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How to allow multiple users access to the same files over a WAN

Posted on 2010-11-12
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We have one shared drive with hundreds of files that many different users need access to. They all share the same files and open and edit different files at different times. We have five sites and these files are all stored at our HQ. To address the problem a couple of years ago, we installed windows server 2003 terminal services. This would allow the users to use the files without the effect of opening the file over the WAN and suffering a performance issue. This also prompted a user that attempted to open a file that was already open by another person. This is working great but I don't like the idea of using terminal servers because we can't run everything on the terminal server and users have to go back and forth between the local desktop computer and the terminal server session. This is confusing to them sometimes. Aside from SharePoint, is their any other solution to this? I essentially need to have all of these files available to all users without the possibility of them having conflicts or performance issues.

Thanks,

Justin
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Question by:JustinGSEIWI
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by:pmarquardt
ID: 34125278
What type of files are these? If they are are Office files from version 2007 and later then they have this capability built into them. Let me know what type of files they are and we can sort it out.
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kevinhsieh earned 500 total points
ID: 34126165
There are lots of ways to try to handle this, and everything will have a drawback as it's basically impossible to get always local performance and no possibility of conflicts, and to also make it affordable. Here are some ideas:

Use terminal services on Windows 2008 R2. You can use Remote App like behaves like a local application, but runs on the terminal server and you can keep the files on the same network as the terminal server. Think Citrix.

If you are using Windows Vista or 7 with Windows 2008 or 2008 R2, the new SMB2 protocol is much more efficient over WANs, so direct access over the WAN may work, especially if the files aren't too large.  Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise have BranchCache, which allows caching of files locally.

A WAN optimization solution such as Riverbed can optimize the protocol transfer similar to what SMB2 does, and it compresses and caches data to reduce the amount of traffic on the WAN and makes the WAN useable for directly sharing files.

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/edge/windows-7-branchcache-explained.aspx
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by:fhmc
ID: 34126311
are the users modifying these files or reading them only?  also, how critical is it for the file data to be fresh (e.g. is it a problem if the data is 15 or so minutes old?)

if the end users only require read access and semi-stale data is tolerable, why not consider file replication services?
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by:kevinhsieh
ID: 34126341
DFS Replication services can work well, but it doesn't prevent the same file from being edited by multiple users in multiple locations. In such a case, the version that gets saved last will get replicated, overwriting all the other changes. There will be a conflicts folder where you can recover the other versions, but everything would have to be manually merged back into a single file. It sounds like from what the author describes that there needs to be a centralized locking mechanism to prevent concurrent edits.
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by:fhmc
ID: 34126395
hrm, good point...  I overlooked the open and edit detail in the original post.

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by:JustinGSEIWI
ID: 34136483
pmarquardt: All the files are currently office 2003. Every user in the office is using Office 2003. We are going to be upgrading to Office 2010 in the coming months.

kevinhsieh: We are currently using windows 2003 terminal servers. We are considering upgrading to 2008 R2. Using remote applications sounds interesting. Terminal servers is currently working for us but one reason I want to see if their is another solution is because their are several instances where the terminal server is not suitable and the user must minimize it to use the local computer. This confuses some. I would like a way to lower the confusion and have everything on either the local computer or the terminal server. Right now though, the remote applications seems like the best. The only issue I run into with that is what if a user has a publisher file that is large for example. That won't perform well in the TS. Maybe when I upgrade the TS I can add much more memory and try t allocate 500-1000MB of RAM per user. Maybe this will address this issue? Is TS2008 any better at displaying images that may be used in a publisher file or displaying PDF files? The slowness of a PDF and image file has always been a complaint about users.

We were using DFS originally when I started working here and it w as a mess. Because it would not prompt users if someone has a file open, we were losing files left and right. We ended up having to get out of that situation and installed the terminal servers.

Thanks to everybody for all the comments!

Justin
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Author Comment

by:JustinGSEIWI
ID: 34136487
I also forgot to mention that we were looking at Branch Cache as well. The problem with this though is that all 100 computers are running XP. To upgrade would be very expensive.

Thanks,

Justin
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by:kevinhsieh
kevinhsieh earned 500 total points
ID: 34137575
Justin,

I would download Windows 2008 R2 Evaluation and try it our as a terminal server. I don't know if the performance is going to be better for your screen refreshes, but I know that they have been working on it. Citrix has a good performing solution. They claim to be able to run multimedia over the WAN.

The other option is somthing like Riverbed or their competition. I can highly recommend Riverbed. I think that the cost would be 3-5K at the remote sites, and 5-10K for your main site. It's a little pricey, but it makes your WAN perform much better, including for terminal services.
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by:JustinGSEIWI
ID: 34138919
Thanks for the input.

I will look at these solutions, not sure if we can spend as much as they will both cost though.

Is their anything else within windows that we could utilize? Even if we did use Branch Cache, would it solve the problem of multiple people editing the file at the same time?

Justin
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by:kevinhsieh
kevinhsieh earned 500 total points
ID: 34139107
BranchCache does maintain file locking behavior, so you won't have a problem with 2 people editing at the same time. Upgraading everyone and your servers is not simple or cheap, and it's hard to recommend to do that upgrade just for BranchCache. A WAN optimization solution is almost certain to be cheaper, and it's much faster to implement (I can typically drop a Riverbed appliance into a new location with less than 10 minutes of configuration involved, and 60 seconds of network down time).

http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en/windowsserver2008r2branchoffice/thread/2d844400-66e3-4c94-9369-902056064f20
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Author Comment

by:JustinGSEIWI
ID: 34139283
I am interested to see if the WAN optimization can work. So you use it? Can you tell me why you decided to use it and what areas it has specifically helped?

If we used this, we would go back to not using TS and having each user work on their local computer which means they would have to access files over the WAN. Would a WAN optimizer make a difference when they are opening a 30MB publisher file and other large files? I would still imagine they are going to have to wait a few minutes before the file actually downloads and opens.

We are also interested in video conferencing, would it be able to supplement bandwidth for that user?

Thanks,

Justin
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by:kevinhsieh
kevinhsieh earned 500 total points
ID: 34139846
I use WAN opimization because I replicate all the changes on my SAN from my primary datacenter to my secondary datacenter every night. I have another larger site where I use it to reduce the amount of WAN bandwidth that web browsing puts on the WAN, and it speeds up file servr access over the WAN. I also have a foftware client loaded on machines in several locations that makes accessing files over the WAN a useable experience, whereas it can be pretty bad, even for a single user over a T1.

A WAN optimization appliance is a really good solution for your case because it mitigates problems with chatty protocols and latency that can not be overcome with bandwidth, and it makes the existing bandwith much more useful because the first time you open up that 30 MB publisher file you may need to move 30 MB over the WAN, but when you make some changes and then save it back, you might only be moving 1 MB when you do the save, and then maybe only 256 K when your neighbor opens the same file because all of the bits of data that are needed to build that 30 MB file is already on the local appliance, saving the time and bandwidth it takes to move it across the WAN again. WAM optimization, when it's not doing share level caching, maintains all of the file locking mechanisms so you won't have a problem with that. It will still take some time to open up a fresh file for the first time over the WAN. This is called a cold transfer, but it is usually a bit faster than with WAN optimization, and the warm transfers are much better.

WAN optimization can help you by freeing up bandwidth on your WAN so you can add other things like video conferencing. WAN optimization may or may not work directly on your videoconferencing streams, depending on the vendor and what you are doing. They should all help by reducing other traffic, and they should all support QoS.
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