Increase in OneDrive Storage Usage by Microsoft Teams Apps Complicates Tenant Administration

Whiteboard Latest Consumer of OneDrive for Business

As first described in message center notification MC282992 (September 3, updated December 7), many whiteboard clients can now store and access files in OneDrive for Business instead of the original Azure data store. Given the popularity of whiteboard sharing in Teams meetings and the support of the new whiteboard storage in Teams, it’s likely that many files are now in OneDrive for Business (Figure 1), even if their owners don’t realize that the transition has happened.

Whiteboards stored in OneDrive for Business
Figure 1: Whiteboards stored in OneDrive for Business

Whiteboard isn’t the only Teams application which stores its files in OneDrive for Business. Others include:

This trend isn’t surprising. By design, Teams uses other Microsoft 365 components rather than creating its own, and responsibility for OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online roll up under the same Microsoft executive (Jeff Teper). It’s natural for Teams-enabled applications to look to OneDrive as a natural target for file storage, especially as Microsoft makes liberal storage quotas available (here’s a script to report the storage used by OneDrive for Business accounts)

Administrative Challenge

Storing data in OneDrive for Business makes eminent sense. The challenge for administrators occurs when the time comes to delete a user account. By default, Microsoft 365 keeps the OneDrive for Business account for a deleted account for 30 days. You can increase this period to up to ten years (3650 days) by updating the retention setting in the SharePoint Online admin center (Figure 2).

OneDrive for Business Deleted Account Retention Setting
Figure 2: OneDrive for Business Deleted Account Retention Setting

During the retention period, anyone granted access to the OneDrive account can retrieve files. Once the retention period expires, Microsoft 365 removes the account permanently and the files become irretrievable. The exception being if the account or any of the files come under the control of a retention policy or label, in which case they remain in place until all retention controls expire.

The administrative challenge is to decide how to handle the OneDrive content for deleted accounts. One approach is to use the mechanism available to assign access to a deleted user’s OneDrive for Business account to another user (Figure 3). In essence, this makes the designated user the administrator of the OneDrive for Business account and allows them full control over anything stored in the account.

Assigning a user to review the OneDrive for Business account for a deleted user
Figure 3: Assigning a user to review the OneDrive for Business account for a deleted user

The intention is to give the designated user some time to review the information held in the deleted user’s account so that they can retrieve anything valuable from the account and store it somewhere else, like their own OneDrive for Business account or an appropriate SharePoint Online site. The mechanism works, but the obvious flaw is that once you move files out of their original location, you break the connection between Teams and objects. It’s possible to preserve sharing links when moving files from a OneDrive for Business account, but the link in chats will point to the wrong place and make attachments and loop components in Teams chats unusable, meeting recordings and whiteboards unavailable, and any “cloudy attachments” shared in email inaccessible. In short, users won’t be happy campers because they can’t get at information and help desks will be frustrated because they can’t do much about the underlying problem.

Retention a Better Answer

Instead of asking someone to go through the OneDrive for Business account of deleted users (a dispiriting job), a better approach is to use Microsoft 365 retention policies to retain information in OneDrive for Business accounts for an extended period. Unlike SharePoint Online, where storage quotas are more restrictive and expensive than OneDrive for Business, the effect of long-term retention isn’t a concern. With retention in place, after deleting user accounts, their documents and other files remain in place until the retention period expires. Assuming that the retention period is several years (after creation), this should be sufficient for people to recover copies of information or finish up working with objects like whiteboard or Loop components. At the same time, if someone needs to access the OneDrive account to remove or move files, they can, assuming everyone understands the consequences which ensure.

Of course, retention policies are only available if your organization has Office 365 E3 or better licenses. Organizations with licenses which don’t include retention policies are limited to harvesting information from deleted accounts before they disappear. However, there’s nothing to stop organizations using poor man’s retention by setting the retention period for OneDrive for Business to the maximum 3650 days. After all, ten years after the deletion of an account, who’s going to want to access a document, whiteboard, or loop component from such an antiquated repository?

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