All This Hardware And No Uptime
SharePoint is pretty heavy. I often think of it as an 800 pound gorilla who stopped exercising and let itself slide. To handle all the services that run within a farm and provide decent response time to users, a reasonable amount of hardware usually gets provisioned to pick up the slack.
I'm talking about real iron here. Large farms featuring clustered SQL Servers, redundant application servers, and a series of web front ends balanced with either a network load balancer or a Microsoft NLB cluster.
One might look at all this gear and think that as a result, the farm is almost guaranteed to enjoy some pretty high availability right? Well I guess that depends on what you call high availability.
A Desire for High Availability
|\||Total downtime (HH:MM:SS)|
|Availability||per day||per month||per year|
Heavy Patches, And Lots of Them
The biggest hurdle I've had with providing high availability to clients with SharePoint has come from the patching procedures issued from Microsoft. Normally when updating applications/machines it's possible to update one machine at a time, using your load balancer to shelter this machine from production. Once the machine has has been updated you can bring it back into production and start updating one of it's siblings. With SharePoint this process gets a little more complicated. Here are a couple of the reasons:
- There's no uninstall/rollback for most SharePoint updates (your best bet for uninstall is a machine level backup).
- The recommended install procedure dictates that you stop all IIS instances for Web Front Ends. This makes it difficult to continue to provide service or at the very least hold up a stall/maintenance page.
- The recommended install procedure asks that you upgrade all machines on the farm at the same time.
- There's usually at least one machine in the farm that rejects the upgrade and needs to be troubleshot individually. For me these have often resulted in removing the machine from the farm, upgrading it, and then adding it back to the farm. This usually adds to server downtime, especially if the server was serving a key role (ie: SSP host or the machine that hosts the Central Administration web site).
Assuming you manage to make it through all the above without a lot of downtime, how many times a year do you think you might be able to do it and still maintain a reasonable downtime SLA? Before you answer that, consider all the updates that have come down the pipe for WSS since it's RTM (it's SharePoint 2007 remember). This is also just a list of updates for WSS, there's a whole other table for MOSS (although most of the dates and versions coincide).
|Update Name||Version (owssrv.dll)||Date|
|Windows SharePoint Services v3.0||12.0.4518.1016 (RTM)||November 2006|
|October public update (2007)||12.0.6039.5000||October 2007|
|Service Pack 1||12.0.6219.1000||December 2007|
|Post-Service Pack 1 rollup||12.0.6300.5000||March 2008|
|Infrastructure Update||12.0.6320.5000||July 2008|
|August Cumulative Update||12.0.6327.5000||August 2008|
|October Cumulative Update||12.0.6331.5000||October 2008|
Don't get me wrong, updates are good. In fact, I like it when Microsoft fixes things, especially when the clients who have purchased MOSS have already paid potentially millions in licensing fees. I just wished these updates which happen many times a year AND provide critical fixes to expected functionality had better upgrade strategies.
Do SharePoint updates and the way in which SharePoint farms are upgraded make high availability a pipe dream? Does all that hardware do nothing except help the farm scale out?
A Little Transparency
In fact all I'm really looking for from these updates is a little transparency. I'd be thrilled if I could get a little more detail as to what's going on underneath the hood and what to do when the error log starts filling up.
I've yet to see a really good troubleshooting strategy or even deployment strategy that gives you good odds of limiting downtime when it comes time to roll out these upgrades.
We have a ticket open with MS support to take up this issue. The wait for SharePoint related issues is still pretty long, but rest assured should I come up with one or find a good resource for these kinds of rollouts you'll know where you'll find it.