Office 365 Recycle Bin - A Confusing (and disturbing) Story

Office 365 Aug 02, 2017

Caveat: What follows was experienced on two Office 365 Multi-tenant instances, and one D-vNext tenant. It may not apply to others. So beware: YMMV.

Site Recycle Bin on an Office 365 Tenant (Dedicated and Multi-tenant)

So we have all seen the blurb, Restore deleted items from the recycle bin.

My company has rather a large deployment (approx 10,500 site collections 90,000 sites, 170TB, 160m items) and so ensuring that the blurb was correct was going to be important.

Deleting items in Sites

As far as I can gather, deletion of subsites, libraries etc. all go correctly into the site collection recycle bin and stay there for 90 days max. Please note that although there is a second stage recycle bin, when you delete something and it goes into the first stage recycle bin, the 90 days starts counting down for both recycle bins! So the maximum time anything deleted from within a site is recoverable is 90 days. Not 90 + 90 days.

Site Collection Deletion

What we will discuss here is Site Collection deletion and the tenant SharePoint Administrator recycle bin.

The Microsoft Documentation Story

Microsoft then asserts that the site collection then stays in the tenant recycle bin for 90 days Restore a deleted site collection

(Althought the wording used here is slightly confusing)

As a SharePoint Online administrator, you can view and manage deleted site collections from the SharePoint Online Administration Center Recycle Bin page.

All good so far. It is then followed almost immediately by:

A site collection is automatically removed from the Recycle Bin after 90 days.

To cut a long story short - here are the real facts: Unfortunately this is not true!

Summary

There are three ways (excluding code) to put a site collection into the tenant level recycle bin:

  • deleted by SharePoint Admin (from the SharePoint Admin screen)
  • deleted through PowerShell (Remove-SPOSite)
  • deleted by Site Collection Administrators (Site Settings:Delete Site)

Couple of clarifications:

  • Once in the tenant recycle bin it will immediately show 30 days left before it is permanently deleted
  • Deletion by the SCA's using "Delete Site" will show the site collection in the recycle bin, but you have a nice little spinner sitting beside it which could (and usually does) stay there for days (longest I have seen is 4 weeks)

Wait. What? 30 Days? What happened to the other 60?

Correct. The tenant recycle bin only holds site collections for 30 days. Not 90.

Last key note:

  • When deleted by the SCA (via Site Settings), the site collection (with the little spinner) is not fully recoverable. Oh you can recover the site (via PowerShell as well) but all content, subsites, custom libraries, forms, users, permissions, groups etc. are all missing.

Yes. Missing. All content gone.

So:

  1. A deleted a site collection is recoverable from the recycle bin within 30 days - not 90 (if deleted from the tenant admin screen, or by PowerShell)
  2. A site collection is unrecoverable from the recycle bin if deleted by the Site Collection Administrator

Safety Net: Microsoft provides a site collection recovery service which must be requested within 14 days of the site collection being deleted.

Lesson Learned:

  • You have a 30 day recovery window on deleted site collections
  • Deletion of site collections (including all content) by SCA's appears to be permanent - at least certainly immediately after the 14 day period passes for a Microsoft recovery service request to be made
  • Ensure you have a process to validate deleted site collections before the 14 days recovery window is up
  • Ensure you trust your Site Collection Admins -this seems more important now

For Microsoft: I hope they update their documentation soon.

Follow up: Does this apply to OneDrive For Business site collections too? OneDrive for Business retention and deletion

The personal site (that is, the OneDrive for Business site) for the deleted account is sent to the site collection recycle bin. The site is deleted from the recycle bin according to the site collection recycle bin retention policy, which is 90 days.