A large number of organizations still live in shared folder hell, plagued by the following issues:
- Documents are scattered deep and wide in a vast hierarchy of folders across many shared folder locations.
- Duplicate content is everywhere.
- Organizational records become buried amongst the shared folders and are overlooked by information management policies that govern things such as the record’s retention policy.
- Security holes are common because access rights are not propagated to sub-folders leaving sensitive content exposed.
- In many cases, a shared folder hierarchy represents an department’s or an organization’s content taxonomy. A document’s presence in a shared folder hierarchy is implicitly “tagged” with metadata being the names of the folders in the hierarchy. Problem is, when the document is copied or moved, the metadata (i.e. the names of the folders) does not travel with the document.
- Finding information can be a time consuming and costly endeavour. Yes, costly; see “The high cost of not finding information”.
It’s obviously a no brainer to move those organizations from shared folders to a document management system. And many companies are either using (or thinking about using) SharePoint as a document management solution.
You might think that using SharePoint 2007 as a document management system will cure all the shared folder ills that I highlighted above. Wrong. SharePoint 2007 has a core performance limitation that will require you to use folders (or indexed views) when the number of documents in a single view starts to exceed 2000. The same applies to SharePoint lists.
Tests show that the performance of libraries starts tanking as the number of documents/items in a library view approaches and exceeds 2000. The recommended way to avoid the performance degradation trap is to create folders within libraries to break down the documents into sub-2000 document folders. The TechNet article “Plan for software boundaries (Office SharePoint Server)” talks in detail about this performance limitation and how to deal with it using folders. It very clearly states that folders are “critical for scaling“. So, unfortunately, if you expect to store more than 2000 documents in a library you’re faced with either:
- Using folders in a document library and having to deal with many of the same problems as dealing with server-based shared folders.
- Using indexed views (views that used indexed columns). Helps improve performance for libraries with 2000+ documents but performance is not as good as using folders.
- Using multiple document libraries that store no more than 2000 documents.
Options 2 (indexed views) and 3 (multiple document libraries) may alleviate the need to use folders. However they potentially force you to deviate from your information architecture (IA) by using multiple libraries and views that do not conform to IA requirements for the organization and presentation of content. Those options can also introduce additional administrative overhead managing the many libraries, views, and indexed columns.
Ultimately, if an organization needs to store many thousands of documents in SharePoint 2007 they will likely have to break down the libraries into hierarchies of sub-folders. And now you’re back to square one dealing with folder hell. Will the next version of SharePoint address the performance limitation and eliminate the need for folders?