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  • Writer's pictureChris Hudson

Microsoft 365 - Native Archive (A first look)

Help! - I've run out of SharePoint Online storage and additional storage is far too expensive...

Following on from a previous announcement back in 2023, Microsoft has begun rolling out their new & native offerings to cater for an organisation's Backup and Archive requirements, at least where Microsoft 365 data is concerned, which until now, had usually been accommodated via third-party services and products.

Both Microsoft 365 Backup and Microsoft 365 Archive are now available in Public Preview, meaning, we can finally get our hands on and begin adopting both solutions, assuming we're happy to accept some of the initial public preview limitations. For this blog post, we'll be primarily focusing on the new Microsoft 365 Archive solution in its current Public Preview state.

Microsoft 365 Archive addresses the challenges relating to content growth across Microsoft 365, i.e., within SharePoint Online. In line with an organisation's organic growth, it's accepted that the amount of data they withhold will indefinitely expand, but as a consequence of this, the amount of free storage within SharePoint, for example, will subsequently decrease. However, as time progresses, some of this content will naturally become less active and less accessed, meaning that whilst it must be maintained and not deleted, if we can help it, we don't want it to absorb valuable storage quotas within Microsoft 365. This is where Microsoft 365 Archive comes into play by offering a "cold" storage tier that enables an organisation to securely and compliantly store inactive data within SharePoint Online, but at a more cost-effective price that doesn't take away from the standard SharePoint quotas. Using this Archive capability, an organisation can easily archive but also reactivate content easily and efficiently from within the SharePoint interface.

Microsoft 365 Backup, on the other hand, aims to protect organisations in the event of accidental or malicious data loss, ransomware attacks, and/or data-related security breaches, by periodically creating immutable backups across the data estate within Microsoft 365; SharePoint Online, OneDrive, and Exchange Online. These backups are then made easily restorable and recoverable within the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, without ever having to leave it. Additionally, the solution also respects geographical residency requirements as data never leaves the Microsoft 365 trust boundary or the geographical locations of the tenant's current data residency. Furthermore, if an organisation would prefer, they can also leverage this new technology via a third-party service that is built on top of Microsoft's new Backup APIs - This is particularly useful if an organisation has a preferred partner for backup or if they have any non-Microsoft 365 data that also requires backing up.

As mentioned previously, for this particular blog post, we'll be focusing on Microsoft 365 Archive. However, if Microsoft 365 Backup is also of interest, you can find my "first look" at the solution here.

Before we delve in, it's probably useful that we understand some of the service's other advantages: -

  • Speed: The archiving of sites, regardless of size or amount, is ultra-fast as per Microsoft's wording.

  • Cost savings: The "cold" storage tier that archived data is moved to is cheaper than procuring additional SharePoint storage.

  • Metadata: Archived data will retain all of its metadata and permissions upon reactivation from the archive.

  • Cleansing: Clear separation between active and inactive data helps to declutter the environment whilst helping to manage the lifecycle of data.

  • Durability: Archived data is equally durable as active data.

  • Security: All archived data has the same level of security as active data.

  • Geo residence: Archived data remains within the configured geo compliance boundary and residency.

  • EU Data Boundary: Archived data complies with the European Union data boundary promise.

Finally, if you've adopted any of the Microsoft Purview compliance capabilities around your data, it's good to know that the majority of Purview features are supported and will continue to operate as normal - For example, admin-level search, eDiscovery, access policy, sensitivity labels, data loss prevention, and retention. You can read more about this here: Compliance features in Microsoft 365 Archive (Preview) - Microsoft 365 Archive | Microsoft Learn

All make sense?

Let's jump into Microsoft 365 Archive: -




The pricing / licensing model for Microsoft 365 Archive is based on a pay-as-you-go model, facilitated via Microsoft Syntex. The current cost per unit depends on the archive activity, defined below: -

  • Archive consumption: Reflects the cost associated with the number of gigabytes (GB) of data archived. However, this metric is currently only charged when the amount of archived storage plus active storage in SharePoint Online exceeds the tenants' included SharePoint Online storage quota. This is costed at $0.05 per GB per month.

  • Archive reactivation: Reflects the cost associated with reactivating and rehydrating archived data back into active data, but only once seven days have passed after the initial archiving activity. Reactivating data within the initial seven-day grace period is not chargeable. This is costed at $0.60 per GB.

These prices are subject to change when the product reaches general availability.

Microsoft provides the following infographic to visualise the potential cost savings that could be observed depending on different reactivation frequencies and percentages. Essentially, if less than 30% of data is being reactivated no more than twice a year, the most cost savings will be witnessed.

Useful Links


Enabling Microsoft 365 Archive

The first task is to enable the Microsoft 365 Archive service, which also bears witness to the enablement of the Syntex-pay-as-you-go billing model, assuming that it hasn't already been enabled, which the archive solution relies upon.

Before continuing further, as a prerequisite, please ensure you have an Azure Subscription and encompassing Resource Group available and ready as the setup process for the Syntex-pay-as-you-go billing model requires them. If you'd like further information on this, please refer to: - Configure Microsoft Syntex for pay-as-you-go billing.

1. Within the Microsoft 365 admin portal, navigate to "Setup", locate the "Files and content" section, and then click "Use content AI with Microsoft Syntex".

2. Next, click "Set up billing" to provision the Syntex-pay-as-you-go billing model.

3. Within the "Set up pay-as-you-go" billing fly-out pane, select an existing and appropriate Azure Subscription and Resource Group, and then specify a desired region. Next, review and accept the terms of service before clicking "Save".

4. Wait for the pay-as-you-go billing model to be provisioned.

5. Once the Syntex pay-as-you-go billing model has been successfully set up, click "Manage Microsoft Syntex" on the previous screen.

6. Within the "Microsoft Syntex" fly-out pane, select "Archive" from the list of services.

7. Select "Turn On" to enable the Microsoft 365 Archive provision, followed by clicking "Confirm" at the next window.

8. Verify that the Microsoft 365 Archive service has been successfully turned on.


Managing Archive and Reactivation

Once the solution has been enabled, we can now look at managing and testing the archive and reactivation capabilities of Microsoft 365 Archive.

Before we begin, let's familiarise ourselves with two key terms: -

  • Archive: Reflects the archiving of data which essentially translates to moving inactive / unused data from the existing and active storage quota and environment to an inactive and "cold" storage tier. Once data has been archived, it becomes inaccessible to end-users but can easily and efficiently be reactivated should access be later required.

  • Reactivate: Reflects the restoring and rehydrating of archived data within the "cold" storage tier back into the active storage quote and environment.

Let's also understand the archive statuses currently available, as per Microsoft's description: -


First, let's take a look at archiving a SharePoint Online site. In this example, we will archive a site called "Projects 2018" which is no longer actively used or interacted with and is consuming valuable SharePoint Online storage. This data has arrived at the end of its active lifecycle and is now unused by the organisation, but it may still need to be referenced in the future, which makes it a perfect candidate for Archive, as the data is unused, cannot be deleted, and needs to be retained at a lesser cost.

1. Within the SharePoint Online admin portal, navigate to "Sites" and then click "Active sites"

2. Next, select the site destined for archiving, and then click "Archive". In this example, we have located and selected the "Projects 2018" SharePoint site.

3. Next, review the fly-out window pane that details the targeted data, as well as the intended Archive action. Once content, click "Archive".

4. Finally, review the next screen which details the intended Archive action, and the nuances associated with it. For example, we can see here that although the SharePoint Online site will be archived, which happens to be a "Teams" site with a Microsoft 365 Group attached, any other associated elements that arrive with a Microsoft 365 Group will not be archived, such as Exchange data. Once content, click "Confirm".

5. And there we have it, one SharePoint site successfully archived. In line with the archive statuses we reviewed at the beginning of this section, the data will currently be in a "Recently Archived" state for the first 7 days, before transitioning into "Archived". This grace period allows us to instantly reactivate active data during the 7-day window without incurring any restoration costs.

As expected, the site no longer appears within the "Active sites" blade.

And if we try to access the now archived site by its URL, we receive the below - Again, as expected: -


Next, let's take a look at reactivating and rehydrating an archived SharePoint Online site. In this example, we will reactivate the same site that we previously archived, called "Projects 2018". This data had previously reached the end of its active lifecycle and was therefore nominated for archive, however, the owning organisation now needs to reference and access some of the historical data within that site to aid a new project.

1. Back within the SharePoint Online admin portal, navigate to "Sites" and then click "Archived sites"

2. Next, locate and select the archived site that is destined for reactivating, and then click "Reactivate". In this example, we have located and selected the "Projects 2018" SharePoint site - Notice that it currently has the status of "Recently archived" which as per the previous definition of the different archive statuses at the beginning of section, means we can instantaneously reactivate the data without incurring any restoration costs as it's in the initial 7-day grace period since we first archived it.

If the status was "Archived" instead, not only would costs be incurred to reactivate the data, but it may also take longer to fully rehydrate the data for it to become active data again.

3. Next, review the fly-out window pane that details the targeted data, as well as the intended reactivation action. Once content, click "Archive".

4. And it's as easy as that, one archived SharePoint site successfully reactivated.

The site now no longer appears in "Archived sites", and instead, has been rehydrated back into "Active sites".

And we can now access the SharePoint Online site again: -


Reporting & Logs

There aren't any "official" reporting or log locations for Microsoft 365 Archive that we've come across yet, however, whilst browsing around, we did notice that the following events were captured within the Microsoft 365 Audit / Compliance log during the archive & reactivation activities.


The Future & Considerations

For many organisations, Microsoft 365 data storage platforms such as SharePoint Online have long been adopted to benefit from the service's advanced collaboration capabilities, and when you pair this with the organic growth an organisation undergoes, the amount of data they withhold will naturally increase. To add to this, with the introduction of Microsoft 365 Copilot and other Artificial Intelligence features, this usage is only going to continue to grow exponentially. Until now, when a SharePoint Online storage quota had been reached, additional "active" storage had to be procured at a relatively costly price, or data had to be deleted or migrated to an alternative cheaper solution such as Azure Files. This previous absence of a native Microsoft 365 Archive solution has long been questioned by technical professionals and customers alike, but with these questions now being answered, we can only expect that the solution will be heavily adopted in the coming months and years.

It is important to note, as always with any technology in preview, that there will be limitations present and potentially further developments or changes planned before the solution reaches general availability.

At the time of writing, as the feature is in its early Public Preview state, there are a few limitations present with the Microsoft 365 Archive solution. Some notable ones are listed below: -

  • Only full SharePoint sites can be archived currently, with file-level archiving intended for the second half of this year (2024).

  • Archiving a site that is currently enrolled in Microsoft 365 Backup will be blocked.

  • Once a site has been reactivated, its permissions, lists, pages, files, folder structure, site-level policies, and other metadata will revert to the pre-archived state, except if files are deleted from archived sites. The only exceptions are when files are deleted whilst the site is archived:

    • Content in the recycle bin expires naturally, and that expiration continues while archived.

    • Content marked to be deleted by retention policies will still be deleted as normal.

  • Tenants with more than 50,000 sites may face issues whilst trying to enumerate archives sites within the "Archived sites" blade. Enhancements to improve this are scheduled for the future, but in the meantime, PowerShell can be used to improve efficiently in this scenario.

  • Currently, archived content exported via eDiscovery doesn't require site reactivation for exporting but will require it before general release.

  • End-user search results won't currently return or show any archived content.

  • Columns such as "Archived Date" and "Archived By" aren't currently available, but are planned for a future update.

  • For multi-geo tenants, whilst data residency requirements are honoured, site moves aren't supported. Archived sites will need to be reactivated before any move.

  • Currently, tenant renaming isn't supported on archived sites. Sites will need to be reactivated before a tenant rename is triggered.

  • If you archive a site that has a library syncing to a device, that device's sync client will display errors after the site is archived. We recommend that you remove syncing libraries before archiving a site.

You can keep up to date with these limitations, as well as review additional ones not referenced above at the following link: - Overview of Microsoft 365 Archive (Preview) - Microsoft 365 Archive | Microsoft Learn





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