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The New 250 GB Upload Limit for Microsoft 365. Good or Bad?

Big Files and Differential Sync

Some excitement was generated, at least inside Microsoft, for the January 12 announcement that SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business now support uploads of files sized up to 250 GB. This is an increase from the previous 100 GB maximum announced in July 2020. The new capability is designed to allow customers who deal with very large video and CAD files or data sets to store their information in Microsoft 365.

Some confusion exists if the new limit applies to OneDrive consumer. Microsoft’s support article says yes, if you use the OneDrive app to upload the file. Other sources say that the limit applies to Microsoft 365 customers only. While awaiting the final word from Microsoft, no doubt someone will test to find out if consumer OneDrive is happy to upload giant files.

I’m sure organizations who need to deal with such large files are very happy. To make it feasible to store very large files in a cloud service, Microsoft uses differential synchronization on PCs and Macs to upload only the parts of files that change rather than the entire file. To make this possible, Microsoft explains that files are split into chunks for upload, each being encrypted with a single key. The chunks are combined to form files when needed, Everything is stored in Azure SQL.

The upshot is that the initial upload for a very large file takes time, but subsequent changes are much quicker. Differential synchronization also works for downloads to update local copies of files stored on workstations. All in all, differential synchronization is a great capability to have, even if the largest file you need to process is a 100-page Word document.

Downside of Large File Storage

Exciting that all this is, some downsides exist when storing very large files in SharePoint Online. Storage quota is an obvious concern, but it’s not just the prospect of dealing with multiple 200 GB-plus files that can create a potential issue.

Microsoft delivered a 20x increase in SharePoint storage quota in 2018. The basic calculation is 1 TB for the tenant and 10 GB per licensed user. That seems a lot, and it usually is more than enough to handle basic storage requirements. Some other factors then need to be considered.

Retention Occupies Storage

Retention policies allow organizations to keep essential information for a specific period (or remove unwanted information after a period). Retention is often an important capability needed to meet business and regulatory requirements, but It doesn’t come without a cost.

If you deploy retention policies to cover SharePoint Online sites, each site gains a Preservation Hold Library where deleted files and versions of updated files are kept. The storage consumed by these libraries is charged against the tenant quota and can consume a large percentage of that storage. Retaining multiple copies of a 150 GB file (for example) can quickly consume a large amount of storage and force the organization to buy additional quota from Microsoft.

For example, James Luce is the administrator of a 6,000 user tenant owned by an architecture firm. He told me that they have experienced an increase in storage from 35 TB to 51 TB since the pandemic started. Apart from the goodness of people storing more documents in the cloud, the most likely factor driving the increase was a decision to implement a retention policy to keep documents for 12 years.

The Move to Stream 2.0

The impending move of Stream video storage to SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business creates further strain on storage. Teams meeting recordings are the first component to move. A one-hour video recording of a Teams meeting can occupy up to 450 MB. Not many of these videos will be edited and Microsoft promises a special retention policy to remove recordings after a different (usually shorter) period. In addition, recordings for Teams personal meetings are stored in OneDrive for Business rather than SharePoint Online, and the quota available to individual users accommodates this demand.

Nevertheless, Microsoft says that the Azure storage quota assigned to tenants to store Stream videos today will not transfer to SharePoint Online. Shared video an organization stores in Stream will count against the SharePoint storage quota. Depending on how/if an organization uses Stream, this will place more pressure on the quota available to SharePoint.

Time for a New Increase

Given the new upload limit, the effect of retention, and the storage of video files in SharePoint, it’s time for Microsoft to consider bumping the storage quota assigned to tenants. There’s no great value in being able to upload large files, to retain the files by policy, and store Stream and Teams videos if you’re always on the edge of quota exhaustion.

In the meantime, while we wait for Microsoft to increase quotas, here’s a couple of ways to track and report quota usage by SharePoint sites.

Teams Doesn’t Store Anything, Except in the Minds of Marketeers

In closing, I’m amused by Microsoft marketing text like “uploads of files into SharePoint, Teams, and OneDrive” which attributes the ability to handle files to Teams. This is untrue. Teams uses SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business to store files. Teams is just a prettier (in the eyes of some) and easier to use interface than the SharePoint and OneDrive browser clients. There’s no doubt that Teams is driving a lot of growth for SharePoint Online, but it shouldn’t get credit where it’s unearned.

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Tony Redmond has written thousands of articles about Microsoft technology since 1996. He covers Office 365 and associated technologies for Petri.com and is also the lead author for the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook, updated monthly to keep pace with change in the cloud.

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