SharePoint Archive Planning Guide

History has a way of repeating itself. Thankfully, when we learn from the mistakes of the past, we are able to address new challenges more quickly and in smarter ways. In the early 1990s, email emerged as a collaboration mechanism, speeding up communications between multiple parties.

It started as a tool only available to high-ranking executives, but quickly grew into the most dominant form of communication. As email use proliferated in the mid-1990s, the volume grew to the point where email servers buckled and IT organisations had to grapple the need to:

  • Maintain server performance and data-recovery time while an enormous volume of email sat on the production server
  • Back up exponentially increasing amounts of data
  • Perform time-consuming and expensive restoration of back-up tapes in response to discovery requests

These challenges led many organisations to email archiving. Archiving alleviates the burden on email servers by moving data to cheaper storage, minimises back-up windows by reducing the amount of data to back-up, and streamlines. Providing an interface through which to collect all potentially relevant emails and attachments without having to find and restore content from back-up tapes.

Currently, a very similar story is playing out with SharePoint. SharePoint enables efficient and effective team collaboration, version control for documents edited by multiple team members, and faster access to information via search, while enabling users to create new forms of important content like blogs and wikis in a managed fashion. SharePoint brings a new level of structure to high-volume, user generated content which, until recently had simply been dumped onto network file shares.

Due to a relatively low cost, ease of use, tight integration to Microsoft Office applications, and a wide range of features such as workflow, search, and access control, SharePoint has gained huge traction in the market.
As SharePoint continues to gain traction, organisations want to avoid the mistakes they made with email and instead proactively take control of SharePoint content before it takes control of them. As a result, many look to SharePoint archiving early in the process to enable storage management on the production SharePoint system, recovery of SharePoint content and data and centralised retention management.

Criteria for a SharePoint Archiving Solution

In choosing an archiving solution for SharePoint, it is important to ask these questions:
What scope of SharePoint content and metadata is captured?

Some solutions capture only a portion of SharePoint content, e.g., specific documents or document collections. This kind of capture supports fine-grained recovery. Others capture not only document-type content, but also all the context data for the environment—the rich data that makes a SharePoint site interactive (lists, blog and wiki entries, front-end web server information, and more). All of this content and metadata is important for compliance and recovery; a holistic archiving solution must capture and store it all. When content and context are captured, it is possible to perform coarse-grained recovery to restore or migrate full SharePoint environments.
How is the SharePoint content captured?

Content can be captured from SharePoint continuously or periodically. Continuous capture of all content related to specific departments guarantees needs for compliance.

Does the solution provide more than just lower-cost storage?

Archives provide great value in enabling the move of content from production systems to cheaper storage, but an archive that can also facilitate recovery provides even greater value. Having archiving and recovery in one solution means less complexity for IT to manage and greater operational efficiency and cost savings.

How does the archiving solution enable end-users to access SharePoint content?

When endusers go to SharePoint to get their content, they don’t want to be redirected and they don’t want to search two repositories for data. Rather, the right solution will make access seamless, leaving content directly accessible through the SharePoint interface. It will also integrate seamlessly with the SharePoint search index, allowing archived content to appear in search results alongside active content. Be sure that your archiving solution enables seamless end-user access so that you don’t have to train users on new ways to access their information.

How does the solution enable retention management?

Organisations struggle to implement defensible litigation holds.
A good archiving solution will allow very granular controls over retention; that granular control stems from comprehensive capture capabilities and flexible retention rules. A unified content archive allows an organisation to quickly implement item-level litigation holds

Is the solution part of an integrated content archiving platform?

The most efficient archiving solution unifies email, file, and SharePoint archiving. Not only does this make tasks like setting litigation holds faster and easier, but it reduces storage costs by providing single-instance storage across all the content sources.
What is required then for customers is a SharePoint archiving and recovery solution, providing a comprehensive capture approach for SharePoint content, enabling archiving and recovery in one solution.

SharePoint Benefits and Challenges

Organisations deploy SharePoint to make information more accessible to end users and to enhance collaboration among work groups.
The benefits SharePoint delivers are undeniable: better and more efficient team collaboration, version control for documents edited by multiple team members, and faster access to information through searches. SharePoint brings a new level of structure to high-volume, user-generated content. However, the viral spread of SharePoint throughout organisations combined with its distributed deployment model presents significant challenges to the efficient management of this collaboration environment:

Limited native backup and recovery.

The existing SharePoint backup solution is limited for any organisation beyond a small business because of the time for recovery (RTO), the inability to provide item-level recovery, and the significant hardware costs for recovery. The built-in SharePoint recovery tools require a separate recovery farm of servers and disks that can modify metadata such as date and time stamps and IDs of users who checked in the document when items are recovered. Recovery is a time-consuming, multi-step process. SharePoint’s native backup operation involves reading a large amount of data, so running it frequently can interfere with system performance and even block end-user access to sites. SharePoint does have a site level backup tool accessible via command line using stsADM, however, this is intended to back up and restore top-level Windows SharePoint Services Web sites, it is not designed for item-level recovery.

Increasing storage costs.

The distributed nature of SharePoint deployments allows content to grow virtually unfettered. While it is possible to manage storage size by setting size quotas on site collections, this may limit end-user productivity and it hinders the ability to manage the information lifecycle effectively based on size and age of content. It is also exactly what organisations tried— and failed—to do with email. Organisations using SharePoint can employ Information Management Policies, which can allow for the expiration of content, but these are time consuming to implement in environments with many web applications and/or multiple SharePoint farms. In addition, SharePoint’s Version Document Libraries store full copies of document versions (not just the delta between versions), resulting in significant additional storage costs.

Retention management.

It is challenging to implement effective retention and disposition policies to reduce compliance risks because of the lack of central control over distributed deployments and the difficulty implementing Information Management policies in organisations with multiple SharePoint farms.

In Conclusion

In ending this article, choosing a SharePoint Auditing format requires careful thought, planning and design. This design is carried out by a successful combination of the business through information analysis and SharePoint solution architects. In terms of Enterprise Content Management, it is one of the most important steps in realising the full power and potential of SharePoint in managing compliancy and archive retention.