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IT Showcase On: Microsoft SharePoint

Microsoft IT Uses Service Infrastructure and Governance Policies to Manage 29.9 TB of SharePoint Data

Quick Reference Guide

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.


Download Quick Reference Guide, 142 KB, Microsoft Word file

Executive Overview

Situation: Microsoft IT (MSIT) first deployed Microsoft SharePoint in 2000 before Microsoft shipped the product. MSIT didn’t do a lot of governance at the time. Within a few years, there were approximately 250,000 SharePoint sites at Microsoft with 200 to 500 new sites added per day. To rein in this tremendous growth, MSIT created a logical service infrastructure and applied strict governance policies.

Why You Should Care:

  1. MSIT administers a staggering number of SharePoint sites, including approximately 224,000 top-level sites and 545,000 sub-sites. Total amount of data: 29.9 TB.
  2. MSIT has two main services: a Standard service (used by most employees) and a Custom service for users and groups that require more than the Standard service.
  3. In its SharePoint implementations, MSIT experienced growing pains like other IT organizations. Other companies can make use of MSIT’s lessons learned to avoid the same pitfalls or to get in front of demand.
  4. With each new version of SharePoint, MSIT has been able to use less and less custom code since the out-of-the-box product offers coverage for areas that previously required custom code.

History of SharePoint on MSIT—Timeline




First deployed as a team collaboration space


  • Consolidated into three datacenters with SharePoint 2003
  • Introduced personal sites (My Sites)
  • Began hosting portals


Broke into tiered, hosted offerings


MSIT hosts almost all corporate portals

SharePoint Sites By Region

MSIT operates three farms with SharePoint infrastructure: Americas (Tukwila); EMEA (Dublin); APJ (Singapore).


# Top-Level Sites

# Sub-Sites

% of Total

Total Data (TB)





















Service Offerings



Standard (Utility)

  • The primary SharePoint service that most employees utilize
  • Includes My Sites and team collaboration sites
  • Offered at no cost to end users/groups
  • Fixed resource allocation/site collection
  • Employees use a self-provisioning tool (Autosites) to quickly create sites
  • Storage above quota limits can be purchased at cost
  • Employees can do small customizations for a charge (limited to Microsoft SharePoint Designer)
  • Shares a single host name
  • Best for business-critical (not mission-critical) business needs


  • Targeted at groups that need more than the Standard service
  • Includes vanity URLs, dedicated hardware, and custom SLAs
  • Flexible resource allocation
  • Customizations permitted in addition to SharePoint Designer
  • Offered at cost to sponsor; charged quarterly
  • Single tenant isolated hosting
  • Used for mission-critical LOB applications
  • Used by the major portals (MSW, MSLibrary, InfoWeb, HRWeb, LCAWeb, and ITWeb)


  • Service offering for Microsoft partners


  • MSIT operates multiple versions of SharePoint across its infrastructure for dogfooding purposes
  • Old team sites have been maintained as a perpetual dogfood environment so employees can play with new features that may not have been rolled out to production

In addition to these services, some departments prefer to manage their own infrastructure because even the custom SLAs don’t meet their requirements. These groups provide all of their own resources, including expertise to run their own SharePoint farm.

Service Level Agreement—Standard Service

  • Covered by FastHelp and technical support 24x7.





50+ users

4 hours


2+ users

24 hours


Normal scheduled work

3 days


Low priority

8 days

  • Availability goal: 99.9%
  • Business-critical level of service (not mission-critical)
  • Broken customizations not fixed by MSIT
  • Help for SharePoint questions on a “best-effort” basis
  • Databases backed up once every 24 hours and maintained for 14 days
  • Site restores require GM approval
  • Maintenance windows reserved
    Daily: 6 pm to 6 am local server time
    Weekends: Friday 12 pm to Monday 6 am
  • Quota progression: 500 MB (default), 1GB, 2GB, 3GB, 4GB, 5GB, 10GB. Above 10 GB, MSIT charges an extra fee back to the organization.

Autosites Self-Provisioning Tool

Employees use self-provisioning tool to:

  • Create sites very quickly
  • Set site expirations
  • Assign data classifications
  • Set quotas and determine costs for quota upgrades

Major Portals

The major portals at Microsoft all have a similar underlying structure. For example, they all include search, and most include “top search” terms. All of the portals recognize the user and some provide content specific to the user’s role. The portals are designed to get users in and out quickly with the information that they need to stay productive.




The Microsoft Web. The hub of knowledge for employees at Microsoft that links via web parts, direct links, or search to all site collections across Microsoft farms. Many employees use MSW as a starting point to be able to get where they want within the web of SharePoint at Microsoft.


MSIT intranet. Offers dashboard, Helpdesk links, and productivity and best practices information


Microsoft Library intranet


Sales Department intranet


Human Resources Department intranet


Legal and Corporate Affairs intranet

MSW Details/Business Benefits

  • Originally run as a portal that had lots of custom code. It was complex and hard to maintain. When MSIT moved MSW to SharePoint 2007, they didn’t have to bring over all of the custom code because the 2007 version provided out-of-the-box coverage for areas that previously required custom code. When MSIT upgraded to SharePoint 2010, they were able to eliminate even more custom code. So support requirements have decreased over time.
  • Helps global employees find the information they need
  • Laid the groundwork for the other portals
  • Offers hosting services packages
  • Provides feedback to product teams
  • Extremely flexible—can provide anything and everything, not just articles and links. For example, if employees are on distribution lists, they can receive email that alerts them to certain news articles.
  • Used so often by Microsoft employees that it has become a testing ground for MSIT. For example, FastSearch was initially piloted on MSW because MSW provided a great testing ground to run at a large scale.

Lessons Learned

  • Viral Site Growth. It’s very important to get in front of demand before it gets out of control. MSIT uses governance policies and lifecycle management (LCM) to control growth.
  • Data Classification. To protect intellectual property, MSIT classifies data into High Business Impact (HBI), Medium Business Impact (MBI), and Low Business Impact (LBI). These classifications are built into the self-provisioning tool. As employees create sites, they are required to assign data classifications.
  • LifeCycle Management. Failure to effectively manage site lifecycle results in: uncontrolled growth, decreased quality of intellectual property, increased management costs, and the inability to find information quickly. MSIT uses the Autosites self-provisioning tool for LCM.

Implementing Governance At MSIT

Governance is the answer to lessons learned. MSIT established a Governance committee, which included a cross-section of roles and businesses. The committee:

  • Defined goals and policies
  • Reviewed the information architecture to identify potential inefficiencies and supportability issues
  • Laid content out in an organized fashion and looked for ways to tie different portals together into a web of knowledge and data
  • Defined the education strategy

Governance strategies require ongoing assessments and improvements.

Best Practices—Service Governance

  • Governance is a crucial step to take before installing SharePoint. Set policies, roles, and responsibilities not just for how sites will be provisioned but also for how they will be managed.
  • Define the audience and build the site for that audience.
  • State the service opportunity.
  • Create strong partnerships with service partners and stakeholders. MSIT uses their dogfood program to establish relationships with partners who will help drive adoption of the software.
  • Create a logical service architecture.
  • Clearly state operational requirements. To create trust, create realistic SLAs.
  • Clearly state service elements (scope, enabled features, service gaps, etc.).
  • Communication is key. Solicit feedback, work with partners on service outage times, get employees involved, and communicate successes.
  • Create an operational level agreement for partners or service dependencies.
  • Provide service success criteria.

Measuring Success


  • All products and services are graded quarterly by Microsoft employees. NSAT scores are tied directly to reviews and compensation.
  • Outlines biggest pain points and focus areas
  • Determines highest usage patterns

Adoption vs. Deployment

  • Use traffic statistics to determine adoption levels
  • Train end users in Work Smart productivity sessions to turn deployments into adoption and to train end users on best practices

Education Resources

Questions & Answers

How much of the MSIT infrastructure is running on SharePoint 2010?

The Americas, EMEA, and APJ regional farms (Standard service) are running on SharePoint 2010. The custom portals are currently in the process of being upgraded. The initial Redmond dogfood farm has also been upgraded to SharePoint 2010.

How does MSIT control site growth?

MSIT uses the following governance policies to control site growth:

  • The Autosites self-provisioning tool enforces site expiration dates.
  • MSIT enforces strict site quota limits. If a site reaches its quota, no one can save to the site until data is removed or the group has the quota limit increased by MSIT. Each site has multiple owners, so if an employee leaves the company, someone is always accountable for the site.

Why do site restores require GM approval?

Backups/restores are currently a lengthy and expensive process. It’s a lot of work to restore a whole site at the IT level and also at the customer level (determining what changed since the last backup). SharePoint 2007 added a site recycle bin for individual item, web part, and site level recovery, which makes the need for site restores less common, but MSIT is also working on improving SLAs for backups/restores.

How does MSIT keep people from using the Standard service for mission-critical applications?

MSIT counsels organizations on what type of information is appropriate for the standard and custom site types. If MSIT sees a site that would be more appropriate for the custom service, it works with the site owners to provide information on why it would be a good idea to pay the costs to move to the Custom service.

Why are the maintenance windows so big?

MSIT builds generous maintenance windows into SLAs for back-end management maintenance services so that they don’t have to fight for that time. Maintenance windows are only used when MSIT has to do actual maintenance, which isn’t that often. Maintenance windows are based on local server time—wherever the infrastructure is hosted.

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