Understanding differences between Client-to-Server (a.k.a. Offline Access) and Server-to-Server SharePoint Replication
Practical demands require instant access to information managed in SharePoint whether users are at a remote site in Africa, a local office in the next city, visiting a client site in Asia, or on a ship in the middle of the ocean. The complexity of today’s working environment has led the way for SharePoint replication technologies. Replication is the process of creating, maintaining, and synchronizing multiple copies of SharePoint data. So why are copies of content needed? To deliver fast access to SharePoint, in order to extend adoption and optimize the return on SharePoint investments.
A typical SharePoint implementation requires bandwidth from a central server to reach out to various mobile workers and branch offices of an organization. Having to rely on expensive bandwidth and unreliable network connectivity can be costly and ineffective for most organizations. That is when replication becomes a valuable, time-saving, and cost-effective alternative.
Server-to-server or client-to-server replications solutions, or the right combination of both, can resolve two important SharePoint adoption challenges: latency and offline access. Below we discuss both SharePoint replication technologies.
Solution for Remote Office Access
Server-to-Server SharePoint Replication
Access to SharePoint can be slow from branch or remote offices and workers are often disconnected. These information workers either stop using SharePoint or copy content to local servers and hard drives. Manually copying content to hard drives takes time and leads to workers mistakenly using older versions of documents. Workforce productivity declines, collaboration breaks down, and business processes can stall. Essentially, intermittent or unacceptable access leads to declined adoption.
Server replication is used to synchronize content from one SharePoint server to another. There are two main scenarios. In the first, a central farm provides bi-directional information to a branch office to reduce WAN requirements and improve performance. In the second scenario, replication is set from inside the firewall to outside the firewall for use in extranets.
Solution for Offline Access
Client-to-Server SharePoint Replication
Mobile Workers make up a significant portion of today’s workforce. Traveling executives can also spend a significant portion of their time outside company walls. Many end users take their laptops home. Despite the latest innovations in wireless technologies, these mobile workers often find themselves disconnected while traveling, at client offices, or in the field. To remain productive, they require offline access to SharePoint to manage business information – despite network unavailability, performance issues, and reception problems. Slow connection speeds and VPN sessions that time-out lead to frustrated SharePoint users. They are just too used to Microsoft Office Outlook in cached mode conveniently providing instant access to email. By providing desktop caching solutions for SharePoint, IT managers can eliminate latency issues experienced by remote workers. Background synchronization can drastically improve the user experience.
Client Replication solutions synchronize content between SharePoint servers and client software on desktops. End users themselves (or IT) define a portion of SharePoint server content (e.g. a project team site) to be replicated locally on hard drives. This enables mobile and remote workers to instantly access critical SharePoint content cached on their laptops, regardless of network connectivity. This is useful while users are both offline and online in low bandwidth/high latency situations.
The Right Combination: Client and Server Replication
By combining client-to-server and server-to-server SharePoint replication in one comprehensive solution, an organization can be certain it is reaping the most return on its SharePoint investment. To ensure enterprise wide SharePoint access and adoption, IT managers must consider the specific requirements of mobile workers, remote workers, small remote offices, branch offices, and geographically dispersed operations. The number of mobile workers and the size and geographic dispersion of offices are important considerations in selecting the right combination of client and server replication solutions.
The most cost effective solution for individual mobile and remote workers is a client-only replication solution, which requires no server modifications. For smaller remote offices, either a client or server replication can be deployed. The decision is typically driven by the number of SharePoint users, the amount of SharePoint content being synchronized, and the local cost of bandwidth. For large branch offices and national or international operations, server-to-server replication offers significant cost advantages.
Selecting the right solution for small remote offices typically requires deep analysis. A client caching solution can be the best choice when there are less than 100 SharePoint users (many mobile) accessing smaller SharePoint sites, in a location where bandwidth is inexpensive. However, in a scenario where there are more SharePoint users, larger SharePoint sites, more frequent changes to content, or higher bandwidth costs, server-to-server replication can be the most cost effective solution.
Both solutions can be used together or independently, and each has its advantages. More will be discussed further...