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We are in a tough spot, we have a hosted server with the following specs:

OS: Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise SP1 64bit
Processor: Intel Xeon X7550 @ 2GHz (8 processors)

The file system is on a SAN or NAS (not sure).

We are seeing very odd issues where a user will open a 25MB .xslb file and it takes literally 60-120 seconds sometimes. The server is just dog slow for excel.

Resources are not being pegged, CPU never jumps up, plenty of RAM... it's just oddly slow.

Our host has been looking at the issue for several weeks with not much to show for it. Is there a utility I can run myself that will help trackdown our issue?

I have found Server Performance Advisor V1.0 Any experience in using it?

Our host is ultimately responsible for fixing this, but we are going on 1 month and our users are losing patience. Any tips would be helpful.

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Have you looked at Disk IO rates or the amount of time processes are spending waiting for IO requests to complete? – EEAA Aug 29 '12 at 18:00
1. If you're going to use SPA at least use the latest version: 2. How are the clients accessing the files on the server? Via UNC path, RDP drive redirection, etc.? Are they accessing the file over a WAN connection or are the clients and file server on the same LAN? – joeqwerty Aug 29 '12 at 18:04
@joeqwerty - The users are RDP to the server. The file is on the local d:\ but I am fairly certain that the d: drive is on a SAN or NAS somewhere. We have a fiber link to the storage area, but I do not know what kind of disk it resides on. Even if its 5400RPM, a 25MB file should load quickly (IMHO). Ill check the new link out. – ProfessionalAmateur Aug 29 '12 at 19:10
@erikA - Where can I check the disk IO? I'm a programmer by day (sometimes by night) so troubleshooting server related activities is new to me. Is there a utility I can use? Something built into windows? Thx. – ProfessionalAmateur Aug 29 '12 at 19:11
Yes, with perfmon.exe. You can find it under Administrative Tools -> Computer Management -> Performance -> Monitoring Tools -> Performance Monitor. Right click into the graph area and click Add Counters. Then you add what you want to monitor. – HopelessN00b Aug 30 '12 at 13:01
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Why are you sure it's the server that's responsible for this slow performance?

The last time I had this "issue" reported to me it was a 40 MB Excel file with over 200 pivot tables (and a dozen external links) that had to be calculated on the client machine every time it was opened. Go to a workstation, download the Excel file, open task manager and watch the local machine's CPU load while opening the file.

In my case, the file took 87 seconds to open, with full processor load on a dual CPU, quad core i7 system. Once I confirmed that, I pushed the problem back to where it belonged, which would be the moron who created a spreadsheet with so many entries and calculations it could choke a mainframe. I'd bet good money the problem's the same in your case. The spreadsheet is too beefy for the client PCs to process in a timely manner, which is what happens when end-users try to do anything remotely technical - they don't do it remotely right, and everyone suffers as a result.

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This is a possibility, Ill look into it. – ProfessionalAmateur Aug 30 '12 at 5:00
Looks like this was it. We pulled it to a local machine and it did take twice as long than the server. We are going to get more cores and and a faster CPU for the server, and ask the spreadsheet owner to refine the calculations pivot tables. – ProfessionalAmateur Aug 30 '12 at 17:16
@ProfessionalAmateur Beautiful. At least my pain helped someone else, so that experience wasn't for nothing. :) – HopelessN00b Aug 30 '12 at 17:21

(do you mean xlsb, rather then xslb?)

For a quick view of "are my disks able to keep up with my requests": Open up Performance Monitor and add AverageDiskQueueLength counter for that drive (logical or physical are fine). In general, it shouldn't spike above 10: a gross generalization but will help you see the good from bad. Disk Queue Length should normally be 0 to 1 but on really overworked servers I've seen it climb to 100's of thousands and stay there. This is just a counter of how many requests are waiting on disk I/O to accept them for processing.

But why look at disk I/O at all? You know the thing is slow, so to me looking at perfmon is to rule out the disks as the issue. Disk Latency counter should likely stay under the magical 20ms.

For a more comprehensive look, I'd use PAL (Performance Analysis of Logs), a fantastic tool where you run it, tell it what type of "workload" your running, and it spits out a config file for performance monitor. Import that file into perfmon, run for 24hr on typical day, then take log output and import those into PAL which will spit out a nice HTML summary report using MS Best Practices and real-world info to help you chase potential issues. Here's more to think about:

  1. Put the file on C:, which "may" be on local or different storage then D:. If D: is in fact on SAN storage, the disks, controller, and NIC of storage are likely shared with other customers/workloads so it could easily not be your doing at all. I'm just guessing here, but moving file to different drive is a simple troubleshooting tool (again, assuming disks are on different locations).
  2. Are other files other then xslb having issues? Big word docs?
  3. What if you save and open as xlsx? What if you open it on a local computer?
  4. Is the file pulling any remote data? That could be a cause.
  5. Does Excel have any add-in's, try removing them from Excel options.
  6. For big datasets, Excel can be sluggish if it's the default 32bit (millions of rows in table). Have you tried 64bit Office? (number 3 would route this problem out. If it opens up fast locally on 32bit excel then you know it's not a memory limit issue).
  7. Was there a time it opened a 25MB spreadsheet really fast? If so what changed since?
  8. Off the wall, but if users default open location is anything other then C:\ (e.g. network) I've seen office apps load slowly just like this, even when no file is selected. Often caused by user profile path set in AD.
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Yup I meant xlsb, Ill run these checks tomorrow and get back with some results. – ProfessionalAmateur Aug 30 '12 at 5:07

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