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Planning for server farms (SharePoint Server 2010)

Published: February 3, 2011

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This article can help you determine how many server farms your organization requires. There are many kinds of sites that you can build and operate by using Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Depending on the number and kinds of sites you plan to deploy, and where users are located, you might plan for more than one server farm.

This article describes criteria that can be used to determine whether multiple server farms are required. For guidance about how to plan for individual farms, see the following articles:

Licensing requirements

Consider licensing requirements as a factor when you determine the minimum number of server farms that you have to plan for. There are three server licenses available for SharePoint Server 2010. These licenses can be combined on the same server computer or on the same server farm. Additionally, MSDN licensing might play a role if you plan a development environment. The inclusion of a development environment also affects the number of farms. The following table lists and describes the license offerings for SharePoint Server 2010.

Offering Description

SharePoint Server 2010

This license is required to run SharePoint Server 2010 in client/server mode. You should use this license with the required number of client access licenses (CALs) appropriate for your organizational needs. License the Standard feature set through Standard CALs. License the Enterprise feature set through Enterprise CALs. Enterprise CALs are additive. To access the Enterprise features, a person or device must have both the Standard CAL and Enterprise CAL.

SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites, Standard; and SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites, Enterprise

Use either of these licenses for Internet-facing Web sites intended for external users (suppliers, customers, vendors, and the public). These licenses can be used with both anonymous and authenticated users. They are per server licenses that do not require the purchase of client access licenses. People who create content for external access can use one of these licenses. Server and CAL licensing is not required for people who use SharePoint Server 2010 only to author information for external access.

If you plan to deploy internal content for your organization and Internet-facing content for non-employees from the same farm, you must purchase both license types for that farm. As an accommodation for possible deployment scenarios, customers who want to combine their SharePoint Server 2010 requirements under a single deployment may obtain licenses for both products, assign those licenses to the same server, and use the same running instance of the software at the same time under both licenses. However, customers must obtain CALs as required under the SharePoint Server 2010 use rights for users and devices that access content in any manner that is not permitted under the SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites use rights.

The remainder of this section describes which license to use for different kinds of deployments.

Intranet sites for both internal and remote employees

Use the SharePoint Server 2010 license with the appropriate number of CALs. Although intranet sites might be exposed to the Internet to give access to remote employees, this is the correct license for this scenario.

Internet sites for external users

Use the SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites license.

Partner extranet sites for communication with employees of partner companies

You can select from the following options for partner extranet sites:

  • Add a partner extranet site to a server farm that is hosting the company intranet (SharePoint Server 2010 license). With this option, you must ensure that you purchase the required number of CALs for partner employees.

  • Add a partner extranet site to a server farm that is hosting the company Internet site (SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites license). This option does not require CALs for partner employees or for your own employees who are collaborating with partners. However, on this farm, you may not create sites that are used exclusively by employees of your organization. No content, information, or application on this farm can be accessed exclusively by people inside your organization. In other words, if internal users can access content, then external users must also be able to access it.

  • Deploy a dedicated server farm for partner collaboration and use the Internet sites license. This option does not require CALs for partner employees or for your own employees who are collaborating with partners. However, on this farm, you may not create sites that are used exclusively by employees of your organization. No content, information, or application on this farm can be accessed exclusively by people inside your organization. In other words, if internal users can access content, then external users must also be able to access it.

If you plan to deploy only one server farm, use this farm. If you plan to deploy two server farms, one for intranet sites and one for Internet sites, consider the following aspects to help you decide which server farm to use for partner extranet sites:

  • Nature of collaboration   If the main purpose of a partner extranet site is to securely communicate information to many partners, the Internet server farm is the most economical choice. On the other hand, if the main purpose is to work collaboratively with only a few partner employees, the intranet server farm might be a better choice. Choose the option that enables you to optimize the farm for its intended role (that is, collaboration versus read-only content).

  • Number of partner employees   If you collaborate with many partner employees and cost is a strong criterion, you can securely host both collaborative and anonymous content on an Internet-facing farm with the Internet sites license.

If you collaborate with many partner employees, consider deploying a dedicated server farm for partner extranet sites in the following circumstances:

  • You do not plan to deploy a server farm for Internet sites and it is more cost-effective to purchase the SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites license than to purchase CALs for all partner employees.

  • Your organization prevents authenticated access to or collaboration on the same server farm that hosts your Internet site.

  • You expect or are experiencing performance issues on a server farm that hosts both Internet sites and partner extranet sites. For example, partner employees report slow response times when they collaborate on content.

Pre-publishing environments for Internet sites

In pre-publishing environments where multiple environments are used for development, authoring, testing, and staging, use the following guidelines:

  • Code development and testing   Use an MSDN license. For more information, see MSDN Licensing (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?LinkId=210161).

  • Content authoring   Use the SharePoint Server 2010 license with the appropriate number of CALs. However, internal users can use the SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites license if all content, information, and applications can also be accessed by external users. If the server has items that are for internal use only, those users must have CALs, and their servers require licenses for SharePoint Server 2010.

  • Staging   Staging environments are typically configured to match the production environment. Consequently, use the SharePoint Server 2010 for Internet Sites license.

More information about licensing

For more information about licensing, see the following resources:

Organizational requirements

Several criteria that are determined by your organization might affect the number of server farms that are required. They include the following:

  • Operational divisions of responsibility

  • Funding sources

  • Data center locations

Operational divisions of responsibility

In some organizations, different divisions are responsible for different kinds of Web sites or applications. If a division requires autonomy in deploying and operating these applications, it might be appropriate to plan a separate server farm for the division. Or, you can negotiate with multiple divisions to determine whether you can be more efficient and combine multiple sites onto a single server farm.

Funding sources

In some organizations, the way that projects are funded might influence the number of server farms that are required. For example, the following scenarios might require multiple server farms:

  • Each division has a separate hardware budget.

  • Projects are funded independently with little opportunity to combine hardware budgets or operational costs across multiple projects.

  • Projects are funded by using different funding models. For example, an organization might fund its My Sites with a shared hardware budget, but might offer team sites to individual teams by using a cost-recovered internal hosting model that results in a charge-back cost for each team.

Data center locations

If sites must be hosted in different data center locations, you must plan for more than one server farm.

Availability and service level agreements

If sites have different availability requirements and service level agreements, it might be more cost-effective to implement multiple server farms. The kinds of scenarios that might require multiple server farms include the following:

  • Publishing environment

  • Different service level agreements

  • Disaster recovery

Publishing environment

A publishing environment often contains multiple environments for authoring, staging, and testing. Each of these environments will have different availability requirements and service level agreements from the production environment. The authoring, staging, and testing sites have a much smaller user load and are subject to more instability from testing activities.

At a minimum, plan to deploy at least two server farms: one for the published site and one for the authoring, staging, and testing activities. Depending on your organization, you might have to plan a separate server farm for each pre-publishing activity or you might perform all these activities on a single farm that consists of one server.

Different service level agreements

Some sites in a production environment might have different service level agreements. Consider the following examples:

  • An organization might define some kinds of content as more critical than other kinds of content. For example, content in team sites might be more critical to business objectives than content in the organization's My Sites. Consequently, the service windows for restoring each kind of content in the event of a disaster might differ.

  • Sites that host security-critical data might require more security measures. These include a more secure authentication method, increased logging, and faster application of software updates.

Different service level agreements do not necessarily require separate server farms. In some cases, sites that have different service level agreements can be hosted efficiently on one server farm. In other cases, specific service level requirements are better met by deploying sites to separate server farms.

Take the following facts into consideration when you evaluate service level agreements:

  • Creating separate Web applications or application pools on the same server farm provides the opportunity to implement different authentication methods and access-control policies. This approach also results in separate content databases, which can be restored in priority order based on service level agreements.

  • Requirements that affect the topology, configuration, and operations of the overall server environment might be met more efficiently by deploying more than one farm.

Disaster recovery

Some organizations require the ability to fail over to a server farm in a different geographic location in the event of a disaster. SharePoint Server 2010 provides the ability to host a standby data center by restoring shipped copies of databases, by restoring virtual images of servers, or by actively running a failover farm.

If your organization requires the ability to restore a server farm in a remote data center, then plan for at least two server farms. For more information, see Plan for disaster recovery (SharePoint Server 2010).

Security isolation requirements

Many isolation requirements can be achieved on a single farm. On the other hand, some scenarios require more than one server farm.

SharePoint Server 2010 provides the opportunity to isolate applications that are hosted on the same server farm by using one or more of the following isolation methods:

  • Use separate application pools with different process identities to achieve isolation at the process level.

  • Use separate Web applications to achieve isolation at the Web application level.

  • Configure service applications to achieve isolation at the content and audience levels.

For more information about how to use these methods, see the following articles:

Although there are no technical reasons why you might have to deploy more than one server farm to achieve security isolation, some organizational requirements will dictate that more than one server farm be implemented. The following scenarios are examples:

  • In some industries, such as investment banking, industry rules dictate physical isolation between sites.

  • Some organizations that outsource IT projects, such as a state government, might issue contracts that require physical isolation of sites.

  • Some organizations are not comfortable relying on isolation at the software level and insist on physical isolation.

  • The requirement to secure critically sensitive data, including administrative access to operate a server farm, might result in a requirement for a physically separate environment.

  • Some organizations have security policies that do not allow access from a perimeter network to an internal network under any circumstance.

If any of these kinds of scenarios apply to your deployment, you might have to plan for more than one server farm.

Performance and scalability

If none of the previous criteria mandate more than one server farm, consider the following aspects of performance and scalability:

  • Software boundaries

  • Application profile

  • Throughput

Software boundaries and limits

Depending on the scope of your deployment, scale guidelines might indicate that more than one server farm is necessary. Review the SharePoint Server 2010 capacity management: Software boundaries and limits article to determine whether a single server farm will accommodate the scale that you expect.

Application profile

In larger environments, you can increase the performance of a server farm by optimizing the farm for applications that have similar performance profiles. For example, published intranet content, such as a human resources site, has a much different performance profile than collaborative content, such as team sites.

Consider the following kinds of factors that contribute to a performance profile:

  • Volume of requests. For example, the My Sites typically result in fewer requests than team sites.

  • Read-only content versus collaborative content.

  • Volume of content. For example, a records management solution stores a great volume of data but processes few user requests.

In a large organization with many users, the organization's My Sites are typically hosted on a dedicated farm.

Throughput

In some cases, the expectation for throughput requires you to implement multiple server farms. For information about how to plan to meet throughput requirements, see Performance and capacity management (SharePoint Server 2010).

Scaling out and centrally managing service applications

Larger organizations might benefit from deploying farms that are dedicated to hosting service applications. This is especially true if an organization requires two or more farms for hosting sites. A dedicated services farm enables all farms to consume services that are managed centrally.

Consider deploying a dedicated services farm in the following situations:

  • Your search environment includes 20 million items or more.

  • There are two or more farms in the environment.

  • You want query results to be as fresh as possible.

Another scale-out option is to dedicate a farm to hosting a specific service. This enables you to optimize the performance and capacity of the farm for the most-used service application. In large environments, search is a good candidate for a dedicated farm. In this case, all search services are hosted on a dedicated search farm and all other shared services are hosted on a separate services farm. This enables you to optimize the hardware and configuration of search components specifically for search.

Consider deploying a dedicated search farm in the following situations:

  • Your search environment includes 40 million items or more.

  • There are two or more farms in the environment.

  • You want query results to be as fresh as possible.

  • You are crawling content over the WAN.

  • You want to implement a service level agreement (failover or backup and restore, for example) for the search service that is different from the service level agreement for other services hosted by SharePoint Server 2010.

Beyond search, dedicating a farm to a specific service application depends on whether the use of a service application justifies a dedicated farm. In most cases, you can scale out a services farm to meet the demands of all other service applications.

Geographic distribution

In some organizations, users are spread across a large geographic area or around the world. The location of the users and content can influence your overall plan for server farms. You might have to plan for regional farms to ensure acceptable performance. A reasonable approach is to implement a central farm, optimize this farm for WAN connections, and then decide whether additional farms for regional locations are warranted. For more information, see Global deployment of multiple farms (SharePoint Server 2010).

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