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I found that adding parameters to a context and using global parameters has helped a lot. Also, heavy indexing of the dimension columns of the source tables. Although there is a delay (3-4 minutes) when opening the workbook, the worksheets (using the same data source) perform acceptably.
A good thing to do try to diagnose issues like this is to capture a performance recording from the desktop and then one from the server.
The performance recorder gives you insight into where time is going and comparing the one from desktop and server will give you a bit more insight into what's going on on the server side.
Also, note that in v8.1 - since we moved to 64 bit you actually do not want as many vizql server processes. I would recommend you set VizQL and AppServer to 2 to start with and try this test.
Hope this helps or at least gives you a bit more insight into whats going on.
This was a really useful answer to one of my previous questions about number of processes you should run:
You have also not said what remote database you are querying. If you are able to run a query trace you should also try that.