Geographically Dispersed SharePoint and Other Collaboration Tools

For those who may have mised the #CollabTalk TweetJam today, hosted by our good pal Mark McGovern @DocPointMark from MetaLogix and Chistian Buckley @BuckleyPlent, we're posting our Q&A from the event.

From the event description:

Many organizations are looking for ways to reduce costs, and improve performance associated with managing SharePoint between geographically-dispersed teams. While many organizations struggle to make their environments highly-available and performant, the breadth of SharePoint content available does not focus on SharePoint in high-performing, high-availability scenarios – and the purpose of this tweetjam is to share some of the community knowledge and expertise for these environments. We're assembling a great panel for this event including MVPs and other industry leaders.
Mark McGovern and Christian Buckley promise a blog about the event soon, to recap the entire conversation. You can also see the full conversation including responses from other participants at http://twubs.com/CollabTalk The tweetjam was also captured using the #CollabTalk hash tag, so you can use the Twitter platform of your choice. 

Q1. What are the top 3 issues geographically dispersed teams face when trying to collaborate?
A1 #1: Disconnected Teams: Updates in the field don’t make it back to the head office and updates at the home office don’t make it to the field.
A1 #2: Latency: Whether you have a single farm in one location, or separate farms with synchronization, somewhere there will be delays in getting data where it needs to go.
A1 #3: Networks: team members may be working in locations with limited bandwidth or inconsistent/poor connectivity.

Lots of chuckles about the poor quality of conference calls, background noise, heavy breathing, etc.

There was also a bit of back and forth about latency and the fact that people not only do not understand the difference between bandwidth and latency - but also most folks cannot tell whether their performance issue is coming from the network or the browser.

It came in a bit late, but I really liked Michael Herman's garden hose metaphor for latency. No, I don't mean, "it's not how long your hose is; its how you use it." In this case its all about how long the hose is; in other words, latency is the time it takes water (information) to get down the hose (internet) after you turn it on. Bandwidth would be the size of your hose I guess, and I need to stop making these metaphors, because I've got a dirty mind - and.. yeah. Movin' on!

Q2. How have social and mobile impacted your worldwide collaboration?
A2 #1: They’ve allowed us to reach out to the community for collaboration - at least as far as the dev and support side.
A2 #2: We are now able to share information with our client as it happens, ex: Tweeting key points of a SharePoint Saturday presentation in real time.
A2 #3: We see more new customers coming from outside of our core operating area, nationwide and abroad.

Q3. What technologies have you found that can improve geographically dispersed collaboration/communication?
A3 #1: Faster and more reliable cellular connections. This applies to broadband too.
A3 #2: Cloud services have come a long way in making this more manageable, ex: SharePoint and Lync Online.
A3 #3: There are also products/appliances and applications that do well to synchronize SharePoint content between farms.

We talked a bit here about the F-5 BigIP. Some folks on the TweetJam have had good success using this appliance. Liquid Mercury Solutions is an F-5 partner. We can sell, service, and implement F-5 based solutions using the BigIP.

We had a great discussion about security, and maybe we can convince HelloItsLiam to participate in a panel specifically about SharePoint security at some point soon. It suffices to say this is a topic that needs some more attention.

Q4. If your team is geographically dispersed, is your best option to move your data to the cloud? Why/why not?
A4: Sometimes: it depends on the type of data and the location of team members.
A4 Why #1: Having data in the could improves access, assuming the cloud provider has distributed their datacenters across a large geographical area.
A4 Why #2: Greater availability to resources - gets around firewalls, corporate networks / VPN, and political boundaries.
A4 Why Not: Some data is too sensitive to store in the cloud without a plan to protect it. Ex: defense, proprietary secrets, healthcare PII.

The cloud is great from some circumstances and not so much for others. If you are on the borderline between these two scenarios and would like to talk to us about securing your sensitive data in the cloud, we are a CipherPoint partner and can develop you a solution using their on premises or in-the-cloud product offerings. By the way, F-5 BigIP is another solution that can enhance cloud security for SharePoint content.

Q5. How do global collaboration teams deal with poor quality bandwidth/connections?
A5 #1: Use asynchronous communication channels like e-mail, Yammer, and Lync instead of Skype, etc.
A5 #2: SharePoint 2013 can reduce the amount of transfer using MDS feature (Minimal Download Strategy).
A5 #3: Develop low-bandwidth tolerant branding (ex: Metro UI) and apps (server side vs. AJAX). There are optimizers for JavaScript and CSS, as well as ways to do this at the firewall/proxy/load-balancer.

Collaboration tools are an indispensable part of today's business world. How many of us could survive without GotoMeeting (or something like it) for example. What starts as a competitive advantage will eventually become the standard by which all businesses are judged, and tools like SharePoint are no exception to this. Someday, all restaurants will be Taco Bell. :-)

Yammer gets a lot of attention, but people are unhappy with the limited (read: "weak") integration between Yammer and SharePoint. In 2012, when Microsoft purchased Yammer, I shelved plans for a Yammer+SP product release in order to see what they would do. Seeing that they have not decided to eat our lunch, Liquid Mercury Solutions has plans to release a stronger Yammer + SharePoint integration solution in the very near future. The best way you can find out about this tool is the subscribe to our blog or newsletter (It's over there in the upper-right part of the page).

I made an additional comment here about using all the tools in the drawer, no silver bullet.

Q6. What are the best ways to maintain multiple systems/versions of your collaboration platform, such as SharePoint?
A6 #1: A communication plan with stakeholders + predictable schedule for updates / merges is essential to make sure everyone knows what they're seeing and how out of date it may be.
A6 #2: Assigning a "system of record" is extremely important to maintain one version of the truth.
A6 #3: There are tools in SharePoint like content syndication, cross-farm publishing, etc. - as well as a variety of third-party tools that fill this need nicely. Syncing at the SQL level is also an option, but less favored than it used to be.

Somebody said that they had 5 versions of a document to maintain. If this sounds like something you have to deal with on a regular basis, talk to us, because we may have a solution that will work for you.

Q7. What are the leading factors that restrict organizations from maintaining high-availability systems?
A7: Factors that limit orgs use of High availability and DR include cost, bandwidth, product limits, undefined SLA, lack of institutional support, and insufficient technical knowledge and/or best practices.

Money was the big winner on this question. There is always, always, always going to be a relationship between your budget and the capabilities you can obtain. My adivce is to be up front with with your IT professional about your budget, and work with them to understand how to get what you need within your means, and don't set your expectations unneccessarily high.

Q8. How does a geographically dispersed infrastructure impact disaster recovery planning?
A8 #1: If the primary datacenter is impacted by a disaster, then the outlying datacenter will experience higher loads and in some cases becomes the systems of record.
A8 #2: If it not previously planned and drilled, during major disasters (natural or civil), communication to outlying centers re tactics - or even that there's a problem - can be confused or conflicted.
A8 #3: Sometimes switching back to normal after DR can be just as difficult.

Can't say it enough, when it comes to disaster preparedness "Drill, baby, drill!" ;-)

I hope you enjoyed our recap of today's #CollabTalk tweet jam. If you feel like I've left something out, or if you just want to throw your 2 cents in, leave us something in the comments. If you found this information helpful, please give us a 5 Star Rating on PinPoint, so so we can reach more customers.