When To Use A New SharePoint Site Collection VS. A New Sub Site

Written By: John Tallon -- 11/10/2010 -- join -- contribute -- (2121) comments -- printer friendly version

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Categories: Configurations, Design, Document Management, Features, Infrastructure, MOSS 2007, Permission Management, SharePoint 2010, System Administration, WSS2, WSS3

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I have been asked all too often by clients, "When should we use a Site Collection and when should we use a Sub Site?". What's the best option and how do I choose?


The good thing to remember is that there is no definitive answer to this question, however, there are more technical factors that can help you decide on whether you should chose a site collection over a sub site or vice versa.

Some of the reasons that I might pick a Site Collection

  1. I have a branded new site and I want it created with no relation to any other site. If you are creating a new site and it's not related to any other sites that you have in your existing site hierarchy or SharePoint farm then you chose a site collection.
  2. If you require a dedicated URL to your site. You want your client to access and upload documents so you want to create a URL for your partner at . You can bind this URL to a site collection. This URL cannot be bound to a sub site of an existing site collection.
  3. You want to create a managed path called divisions and you want to create a site for each division you your organization. Each division wants complete control over their site and sub sites and want to be found at URL divisions/divisionName.
  4. Where you require to have a quota set on a site created you will need to use a site collection as only site collections can have quotas assigned to them.
  5. If you need a dedicated Content Database for your site as you expect to have vast amounts of data and documents and you require it to be more secure that normal, you can can configure a dedicated site collection with a dedicated content database attached to it.
  6. If you were purchasing hosted environments from a hosting provider then you would also see the difference in a site collection and a sub site in the cost model offered by the hosting company. You will notice that getting a site collection provisioned with have a higher admin cost than just creating a sub site. Sub site creation can be carried out by a member of the owners group of any site or site collection. Whereas site collection creation has to be completed by Farm Administrators unless there is a mechanism provided though web wizards.
  7. As part of a backup and recovery policy you want your data to be very quickly restored if there are any problems or if there has been content that has gotten deleted that you need to retrieve. A site collection is better in this case because you can restore the site collection more easily than you can restore a site or a sub site of a site.

Some of the reasons why you should select a sub site:

  1. You want to inherit the same security for the new sub site as its parent site & the security model for your organization already exists. You want to create a new site but you don't want to change or move away from the existing security model implemented already.
  2. There has been a team in your organization unit that created many new site columns and site content types that you would like to use throughout your site and its sub sites -- as parent sites can contain site content types, these can be used in all subs sites of the site hierarchy -- Site Collections break this functionality.
  3. You want to allow the Site Owners and Designers to manage all sites that get created without any overhead of having to log a support call for a new site collection.
  4. You want to aggregate data throughout your site hierarchy using Web Parts like the Content Query Web Part, Data View Web Part and other data aggregation Web Parts.
  5. You have a site template that you want to apply to the new site that creates a couple of lists and libraries as part of the template -- an example may be you want a Tasks Manager Site Template where a site can maintain and manage all your tasks using tasks lists and to have them integrate with Outlook.
  6. If your site is going to be a short lived site and it's only going to be used in the process of creating some other content. An example might be a meeting site where you create a site that is created from a Meetings Templates. You can record and schedule meetings regarding the production of a catalog of products for your organization. This site is short lived and won't be in existence after the production of the catalog is completed.

When do I have crossover?

What about the times where I don't technically have any requirements like a dedicated URL and Content Database, tight security with very limited access, custom coded solutions deployed to a site collection, etc?

If you do not have any of the requirements listed above or indeed any technical requirement that might need a site collection then you should always be thinking of the Sub Site as the way forward. You can get most, if not all, of what you want by using sub sites and there are no extra overheads in using sub sites. Site Collections and all of the content created within its site hierarchy is accessible and can be aggregated using some of the Out-Of-The-Box web parts. This works well for intranet type sites and sub sites. News from the IT/Operations site can be easily aggregated to the root site without the need for extra authentication or custom code.

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