In my visits with customers, I have noticed a new “sprawl” phenomenon – multiple SharePoint farms.

In most cases, you only need a single SharePoint farm.  There are some good reasons why you might need a second one (for example, one for your public web site and one for an internal intranet) but I have seen cases where there are multiple farms for a single enterprise.

Why is this happening?  In my experience, this happens in large enterprises for a few different reasons:

  • Multiple lines of business start their own SharePoint farms independently.  Each one has its own budget, hardware, owners, etc.   Each team wants to control their own tools so each farm evolves independently.
  • Geographic distance or network distance causes satellite farms to be created with the excuse that the central SharePoint farm back at the home office isn’t fast enough and/or the corporate IT team isn’t responsive enough to meet local needs.
  • Line of business A creates a SharePoint 2003 farm and builds a bunch of custom code on it.  Line of business B creates a fresh SharePoint 2010 farm, but because the custom code is poorly maintained, hard to upgrade and there is no budget, we now have two farms – each on different platforms.
  • Multiple farms are created as skunk works projects in different departments.  Each farm is not well provisioned, sits under someone’s desk, etc. but is used as “production”.
  • Line of business wants to let in external partners and the current central farm isn’t configured for extranet use, so the line of business gets their own dedicated farm.
  • Line of business wants to deploy their own custom code or third party component, but the corporate IT team won’t let them without exhaustive testing, security audits, etc.  So in order to get around the corporate IT team, they outsource a hosting company to create them their own farm.

So how many farms do you really need?  Ideally, the answer is one.

I would allow for a second farm if you are running a public internet site on SharePoint for obvious security reasons.

I would consider a third farm for extranet use, but I would be highly cautious about this approach for any scenario that involves sharing between external partners and internal employees – a better approach is to have a single farm that can handle both external and internal users with appropriate security layers to protect the farm from the outside world.

But if you have farms in another country, farms dedicated to a special line of business, a farm dedicated for the intranet and another farm for collaboration, multiple farms on different versions of SharePoint, etc. then you likely have some governance or process management issues that have been solved with a technology band aid (e.g. just give Line of Business A their own environment so we don’t have to deal with their issues) instead of developing a term strategy that accommodates local needs while providing centralized management.