Michael Noel’s ‘Building the Perfect SharePoint Farm’ at STP Montevideo

Michael Noel presents at STP Montevideo in Mark Miller's signature Western shirtBefore I get to Michael's session proper, I should explain that no, you're not imagining things, and that is indeed Michael Noel presenting in one of Mark Miller's signature Western shirts in the picture at right. The short version of the story is that over dinner last night, Paul Swider made a bet with Michael (who hails from San Francisco) regarding the outcome of the San Francisco 49ers / New York Giants playoff game back home in the states. If San Francisco won the game, Paul would have to present his STP Montevideo session wearing Joel Oleson's iconic Egypt soccer jersey; if New York won, Michael would have to present his session today in Mark Miller's Western shirt. The New York Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers last night in the final minutes of overtime, hence Michael's unconventional appearance at today's session.

With Ricardo Munoz serving as translator, Michael Noel began his STP Montevideo session by explaining that he'd be sharing "best practices around how to setup the back-end infrastructure around SharePoint." Michael began with a brief overview of the three-tiered farm architecture, including Web, Service Apps, and data (the SQL tier), stating that "Each tier has its own architectural considerations, so you need to design around the unique needs of each of the three tiers."

Michael explained that the farm is the core unit of SharePoint, and his first recommendation was to avoid an "all-in-one," single-server approach. Michael said that having the database and SharePoint roles on separate servers is a better design, and that a four-server approach is the smallest farm size that is fully highly available, noting that "in many cases, these can be virtual machines." Michael considers the six-server farm to be "an ideal starting point," since such an approach allows you to "break off into the different tiers and have full high availability if you lose one of the servers." SharePoint scales very well so "you can build up, and build out the tiers," thereby distributing the load across additional servers.

Virtualization provides the most highly scalable environment, and allows you to easily add new servers to a farm, and Michael would later walk through that process (with a previously recorded demo, due to time constraints). Discussing virtualization architecture, Michael shared a slide with processer and memory guidelines, such as to never go below the recommended minimums. Michael then touched on some examples of virtualized designs, discussing the benefits and flexibility that virtualization provides: the single-server approach; two virtual hosts; and a mixed physical/virtual design, which is the best practice, with Michael's recommendation being that the data tier remain physical, while the SharePoint tiers are virtualized. Performance monitoring guidelines for each were shared in a slide which is available for download within Michael's deck.

Moving into his demo on farm provisioning with virtualization -which Michael typically does as a 15-minute live demo-Michael talked through the steps, from virtual server creation to its availability in the farm, while accompanied by a pre-recorded video.

Michael addressed the optimization and management of the data tier next, talking through a diagram that illustrated the environment. Discussing data management with remote BLOB storage (RBS), Michael explained that unmanaged data is not at all ideal for storing in a SQL database, so storing them remotely (i.e., outside the SQL server) is recommended as a best practice; doing so will dramatically reduce the size of your content databases.

Moving on to SQL database optimization, Michael recommended splitting the database files into multiple pieces, based on the number of processors on your SQL server ("to get better disk performance"), and to also "consider pre-sizing the content database files." Michael wrapped up by briefly addressing SQL database mirroring (which he recommends), explaining that there are three models that can be deployed in SharePoint: synchronous within a single data center, synchronous cross-data center, and asynchronous.

Sharing the Point South America is made possible through the generous support of Fpweb.net and AvePoint.

Read John Anderson's complete coverage of the Sharing the Point South America events:

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