TIFF supports the creation of “overviews” within the file, which is basically a downsampled version of the raster data suitable for use at lower resolutions. Use the “gdaladdo” program to add overviews to a TIFF, and MapServer (via GDAL) will automagically choose which downsampled layer to use. Note that overviews significantly increase the disk space required by a TIFF, and in some cases the extra disk reading may offset the performance gained by MapServer not having to resample the image. You’ll just have to try it for yourself and see how it works.
Tiling is mostly effective for cases where one commonly requests only a very small area of the image.
A tileindex is how one creates an on-the-fly mosaic from many rasters. This is described in the Tile Indexes. That document describes common cases where a tileindex makes sense. In particular, if you have a very large raster and most requests are for a very small spatial area within it, you may want t consider slicing it and tileindexing it.
As an alternative to slicing and mosaicing, TIFFs do support a concept of internal tiling. Like a tileindex, this is mostly effective when the requests are for a small portion of the raster. Internal tiling is done by adding “-co TILED=YES” to gdal_translate, e.g.:
gdal_translate -co TILED=YES original.tif tiled.tif
The TIFF image format is the fastest to “decipher”, but once you get beyond a certain point, the disk reading (since TIFF is very large) may become slow enough to make it worthwhile to consider other image formats.
For TIFFs larger than 1 GB, ECW images tend to render faster than TIFFs, since decompressing the data (CPU and RAM) is faster than reading the uncompressed data (disk). The downside is that ECW is not open-source, and the licensing is often prohibitive.
JPEG2000 is a very slow image format, as is JPEG.
Remote WMS servers are often slow, especially the public ones such as TerraServer or NASA’s Landsat server. There’s nothing you can do about that, except to reconsider when the remote WMS layer should be used.
For example, there may be a different WMS server (or a different set of imagery, or even vector outline maps) suitable for drawing the countries or states to orient the user. You could then have the WMS layer come on at a certain scale, or have the layer always available but turned off so the user can choose when to turn it on.