Easier document management with file classification feature and SharePoint

Derek Schauland discusses the new File Classification Infrastructure feature in Windows Server 2008 R2 and how it can ease document management when used in conjunction with SharePoint document libraries.

A little over a month ago, Microsoft released File Classification Infrastructure (FCI) for Windows Server 2008 R2, a data classification mechanism allowing file properties to be assigned on-the-fly, based on rules. This technology is a huge step forward in getting existing files classified for things like expiration or storage in a protected location. You can get more background on FCI in one of my previous blogs.

FCI is great for assigning properties in metadata to files existing on file servers, and Microsoft SharePoint is great for storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets, and other files that would ordinarily be kept on a file server. In this post, I'll focus on these two technologies and how they work together.

What does it take to make FCI work with SharePoint?

The first thing to realize about classifying files with FCI is that the rules engine can place files into SharePoint document libraries; however, existing files within the document library cannot be classified with FCI.

I believe there is a reasonable work around for the classification of existing SharePoint files, if you are willing to repopulate your document library. You would need to pull files out of SharePoint, on to a Windows 2008 R2 server, classify the data, and plug it back into SharePoint. For large libraries this may not be feasible, but for a small library, maintained by a department, it might be worth considering.

To use FCI with SharePoint, there are a few conditions that must be met to keep things compatible. The properties on the files and the columns in the document library must match identically all the way down to the capitalization of their names. Also, the data type of properties must be compatible. For example, if the ordered list property is used by FCI, the corresponding property in SharePoint would be the choice type.

Once the properties are configured in FCI and SharePoint, and files are being classified and stored in document libraries, the properties of these files will remain, regardless of where they are edited.

For example, if file X is classified and stored in the Accounting document library in SharePoint with a department property of Accounting, and someone in that department decides that this file should really be classified as Human Resources, the updated property will remain with that file. So, the next person going in to edit the file on the file server using FCI may not know that the classification has been changed in SharePoint.

If your organization uses SharePoint already and wants to add FCI to the tool set for classifying files, properties configured in SharePoint can be scripted back to the file server to ensure they are identical to those existing in SharePoint. This should aid organizations in working with SharePoint and FCI properties.

Using File Classification Infrastructure on a file server can aid in the cleanup and management of files in your organization, but using FCI with SharePoint technologies can take classified files a step further by storing them in an easily accessible application.

Real world use

Practically speaking, the FCI-SharePoint combination is best for new files because files that exist in SharePoint cannot be classified by FCI, and the classification would only affect files stored on a file server. One great use of this technology might be during a migration from file server(s) to SharePoint. This way, you can configure a classification setup and rules to take all of the files on your Windows Server 2008 R2 file server, set their properties, and move them into your SharePoint infrastructure. Doing this might save you quite a bit of money when managing new files or migrating an existing technology.

When working with new files, FCI would allow your users to store their files as they always have, assuming SharePoint is also new. Then, on a schedule set by the administrator, these files could be pushed into your SharePoint environment.

File Classification Infrastructure is an amazing new feature in Windows Server 2008 R2, and when partnered with technology like SharePoint, it can make quick work of file management tasks while ensuring documents end up classified and where they belong inside SharePoint.

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Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.


Are the properties that are classified using FCI stored in SharePoint a.k.a. SQL just like other SharePoint document lists and libraries or are the properties attached to the document? In my years as a SharePoint admin I've found that SharePoint's strong suit is collaboration, not file storage. I would continue using SharePoint for collaboration, which is it's strong suit and use file servers for file serving, which are it's strong suit. The main reason for this is slowness. Because you're pulling blobs out of a SQL database transactions can become very slow when you have thousands of documents. Like you said Derek, this may be an option for small departments, but generally, it's not in the best interest of the users. As an IT professional, our desire is that it makes your customers job easier and quicker, but I don't think that's the case with using SharePoint as a file share. Maybe FCI can be used to classify document within the file share and use SharePoint's search to index it instead of pulling it all into a document library.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

Would File Classification Infrastructure be a help within your organization and aid in a move to SharePoint?

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

The properties set with FCI are stored in SharePoint as document properties. The idea is to have documents/files configured with properties when they get to sharepoint. Helps with existing items in that the classification can be done by the file system before adding them to a SP library, taking the extra work inside of SP. I think the technology expands on document libraries, removing the classification from the users. If the file is classified because it meets a rule or condition before it is added, they need not worry about doing it when putting it in to SP. I agree that collaboration is the goal of SharePoint, but sharing (or front ending) shares and adding this functionality could improve the user experience

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