What’s the most common headache for people using Office 365?

Syncing OneDrive for Business.

It’s frustrating when things don’t “just work” – especially when more basic competitors like Dropbox seem to be able to handle things properly.

Spotting the Issue

The issues are pretty easy to spot and in most cases there’s a bit of a pattern.

Teams start using SharePoint which works brilliantly, but when they want to access files in a traditional way without being connected to the web the problems start.  Most of the time, it happens slowly.  More and more people start using OneDrive to collaborate, until things go wrong and one person gets that old syncing feeling:

If it’s just a one off issue, there’s not a big problem.  Easy to resolve by doing a quick “repair” of OneDrive.  But when the issue spreads and more users encounter the same errors, you will normally see a cascade of people trying to re-sync at the same time and bring a business’ internet connection to a standstill as they consume bandwidth simultaneously.

In the event that OneDrive’s client doesn’t repair itself with a restart, users need to request IT support to clear their cache and reconfigure the service.  That has a cost implication.

Confidence gets lost pretty quickly, and teams start looking at alternatives.  Questions arise about whether they’ve bought into the right product.

Can SharePoint and OneDrive for Business really help your business?

Short answer: Yes, but there’s a real problem that needs to be understood to provide a real solution.

There are limitations to OneDrive for business.  Microsoft publish them here:

Go to Microsoft Support Here

Most of the underlying causes of syncing issues come down to the following 3 points:

Number of items that can be synced

  • You can sync up to 20,000 items in your OneDrive for Business library. This includes folders and files. You can also sync up to 20,000 items for each additional OneDrive personal site that you may have access to.
  • You can sync up to 5,000 items in a SharePoint library. This includes folders and files. These are the libraries that you find on various SharePoint sites, such as team sites and community sites, libraries that other people created, or that you created from your Sites page. You can sync multiple SharePoint libraries.
  • In any SharePoint library, you can sync files of up to 2 gigabytes (GB).

Size limit for syncing files

Character limit for files and folders

These limits apply to files and folders that you add to a synced library folder for uploading to SharePoint.

  • In SharePoint Server 2013, file names can have up to 128 characters.
  • In SharePoint Online, file names can have up to 256 characters.
  • Folder names can have up to 250 characters.
  • Folder name and file name combinations can have up to 250 characters.

There are a few other issues on Microsoft support, but the chances are that the ones above are the root of any syncing problems you’re facing.

Finding Solutions

You’ll notice the number of items limitation for SharePoint library is 5000. Going back to the story of how the experience of OneDrive for Business goes from good to bad over time, it’s pretty clear that hitting this limit is a big cause of problems.

As soon as you start sharing multiple SharePoint libraries into OneDrive, you’ll quickly reach 5000 files, and without a clear error message, it’s not immediately apparent what’s happened – just that it needs to be repaired.

That’s where the trouble really seems to start.

Assuming that the average file size is 1MB, the 5000 files that need to be downloaded to each PC during a repair is 5GB.  If a lot of people are facing the same issue at the same time, you have a major bandwidth problem on your hands, which compounds the issue and means that each sync takes longer leading to a greater risk of failure.

Character limits in the names of files and folders is the second most common issue.

The chances are that your document library URL in SharePoint probably contains 100 characters.  As soon as you add folders and subfolders into the mix, you’re well on your way to hitting the limit.  Which means trouble.  OneDrive for business will tell you that you’ve hit the limit, but the chances are that if just been using SharePoint and the syncing client you were never aware of these restrictions and it will take a long time for you to resolve it now.

So the main issue is the limitations of the client but the root cause is something much simpler and there is actually a solution to sort things out. Let’s take a look at one of our clients who was experiencing the issues.

Conergy started to use SharePoint Online for project management and found the syncing tool OneDrive for Business allowed their project managers to easily sync the files they needed and access them while they were at customer’s locations.

Over time they added more and more files to each project and eventually the first user reported the syncing issues followed by more and more people in the business.  Eventually the project managers became so fed up with the issues they started using less powerful alternatives like Dropbox.

Conergy had made an investment in Office365 and wanted to ensure they were getting the most out of this so needed the issues resolved.

The core issue with SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business is the architecture in which the site and document library has been deployed.  Users were often using SharePoint Online and picking it up themselves with little guidance from companies that understand SharePoint product stack.

A lack of guidance typically results in one of the following scenarios:

  • A single document library for all documentation with a folder for each project
  • A separate document library for each project.

These general folders can easily exceed the limitations of the OneDrive for Business client.  It’s not unreasonable in the first case for every project to contain 500+ documents.  It only takes 10 projects before the maximum number of files is reached and the issues begin.

Conergy had configured their document libraries using the second scenario.  Some projects contained 5000+ plus documents and users were syncing multiple projects.

After our exploration workshop we found that while people within the project needed access to files offline they only needed a small portion of those files to be available to them. Syncing 5000 files locally when you only need access to 500 is a waste of resources and it’s causing your problem with the syncing.

How the SharePoint site is deployed and the document libraries configured is the key to ensuring that you don’t have syncing issues later down the line.

Following our workshop with Conergy we proposed a new architecture for SharePoint and migration of data.  We built a project site with multiple document libraries for each core function:

  • Engineering Drawings
  • Plans
  • Financials
  • Etc.

This meant that users could sync files more selectively – just the ones that are relevant to their job function.  Because the folders were much smaller (under 200 files per document library), users could sync a lot more projects without hitting issues.

Hugh resolved our issues with SharePoint and turned our investment into a valued, business critical application. SharePoint is now used confidently, across our business, by all project managers.  Ben, Office Manager at Conergy

The future

Microsoft have acknowledged the issues with the OneDrive for Business syncing client and there are fixes coming for the following,

  • Selective Syncing of folders within a document library rather than having to sync everything.
  • Improved reporting to show the sizes of libraries and folders when syncing, hopefully with improved warnings and errors.
  • Removal of the 20,000 file limit and the ability to sync much larger files.

While these fixes are probably going to alleviate the issues that users are having I doubt that they are going to completely resolve them. Also there is no mention of the file name limitations. The real solution to resolving the issues is ensuring the architecture of the sites and libraries has been built correctly and users aren’t ever going to sync files they’ll probably never need.

If you’re interested in a free meeting to see if we can help you with your syncing issues get in touch now.