Given the amount of confusion that exists about cloud sharing, not least amongst us IT professionals, we thought it was high time to shine some light on why our trusty company shared drives aren’t moving into the cloud just yet. With the ever increasing take-up of cloud services such as Office 365 for email, there is an expectation that the shared folders on our office servers should head off in the same direction and that same letter drive mapping (Is yours S:, X: or Z: or a variety) become available anywhere you are at the click of a mouse (or should that now be tap of a finger?).

As Gold-level partners of Microsoft Cloud Services, including Office 365, we feel it is our duty to explain what is and isn’t achievable with component services such as OneDrive and SharePoint and why your office file server may still have a role to play.

OneDrive

This is a question that we get asked a lot. Many customers have started to use OneDrive either as the free personal subscription with Microsoft Live services or as part of their Office 365 business entitlement. They realise that they can share files and folders on there, so ask us about setting up a shared cloud ‘drive’ for them. This is where we steer them away from OneDrive and advise that it is best left to ad-hoc document sharing or giving other users one-time access to documents you are working on. OneDrive lacks the version control and granular permission granting to make it a viable file sharing platform, which is why our mantra is based around the ‘Share Once’ approach. OneDrive is ideal for personal storage that you want to save securely and have consistent access to it across your devices. Think of it as the equivalent to your ‘My Documents’ folder (the one on your laptop hard drive) of old, where you stored your work in progress. OneDrive’s sharing feature is great for enabling you to allow collaborators to dip in and review or amend your work until it is destined to be published to a final location.

SharePoint

One such alternative location might be SharePoint. SharePoint document libraries are for shared documents and only that. Think of SharePoint as the place to store the documents on which users will constantly collaborate or where a master version is published after it leaves your work-in-progress area, i.e. OneDrive. The version control, advanced permissions, indexing for Google/Bing type search facility with preview as well as the ability to nest libraries within one another (by department, say) and embed into intranet web content makes SharePoint a far richer platform for document sharing. SharePoint can be used to build a sophisticated portal for your company that is far superior experience to a Z: drive file and folder repository, where you may have to hack around for ages to find what you are looking for. Add to that the fact that SharePoint Online as part of Office 365 is available wherever you can get hooked up and even allows you to sync down local copies of folders for offline work. It integrates beautifully with your latest Office Desktop applications so that your libraries are a click away to open and save your work.

Z: Drive

So, do the above services consign the Z: drive to technology museum? No, we don’t necessarily think they do. There is still a place for your office Z: drive. It is a place for quick and easy, but transient storage of data that yet has no official place in your organisation or may never have one. It is the ‘swap’ or ‘transfer’ folder that many companies are used to operating with where data help in situ or dropped as an archive to make sure it is backed up and can be retrieved at some point in the future if ever required. It is also a useful place for that bulky data storage such as zip files, packages, images and so forth that everyone might need to get to, but only occasionally and when back at HQ on the fast office Local Area Network.

Summary

So, to summarise what you need to be considering when thinking about file sharing in this day and age, we strongly believe that cloud services and old-school file shares can co-exist there is a place in your business for all three. The monolithic office server and file share has branched out into three distinct strands, two separate cloud platforms combined with the legacy approach. Each with its own strengths and when combined, make the business of sharing data more organised, reliable and, the most importantly, the user a more productive worker.