Continuing the SharePoint Migration Journey – Site Collections
Hi friends – It is that time again to talk about your migration off of your old, rusty version of SharePoint and into something new and shiny. In the last article, Starting Your SharePoint Migration from Scratch, we framed up the sins on the past (looking at you Fab 40 templates) and we answered the question where you should you move to. Hint; It rhymes with SharePoint Online.
Today we are going to discuss how you organized your content, what your new goal should be, and why. A lot of these learnings come from the 1000s of SharePoint projects I have touched over the years and one of the universal truths, nobody got their SharePoint content organized right the first time and maybe not even the third time. So just like we didn’t feel bad for ourselves in the last article when we talked about all of the bad things we did to make our site not look like SharePoint today we aren’t going to get defensive on the poor decisions we made when it came to organization.
The reason now is the time to have this conversation is you are in a great spot. To leave your old version of SharePoint you are going to touch all of your data and whether you are moving from to SharePoint Online or On-Prem the design goals are the same. So why not take the moment of change to reorganize your SharePoint?
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In a perfect world, how would SharePoint be organized?
I am glad you asked. Nirvana would be lots and lots of small (manageable) site collections, no subsites, and never breaking permissions inheritance. I know that sounds like crazy talk compared to what you have today but that is truly your north star. Let’s break down these pieces to see why they make sense.
Site Collections are the unit of scale – When SharePoint was created (roughly at the same time as the wheel and fire) it was built with the idea that Site Collections were the unit of scale. Everything inside the product was scoped at and designed for site collections. But at the same time, they gave us this web concept (you call them sites but site is a four-letter word in this conversation) and worse yet the ability to create sub-webs (subsites). These sub-webs allowed people to build a lot of crazy information architectures but at a cost. If you use SharePoint Portal 2003 you might remember bucket webs where the portal went off the rails after 20 subsites? Why because that wasn’t their intention. Sub-webs let you build deep site collections but deep is hard to discover.
The ability to create sub-webs is still in the product even today but if you listen to the community of SharePoint experts there is a very clear message. “Site collections for everything.” Sadly, the community is very direct on this but we have still never gotten Microsoft to directly say “Quit making sub-webs!” Maybe one day. Thankfully they give us things like Hub Sites that continue to push us in that direction by allowing us to create a sub-web like experience with separate site collections.
Now, it is also important to make sure you don’t overdo this stellar idea by skipping over a major point. SharePoint was designed for lots and lots of site collection, not one mega site collection. This comes up very often also. If you have a site collection for everything that is 100’s of gigabytes or more this also needs to be on your plan for breaking things up. Look at the site collection, find the logical break points and create a new site collection for that content. For some companies, this makes sense right away and is easy to implement, for others you will have to put on your thinking caps. But the key is one mega-site collection isn’t a great solution either.
Don’t break permissions inheritance – This is a tough one for me to explain because it is so obvious but I will do my best. If I think back to the 90’s when I was managing my first file share I found out the really hard way that having 1000s of files and having no clue who really has access to any of the files is a disaster waiting to happen. The same way friends don’t let friends store matches and gasoline together, friends don’t let friends break inheritance. Now when I say this to someone, they love to point out that Microsoft keeps adding more and more tools to enable this behavior. Sadly, they are right but that is because that is something the Facebook generation has come to expect. Press a button and share anything and everything. That is great for pictures of my dog but not for business-critical documents about customers or about you. Step away from the dumpster fire and don’t do it.
Breaking inheritance is actually a nightmare for both the users and the administrators but both enable it to make the other happy. For users, they just have no clue who has access to what. Which makes it awfully scary for them to upload content to SharePoint. When your entire information architecture revolves around the wild, wild west philosophy of anyone might have access anywhere that makes it really hard for responsible adults. Who wants to upload the file with all their salary information when you aren’t sure who can see it?
For administrators, you are the one who is going to get the blame when that document gets discovered. Security by obscurity used to be acceptable to many but what is SharePoint’s best feature? Search. What does search do? It finds all of the content you can access no matter what. So, if someone accidentally gives you access to that spreadsheet of bonus amounts search will find it. Scary. Not to mention that creating site collections is more work and no admin likes that. Sorry, it will be okay, make more site collections.
Even worse yet, in today’s world of compliance who is getting blamed if some government org shows up and says we need to know every file that every person has access to? I was there once when the SEC came knocking. I was freaked out I was going to jail as I hunted for files that they wanted across my file shares, Exchange, and lots of old magnetic tape. I had done nothing wrong and wasn’t a target of the investigation but I was the lucky guy who had to find what they wanted. Not cool. Thankfully today there are some great third-party tools that can help with this but still no thank you.
What can you do with this information?
As you working on your SharePoint migration strategy, you need to include plans for how you are going to organize your data when you make the move. I am certain based on the above you are going to need change. And while it would be great to just do it my way and tell the users to deal with it that never works. What I would recommend you do is you first understand how close to this nirvana you are and then engage with your business owners and talk to them. It is going to take a two-way conversation to get them onboard with why this is what your company should strive for.
In the next article, we will talk about making it so breaking up doesn’t have to be so hard. We will turn on a rom-com, light some candles, and dig into the tools you can use. PowerShell, SharePoint Migration Tool, and 3rd party are all the right answer depending on how you want to break up and where you are headed.