FileStream + RBS + Shredded Storage = Confusion

Hang out with infrastructure people, and you’ll learn a lot about the mechanics of making SharePoint work. But even after working for Microsoft, and then a couple SharePoint ISVs, I still had some questions about the options available for optimizing storage in SharePoint. I knew the basics and key differences between imageavailable solutions, but didn’t really discuss the topic other than a few bullet points in some of my migration presentations. But with the recent move to Metalogix last fall and the fact that we have the leading SharePoint RBS solution, StoragePoint, people have been approaching me at events and via email with questions about the problem space.

Honestly, before the Metalogix acquisition, I didn’t give it much attention. I knew the components, but had never deployed a solution – nor did my previous companies offer a solution. Honestly, we always pointed people to StoragePoint (some friendly referrals is part of what led to Metalogix acquiring Axceler). Just after the launch of SharePoint 2013, I sat down with Bill Baer (@williambaer), IT Pro Technical Product Manager for the SharePoint product team, to understand how Microsoft was talking about FileStream, RBS, and the new shredded storage features in the platform (always good to understand the official Microsoft positioning). Basically, while Microsoft provides guidance around storage and architecture, and is both expanding SharePoint’s capabilities and innovating to help reduce the content overload of many SharePoint deployments – they recognize the needs of customers beyond what is offered out-of-the-box, and try to remain neutral on the various third-party solutions.

Why RBS remains a need is best defined in the AIIM whitepaper The SharePoint Puzzle – Adding the Missing Pieces (with similar results from a recent Metalogix survey) in which they reported that while the number of new SharePoint deployments is slowing, the volume of content is growing at 50 to 75% annually. If the average SharePoint farm includes just over 1 Terabyte of data (and many companies with multiple farms), that’s a huge volume of content coming to your local environment over the next couple years. While Microsoft may be trying to push people toward a more vanilla brand of SharePoint and away from customizations, there is no stopping the growth of content. And as a result, many organizations that previously didn’t think they had a need for storage optimization solutions will be looking for help from the partner ecosystem in the near future.

And that’s why people keep asking questions, trying to understand the options. For small content volumes, and low usage of rich media, storing everything in SharePoint probably makes the most sense. But if you find yourself with growing content databases, and a large percentage of that content being large file types, its time to look at storage optimization solutions.

There are generally five questions asked on this topic:

What is a BLOB?

BLOB stands for binary large object, and consists of content or data that you may store in SharePoint that, because of its size, may be difficult (slow) to upload, edit, or manage. Typically, this would be rich media like videos and audio, high-definition images, or computer-aided design (CAD) images. In layman terms, it’s a big chunk of data.

What is FileStream?

FileStream was created by Microsoft to help administrators store unstructured data more easily, integrating SQL Server with an NTFS (new technology file system) by storing BLOBs as files on the file system. This method allows administrators to use SQL to modify, query, and backup the FileStream data. Some useful links on the topic:

What is Remote BLOB Storage?

In a nutshell, RBS allows you to store your BLOBs external to SharePoint, allowing you to spread your content across less expensive, dedicated storage devices. Inside SharePoint, you lists and libraries look the same – you can move, open, edit, tag, and add it to workflow – with metadata residing within SharePoint, and the physical content stored outside of SharePoint. Some additional resources on RBS:

What is Shredded Storage?

This is where people get the most confused. The concept is fairly simple: when you edit a document in SharePoint and then hit Save with versioning turned on, the default experience had been for SharePoint to create an entirely new copy, or version, of the document. Instead of saving the entire document, shredded storage saves only the edits that you made, greatly reducing the amount of storage needed for each version. Some articles that can provide a deeper dive:

Doesn’t SharePoint just handle all of this without me needing to think about it?

This is where these topics converge. While FileStream was displaced by support for RBS in SharePoint 2013, the new shredded storage options do not displace the need for RBS. In a recent interview with Metalogix CTO Trevor Hellebuyck (Product Insights: An Interview with Trevor Hellebuyck on StoragePoint), Trevor talked a little bit about the differences. Essentially, shredded storage provides value around highly interactive content (multiple versions, primarily MS Office content types) and provides little to no performance improvements for rich media and other traditional BLOB content. SharePoint 2013 improved on storage, but RBS is still very much needed.

Hopefully this helps clarify the topic for some people. I’ll be writing and talking more on the topic this year – not so much about RBS on its own, because there’s a tremendous amount of content out there from my company and others, but how RBS fits in to your overall SharePoint management and optimization strategy. I have a video in the works, and plan to do more interviews with Trevor and my storage team to help educate people on this topic.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.