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Archive in an online-world

Archiving with SharePoint Online

We get bombarded with questions on how to derive value from investing SharePoint Online and Office 365, and often businesses throw-out the easy-option of document management and being able to support the business-lifecycle.

Actually, what they say is “we want shift our documents, and find them easily… oh, and can we Archive stuff too?

…but we know that they mean – it’s “can we:

  • clear space and remove clutter for working on current things? and

  • carry over the old stuff in case it’s important and / or somebody loses something?

This is a bit different to someone who knows what and why they Archive things and what it means.

Traditionally (electronic) Archives were introduced to:

  • capitalise on cheaper offline/offsite storage - when disc and IT services were expensive;

so you can clear-space and remove stuff off to create new content

  • provide secure locations for content which is not active, but should not be destroyed or transferred,

carry over old-stuff – in case it’s important

  • provide a location where we may retrieve stuff from, if required, into a Live environment.

find and recover “it” if somebody loses something

…See, told you 😊

Microsoft provides organisations a 1TB of storage available in SharePoint Online tenant, plus 10GB per person subscribed with a license.

For a small organisation this is a huge amount of storage but is not always sufficient when we look at document lifecycles and what is commonly thought of as “Archiving”.

Around the ether there are lots of discussions, and people selling “archiving” solutions, and a slew of those for Office 365 and SharePoint Online. Typically vendors and consultancies are those who previously provided same solutions for on-premises deployed solutions – where hardware is expensive, and you need to design and manage everything yourself.

With cloud-services, and SharePoint Online, we believe a lot of small organisations do not need an external Archive service or solutions in same way. You could make use of available SPO/Office 365 services for archive-management …*unless* there is a specific business reason.

IMPORTANT: confirm your specific scenario with appropriate legal-advisor *before* undertaking any strategy involving moving or (re)moving documents and data across geographic and legal jurisdictions.

A good reason for considering external supplemental services, or a storage solution, is mitigation in case of an issue with your cloud-service or internet-access. But this is a*disaster recovery* scenario not Archive purposes and needs to be more comprehensive than just document storage and access.

Archiving options

Back to discussing Archiving then. Based on the assumptions that we are clearing-space and being cautious, our options are:

Note: Ideally external solutions and services will:

  1. Integrate with your existing core repository (Office 365, SharePoint Online)

  2. Allow of integrate identity and sign-on

  3. Allow for either import, or mapping equivalent, information design metadata

  4. Allow for either import, or mapping equivalent business rules (RDS)

Summary Pros and Cons

So, we should be able to provide some context and decide on an approach! Below is my scratch-table which summarises some of the considerations in evaluating Archiving options. These are derived using the points identified in Archiving Options section.

Caveat: the following is not complete representation of considerations, but key items related above.

* this is only relevant *if* local business rules, and / or regulatory needs mandate this.

Caution: evaluation criteria can be misleading.

As with anything the weighting we add to a particular attribute or response can significantly skew the conclusion. If you are assessing the options and see you can avoid storage-costs on Office 365 we may add serious weight to an External service or even offline options.

This is where context is king!

Let’s use a live-customer example:

  • a business generating ~200,000 documents a year,

  • the file-sizes are relatively small, 500kb – 2MB per.,

  • the company is consuming less than 50GB of storage per year

  • with an estimated 5-year consumption of 250GB,

  • and they imported the same volume of historical documents,

I still have over 500GB available - because Office 365 includes 1TB as minimum!

Therefore I could potentially Archive on the service, and not have to add significant incremental storage cost.

Now consider the same business retains additional documentation:

  • keeps 100 active customer files

  • keeps 1000 inactive or closed customer files

  • Each customer file contains contracts, variations, reports and other artefacts

  • File-types include large formats like: CAD files, multi-layered images, process-flow modelling diagrams, video-media etc

  • They have to keep customer files for minimum business period of 10years (on contract),

…then I can easily chew-through a Terabyte in a year.

Lets scale this up to a larger organisation with 1000+ users, with higher turn-over of customers and documentation…. You get the idea. Even if I have 1TB + (1000 x 10GB) = 2 TBs to start with I may end up needing storage planning and management.

A comprehensive Archive could start to get expensive. This is where life-cycle rules (disposal schedules) and correct labelling help but ultimately you may end up exporting Archive data to another location

See, it all depends on environment, size, type of content, business rules and costs (operational expenditure). Context.


  1. Can you manage, operate and run all document lifecycle with Office 365 tools? Yes

  2. Can you deliver an archive just using the existing SharePoint online environment? Yes

  3. Should you? It depends on your situation

Want to ask us about understanding, assessing and getting more from your Office 365 and SharePoint environments?

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