Working Around SharePoint Online Limitations
Working Around SharePoint Online Limitations
August 2016

As we embarked on using OneDrive for Business / SharePoint Online as our File Storage and Document Management system, we came in with our eyes wide open. Having integrated and worked with many document management systems in the past like Documentum, Worksite MP etc we understood the capabilities and benefits of a robust and well engineered document management systems. We also understood that regardless of how good the technology is, the success of any document management system will hinge on how you use it, and what processes you put around the governance and usage of that system.

With that said SharePoint Online / OneDrive for Business does have some significant limitations especially on the sync client side of the system. The limitation of only being able to sync locally to 5,000 files and folders for SharePoint Online document libraries and site collections and 20,000 files and folders for One Drive For Business sites can be very disruptive if you don’t plan properly for it.

After some frustration, and trial and error I realized that the only real way around this was  to setup separate site collections at the level whereby people have a common collaboration group and set of files for documents that are actively being worked on.

Chances are that  unless you are a huge organization it is fairly easy to break your documents into groupings of 5,000 or less. As I was going through this, I also remembered that SharePoint was not really started as a document management system but rather a collaboration engine. While Microsoft has done a great job of building out its document management capabilities and support on the platform it does make some sense to still treat these collections as spots for document collaboration and not just a file storage.

This will force you hoarders to be expeditious on what files you save in these libraries and to keep your folder setup relatively simple, but I would argue that those are all best practices in terms of file / document management anyway.

The OneDrive for Business sync client can also be quirky and temperamental, but this too can be worked through once you learn how to use some of the key features, like repair and stop syncing a folder options in the sync client tool. It’s kind of like my snow blower it is hard to keep it working all the time, but once I have it going it does a great job. Same with SharePoint online. It may take some time to get all the syncing setup and flowing but once you do it works really quite nicely.

We decided that we would use OneDrive for Business as a personal file system because it is not as collaborative and is not quite as easy to share items. This seemed to fall in line with Microsoft’s advice on when to use SharePoint Online vs. OneDrive for Business. As we continue down this path I am sure we will run into more limitations as Microsoft continues to build this platform out. However if there is one company I would put my money behind getting the solution right while having the best integration with the office suite it would have to be Microsoft. So, as a summary of the key limitations:

  1. Limit to only be able to sync 5,000 files or folder combinations in a single Site Collection or Document Library in SharePoint Online.
  2. Limit to only be able to sync 20,000 files or folder combinations in a single OneDrive for Business library.
  3. The sync client can stop working at times and will need to be repaired or sometime you will need to stop syncing a folder, delete the folder and then setup the sync to that document library again.
  4. The newest sync client does not work with SharePoint Online sites according to Microsoft so you probably need to use the 2013 OneDrive for Business sync client, or you can have both installed at once according to Microsoft although I was not able to set both up at once.
  5. There seems to be some compatibility issues between Office 2016 and the sync client, we suggest sticking with Office 2013 until all the bugs are worked out likely in the end of Q2 2016.

To learn more about FinServ Consulting’s Office 365 and Microsoft related services, please contact us at or (646) 603-3799.


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FinServ Consulting is an independent experienced provider of business consulting, systems development, and integration services to alternative asset managers, global banks and their service providers. Founded in 2005, FinServ delivers customized world-class business and IT consulting services for the front, middle and back office, providing managers with optimal and first-class operating environments to support all investment styles and future asset growth. The FinServ team brings a wealth of experience from working with the largest and most complex asset management firms and global banks in the world.