tool includes several default rules for Security, Performance, Configuration, and Availability. Each rule can be independently enabled and have its scope set to determine the servers that are checked. If a rule is enabled, then SharePoint 2010 will periodically check the conditions associated with the rule, based on a defined schedule. Certain rules can even be set to allow SharePoint automatically correct violations.