What have we learned in our SharePoint projects where we made use of External Blob Storage, or EBS? A great deal. This is the technology that Microsoft introduced with SQL Server to take the storage of large objects out of SQL Server. Since many users store large documents in SharePoint, which is built on SQL Server, the relationship is a natural. Here are several observations and conclusions:
EBS works really well in some circumstances
The advertisements for EBS are true. The resulting SharePoint sites are smaller and faster, and the performance gains have led Gimmal clients to develop the confidence that they needed to take their SharePoint solutions forward to replace legacy ECM solutions for their enterprises.
It is important to architect and backup the SharePoint environment carefully
Dividing the content and the content metadata makes it harder to recreate the state of a SharePoint environment if this becomes important. These functions need to be synchronized and integrated.
EBS support for SharePoint comes in many flavors
Tools from StoragePoint and AvePoint take objects from SharePoint and hand them back to SharePoint on command. The competition at this end of the market is fierce, and AvePoint has recently made its EBS solution available at no cost. At the other end of the spectrum, the EDRSS connectors for EMC|Documentum send the entire SharePoint Property Bag over for Documentum to resynchronize with the object and support the classification and retention of the object in Documentum.
EBS has enabled some sophisticated Records Management solutions to be integrated with SharePoint
I originally thought that using EBS behind the MOSS 2007 Records Center would be a valuable use case. However, in the one large customer where we evaluated this solution, the alternative of EBS integration for all SharePoint sites was preferred because it established better control over all content, it simplified the user interface, since the Records Center was uninvolved, and the performance boost from EBS integration was seen in every SharePoint site. We used metadata from the SharePoint Property Bag to establish appropriate folders in EMC|Documentum’s Retention Policy Services, so an enterprise scalable records management solution was built for users who saw our solution as SharePoint-pure. HP has announced a similar solution for the product formerly known as Tower Trim. I reviewed this solution in my AIIM Show review last week.
SharePoint 2010 adds new Records Management capabilities
The new capabilities of the hierarchical file plan and content organizer (among others) make the SharePoint 2010 platform much more strategic to organizations that are considering their records management options. However, since EBS capabilities integrate with SharePoint through its SQL Server infrastructure, there is no fundamental change in the nature of the EBS support from MOSS 2007 solutions. The improved performance of SharePoint 2010 may make the threshold to justify an EBS investment higher, but the use of EBS in high-end SharePoint solutions is likely to continue.
EBS is a requirement for the DoD 5015 certification of SharePoint 2010 as a records management tool
My company has done work for the Microsoft SharePoint Marketing and Product teams on requirements for DoD 5015 and MoREQ2 certification. Our conclusion is that the deletion requirements of DoD 5015 cannot be supported within a SQL Server database and therefore, externalizing that storage is the best method to enable the digital shredding requirement of DoD 5015 standard in a SharePoint-pure DoD 5015 solution.
What about Remote Blob Storage (RBS)?
RBS has been touted as the successor technology to EBS for some time. Since it integrates with SharePoint via SQL Server, there aren’t huge differences in approach, but there are some low level differences. EBS has been in the field and proven for some time. Some of the features of EBS have not been implemented in RBS in the same way, so vendors and end-users who have built EBS solutions are not assured of a smooth port to RBS. But, we expect that Microsoft support will enable the migration to RBS to be achieved somewhat seamlessly for implementers.
External Blob Storage requires careful planning, but the improvements that can be achieved in performance, control and compliance make it a tool that enterprises should consider in the architecting of their SharePoint ECM and RM Solutions. The eventual migration to Remote Blob Storage will enable additional capabilities in the future.
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