Making the right information available, to the right person, at the right time is critical to mission effectiveness and decision-making superiority.
But data sharing requires trust. People are rightly reluctant to put information and documents on centralized, collaboration sites if they aren’t confident that they can quickly and easily access and use their assets whenever they need them.
A few years ago, after Microsoft® Office® SharePoint® Server 2007 was released, the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) established a SharePoint site for document-sharing and collaboration. At first, the application was used by a small number of users from one base, but as more documents and workflows were made available on the site, the number of SharePoint users grew. As these new users contributed their own documents and workflows, the site became even more valued as a centralized repository of critical information and tools. Eventually, nearly 80,000 users with from units across the United States came to rely on the site to perform mission-supporting operational and administrative tasks.
The site, which had been configured for far fewer users, began to suffer stability and latency issues that slowed performance. A number of outages, such as long-haul network drops, made the site inaccessible for varying periods of time. The resulting drop in user confidence led to a change in behavior and some people reverted to keeping documents and information on their local drive. Useful information became unavailable to others and/or required the active effort on the part of the owner for each share. Whether information was actually safer and more accessible on local share drives or storage area networks (SANs) is an open question; what mattered is that users believed that it was.
A re-build of the SharePoint application infrastructure and backend Microsoft® SQL Server® cluster dramatically improved performance. When I logged in, the experience was like night and day. I knew immediately that the transition had been done. After briefings to the user community about the dual-cross-site operational resiliency for continuity of data access and services, user confidence rebounded and data and documents are again being stored at the enterprise level. The command is now experiencing near 99.99% up-times along with significantly less latency to data.
We realize now that we were 6-12 months behind in recognizing that SharePoint had grown to become a critical, mission-supporting enterprise service. While an investment in enterprise-level Disaster Recovery and Continuity of Operations (DR/COOP) was not warranted when the SharePoint site was first launched, we should have been more proactive in tracking for critical mass and put plans in place to deliver enterprise service level performance and resiliency when that crossing point was reached.
Disclaimer: Mention of particular vendors and technologies does not signify endorsement by the DoD