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Don't Let Inactive Data Consume Your SharePoint OnLine Storage

Updated: Feb 16

Many organizations still utilize on-premises file shares to store, manage, and share their department documents, inactive files, and non-records. But this approach has several limitations and drawbacks – namely, what to do with local file shares when moving to the cloud. With that in mind, let’s explore the advantages of using SharePoint Online document libraries as your cloud-based file share and how it can benefit your business in terms of cost, productivity, security, collaboration, and scalability.

A Digital Transformation Speed Bump

In their quest to move entirely away from their costly and aging data centers looking for recoverable floor space, enhanced data security, and scalable flexibility, some organizations have transitioned their on-prem data centers to the cloud by relying on the Microsoft 365 platform and other SaaS-based enterprise applications.

However, many organizations that have begun the move to the cloud didn’t consider what to do with their massive on-prem file shares. Most companies have some form of local file share, and many have file shares spread across divisions and locations, totaling hundreds of TBs.

The main issue is this; Neither Microsoft 365 nor Azure provides stand-alone Windows file system storage capabilities – like a gigantic OneDrive account that everyone in the company can access.

But, as luck would have it, Microsoft 365 SharePoint Online can be made to act as a file share allowing it to look like a Windows file system share drive that can if enabled, be set to sync local copies of files visible from individual users’ file explorers – providing local copies of file share documents. It can also be configured not to create a local copy of data, only allowing visibility and access to the data when synced to the enterprise – like a mapped network drive.

One of the main advantages of using SharePoint Online document libraries is that it offers cloud-based storage and Windows file system-like shared access to your organization’s unstructured files and inactive files. This ability ensures that employees can access their files from anywhere, anytime, and on any device, as long as they have an internet connection and a web browser.

You can also configure a SharePoint file share to sync individual employee files to their local device for offline access and automatically upload any changes when you reconnect. This gives employees more flexibility and mobility and reduces the dependency on your organization’s network infrastructure and IT support. But the question is, what shared files do you want/need to sync locally, and what would that do to local laptop or workstation storage? In reality, most files stored on file shares are inactive - not having been accessed in over a year or belonging to departed employees.

Another advantage of using the SharePoint Online document libraries as a file share is that it provides enhanced security and compliance features that are costly and difficult to establish in your own data center. Additionally, you can control who can access the SharePoint file share (via role-based access controls - RBAC), edit, or share your files. You can also enable versioning, auditing, retention/disposition, and encryption for your files. SharePoint Online also complies with numerous industry compliance standards and regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, ISO 27001, and SEC Rule 17.

Another advantage of using SharePoint Online file share capability is that it facilitates collaboration and communication among team members and stakeholders while offering enhanced data security and backup. You can easily share your files with others, either internally or externally, and co-author documents in real-time with multiple users (standard file shares cannot). You can also use features like comments, @mentions, likes, and alerts to communicate and provide feedback on your documents.

Moreover, you can integrate your SharePoint Online document library file share with other Microsoft 365 apps, such as Teams, Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, and more.

All these enhanced feature/functionality goes way beyond standard on-prem file share usability while freeing up the need to continue providing costly on-prem file share servers. But the more extensive adoption of SharePoint document libraries comes at a price.

Many corporate file shares are enormous – measuring hundreds of TBs. However, the current storage allocation/limit for SharePoint Online depends on the type of subscription and number of licenses purchased. Many companies have run up against the maximum SharePoint storage allocation – quickly. Table 1 below shows the current SharePoint Online storage limitation.

SharePoint Online storage allocations

Table 1

In fact, the maximum SharePoint storage space allowed is 25 TB per site collection – but your maximum allocation will depend on your subscription and the total number of users. If you want more space, apart from your current allocation, you can purchase additional storage from Microsoft at an average cost of $0.20 per GB per month. (Definition: a SharePoint site collection is a logical grouping of SharePoint sites that share common features, settings, and administrative controls. It serves as the top-level container within a SharePoint environment and can include one or more SharePoint sites.)

As you may have noticed, 1 TB plus 10 GB per license is far less storage than most organizations require, and the cost of additional SharePoint storage is considered expensive by most organizations. This low storage allocation has pushed many companies to look for solutions they can use to offload inactive SharePoint/file share data to reduce their overall Microsoft 365/SharePoint monthly cost.

There are several possible solutions to this problem. Some third-party SharePoint storage solutions include moving files out of SharePoint to archiving systems based on configurable policies such as employee change of status (departed employees) or file “last accessed” dates. These files are replaced with a pointer or “stub” pointing at the file in the archive, ensuring the archived files can be retrieved relatively easily.

At first glance, this strategy seems to make sense; however, utilizing SharePoint to create SharePoint Online file shares is usually not addressed with archiving solutions. These archiving systems utilize their own file systems and cannot be used as Windows file systems.

On-Prem to SharePoint Online File Shares

As I mentioned earlier in this blog, a complete transition to the cloud is a long and complex process, often slowed or stopped due to massive on-prem file shares. However, moving your on-prem file shares to SharePoint Online is a possible strategy depending…

Moving your on-prem file shares to SharePoint would potentially/probably max out your allocated SharePoint storage, triggering the need to purchase additional, costly SharePoint storage.

But what if you could set up one or more SharePoint document library file shares utilizing policy-based virtual storage so that you could completely move to the cloud while ensuring you never hit the SharePoint allocated storage limit?

The two questions IT departments must answer are:

  1. Is the additional cost of extra SharePoint storage less than the cost of maintaining your on-prem file shares?

  2. And secondly, is there another way to extend SharePoint file share storage to a less costly cloud storage platform?

The answer to the first question requires performing an individual ROI analysis on your actual costs of maintaining your on-prem file share capability (CapEx) versus the monthly cost (OpEx) of low-cost cloud storage.

The answer to the second question is - Yes. Speaking specifically about SharePoint Online file share storage extension, restorVault allows you to virtualize SharePoint file share storage directing inactive files to a low-cost cloud platform. This SharePoint virtualized storage capability ensures you do not run up against your company’s storage allocation while allowing you to shut down your on-prem file shares.

Block diagram on virtualizing SharePoint Online storage

Figure 1

Much like the already mentioned SharePoint archiving solutions, a SharePoint Online virtualized storage solution would provide you with what amounts to cloud-based SharePoint file servers without the need to purchase a separate and expensive cloud-based (SaaS) archiving system. Instead, you would manage the SharePoint file share with policies that would automatically move specific files (policy based on any number of factors, including file age, author, and employee status) to low-cost third-party cloud storage utilizing a standard Windows file system.

Utilizing SharePoint document library virtualized storage instead of an on-premises file share can provide your organization with several benefits in terms of cost savings, employee productivity, higher security, easy employee collaboration, and system scalability. It would help you store and manage your documents in a low-cost cloud-based storage environment accessible from anywhere, anytime, and on any device.

And it would also allow you to dynamically adjust your storage capacity and functionality according to your needs instead of guessing what additional storage resources you should buy for the year.

restorVault virtual storage for SharePoint Online File Shares

Moving your on-prem file shares to SharePoint Online is a viable strategy for companies wanting to completely move to the cloud and shut down their expensive data centers. Just be aware that your organization’s SharePoint Online storage allocation (see Table 1 above) could cause an issue.

However, there is a straightforward solution to purchasing additional expensive SharePoint storage. Virtualizing a SharePoint file share storage so that semi-active and inactive files can be automatically moved (outside of Microsoft 365) to lower-cost cloud storage while keeping your data storage below your SharePoint allocated storage limit can save you in two ways.

  1. First, it allows your organization to shut down your expensive on-premises file servers - saving on all the additional associated costs, including backup, DR, annual hardware and software support agreements, and personnel.

  2. Second, it ensures that you can stay below your SharePoint Online storage limit - so you aren’t forced into buying additional expensive SharePoint Online storage.

restorVault’s patented virtualized cloud storage solution provides a way to store your inactive unstructured data as well as other high-value unstructured data safely and inexpensively in a trusted and immutable cloud vault.

restorVault’s Compliant Cloud Archive (CCA) provides a secure, virtualized cloud storage platform for on-prem and cloud-based file shares for long-term information management, on-demand access to virtualized unstructured data, and the highest levels of data security, including an option to store your data in an immutable cloud storage tier for ransomware/extortionware protection.

The Compliant Cloud Archive can also be set up as extended low-cost virtualized cloud storage for SharePoint Online file servers.

Contact us today to learn how restorVault can help your company save money while increasing data security and storage capacity.


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