Sites vs Site Collections

When building a collaboration system, you will soon face a choice between using sites or site collections. In general I tend to favor multiple site collections. i.e. each project or department has their own site collection.

Storage Quotas

Most organizations don’t have an unlimited amount of storage. Keeping the data growth under control is important. In SharePoint it’s possible to impose a quota at the site collection level, but not at the site level. If you chose one big site collection, everybody would be dipping into the same pool. When a site collection is approaching it’s quota, the site collection owners will receive email notifications.

Security

In SharePoint, security groups are defined at the site collection level. i.e. visitors, members and owners. Using seperate site collections, it’s easy to keep track of all the groups and you know they are all related to the content stored in this site collection.

By using multiple sites in the same site collection, you would have to start breaking security inheritance at various levels and adding additional groups. i.e. Project 1 members, Project 2 members, etc. If you have a couple of hundred projects, you end up with several hundred SharePoint groups as well; keeping tabs on what people can do at various levels becomes tricky.  When a site is deleted, the groups supporting it should also be removed; custom code is required.

If information sharing is important for your organization, some additonal steps need to be done if you use multiple site collections. One option is to give everyone read permission through a web application policy. The downside is if a site collection wants to hide its information; i.e. they are working on market sensitive information such as a corporate merger. A different approach is to have a system that synchronizes all of the visitor groups groups; e.g. using  a timer job. Each site collection should then have a mechanism that allows them to opt out of this synchronization.

Content databases

A SharePoint web application can have multiple content databases; each content database equals one SQL database. This allows the amount of data to scale and at the same time keep the SQL databases at a size manageble for disaster recovery. Using administration tools, it’s possible to move a site collection between content databases; something that is not possible for a single site. This functionality can be important in balancing your load across several databases.

Navigation

One area where multiple site collections become a challenge is navigation. For sites within a site collection, sub sites can automatically appear in the navigation controls. These entries are only shown if the current user has access to them; security trimming.

Since site collections don’t have a hierachy and they don’t know about each other, there is not automatic support for cross site collection navigation. You will have to come up with your own system. i.e. using the object model to add entries to the navigation system, or read the navigation configuration from some other location.

Site queries

One web part that can be very handy is the Content Query Web Part.  This allows you to perform a query that rolls up content from your site. Keeping the number of sites within a site collection low, these types of queries have an easier time.

Provisioning challenges

If you go for the multiple site collection approach, additional questions need answering.

  • Who should be able to create new site collections?
  • Should new site collections require approval? If so, by whom?
  • A site collection will have a lifespan. How does one determine the end and what does one do then?
  • Should the requestor become a site collection administrator? This allows them to do anything, including screwing up the whole site collection. This level of access may only be acceptable for certain individuals?

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