How Microsoft does SharePoint Governance for their internal platform

A few months ago, Microsoft IT released a document ( and webcast) that describes the extra effort they took to balance their SharePoint implementation.

In short, they had following problems with their platform:
1.Environment was growing at a rate of 1 terabyte every three months

    • MSIT lacked formal lifecycle management processes.
    • Negative impact on the relevance of search results
    • Difficult for users to find content.

2. Rapid growth created multiple usability and performance issues for users

    • Difficulty keeping track of all their sites.
    • Little guidance about what type of site would best suit their needs.
    • Lacked centralized visibility to the sites they created.
    • many orphaned team and personal sites
    • Inactive document and meeting workspaces.

3. Team or project sites inaccessible by a site owner leaving the organization with no rollover of site ownership.

    • Information security classification standards weren’t being consistently and properly applied to content that was being added to libraries.
    • Unsure about the business risk and impacts for their particular content

First action: Create a Governance board

First of all, they formed a governance board. This board had members from Legal, Security, IT operations and Records management.
Their job was to:

    • Review the SharePoint information architectures
    • Identify potential inefficiencies.
    • determined project goals
    • Governance policies.

The goal was to:

    • Manage SharePoint growth.
    • Reduce the number of unused site collections by 25 percent.
    • Achieve 100 percent compliance for site classifications.
    • Establish clear end-user ownership and accountability for at least 90 percent of site collections.


The board came up with these following 4 policies and actions :

Policy 1: Site Classification

This policy had 2 implications:

Sites must assign and maintain

    – site information classification & expiration date
    – information security classification
    – Ownership

Team sites must have at all times.

    – one full-time employee site owner
    – two administrators

For new sites, they developed a self-service framework for site owners and administrators. Here, users can select from a variety of hosting options that include personal, team collaboration, extranet, dog food (beta), portal, and customized sites. They fill out a form that defines audience reach and primary intended use and select a template.
Existing sites get a notification about actions that have to be taken in order to allow the site to exist.

A second development MSIT took was to create a custom functionality: My Site Collection Manager. That is used to Manage, classify, and delete unused sites.

A third development was the Security Risk classification. To help users properly classify their sites as part of the site provisioning process, or in response to a site alert, MSIT has provided a set of questions to the user about the content that will be stored on their site. Based on the user’s answers, the site is automatically classified for them according to the information security requirements for their content type:

High business impact (HBI)
• Only authorized people with a need to know
• Unauthorized disclosure of HBI could cause severe or catastrophic material loss that includes (without limitation) theft of financial instruments or property, operational disruption, identity theft, brand misappropriation, damage to Microsoft’s reputation, or significant legal and regulatory liability.
• HBI also includes highly sensitive personally identifiable information (PII), which is also subject to the Microsoft privacy policy.

Medium business impact (MBI)
• This information is usually labeled Confidential or MBI.
• Only specific groups of employees, or approved non-employees with a legitimate Microsoft business need, have access to MBI content.
• Unauthorized disclosure may cause serious material loss due to identity or brand damage, operational disruption, damage to Microsoft’s reputation, or legal or regulatory liability.

Low business Impact (LBI)
• LBI information is not confidential and is generally intended for wide audiences under the non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
• Unauthorized disclosure could cause limited to no material loss.

Policy 2: Site lifecycle management of expired/abandoned sites

Sites expire one year after creation and must be renewed annually. Sites that have no activity over a period of six months are considered abandoned and are subject to decommission.
Reducing the number of site collections to only those that are active helps MSIT to:
• Govern their SharePoint hardware usage by minimizing the infrastructure footprint.
• Reduce the size of the Search Index and improve relevancy of user search results.
• Minimize downtime during server upgrades and patching.

Policy 3: Site storage and quota management

Depending on the hosting environment, storage quota limits range from 2 gigabytes (GB) to 100 GB, depending on the type of sites and hosting options. SharePoint libraries and lists are not to exceed 5,000 items. Sites are backed up daily and recoverable up to 14 days.
MSIT leveraged many SharePoint 2010 configuration features to impose limits, or quotas, on the size of SharePoint sites. This encourages users to be mindful of keeping only active and useful information on SharePoint sites. Quota templates define site collection size and storage availability, and are different for each hosting platform:
• Quotas range from 2 GB for a personal site, 5 or 10 GB for a portal, and up to 100 GB for a fee-based custom site.
• An automated email warning is mailed to the site administrators as the site’s storage quota approaches. Site owners can either request more space, or clean up and archive their old content.

MSIT performs a full data backup once every Sunday, followed by six daily differential backups. In the event that a restore is necessary, recovered data will reflect the state of the application at last successful backup. Three complete consecutive data backup sets are retained and rotated to provide MSIT the ability to support a 14-day recoverability service level agreement (SLA). One full backup is committed to tape each month and sent offsite for 90 days. MSIT cannot respond to requests that are outside of the data retention policies.

MSIT can only recover entire deleted sites or subsites from backup. Libraries, lists, and document content cannot be recovered through backup. SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 1 provides a user-accessible Recycle Bin for document content, libraries, and lists from which users can restore their deleted content.

Policy 4: Customization and server-side access

To prevent changes in the environment that might negatively impact other site collections, require additional resources for proper monitoring, or prevent future server upgrades, MSIT does not allow server-side access or configuration changes by users on most of the standard SharePoint hosted services offerings (utility environment). The utility environment only includes SharePoint Out-Of-Box (OOB) features. Only site-level customizations (web parts, basic page configurations, and other OOB components) are supported by MSIT. Server-side customizations are allowed only in custom portal solutions, and by using the new sandbox feature in SharePoint 2010. The sandbox solution allows site collection owners to deploy server-side code that pertains only to their site collection.

Outcome and conclusions

Reducing the number of unused site collections has made more efficient use of the resources that MSIT commits to SharePoint and IT Operations by ensuring that all of the data that MSIT must make available, redundant, and recoverable is current and valid. For example, one of MSIT’s SharePoint implementations has more than 40,500 site collections. After analysis of the last modified dates as documented in the self-service framework, 10,000 sites were identified as inactive and decommissioned. Of the remaining sites, an additional 16,000 have been locked and are currently pending decommission.

For example, one of MSIT’s SharePoint implementations has more than 40,500 site collections. After analysis of site expiration dates and out of compliance deadlines as documented in the self-service framework, 10,000 sites were identified as inactive and decommissioned. Of the remaining sites, an additional 16,000 have been locked and are currently pending decommission. MSIT is on track to clean up roughly 50 percent of the site collections in that single SharePoint farm. At an average of 5 GB per site, the reduction in disk space alone has been a significant savings. User performance has also been improved as searches are faster and the results are more relevant.

By enforcing quotas and reducing the amount of disk space consumed by inactive and abandoned sites, MSIT has been able to manage its rate of growth, freeing up the resources and the capacity for new SharePoint projects.
With the development of the self-service framework, users now are better able to manage their sites. Automating the process for classifying data against the information security classification standards and removing broad access to sites with HBI and MBI information has improved the security of the content as well as raised user awareness and encouraged their active participation in maintaining compliance.

About: Marijn

Marijn Somers (MVP) has over 14 years experience in the SharePoint world, starting out with SP2007. Over the years the focus has grown to Office 365, with a focus on collaboration and document management. He is a business consultant at Balestra and Principal Content Provider for "Mijn 365 Coach" that offers dutch employee video training. His main work tracks are around user adoption, training and coaching and governance. He is also not afraid to dig deeper in the technicalities with PowerShell, adaptive cards or custom formatting in lists and libraries. You can listen to him on the biweekly "Office 365 Distilled" podcast.