There are numerous cloud storage vendors to choose from, but just two main protagonists – Google and Microsoft – if you also want to create, edit and share documents in the cloud. Choosing between the two is far from easy, especially given the recent revamp of the Microsoft SkyDrive product, now called OneDrive, which has been given a brand new look and feel plus extra functionality to help fend off the Google Drive threat. Moreover, a standalone business implementation is also on its way for companies that don’t want Microsoft’s full Office 365 product.
Free For One
As with virtually all cloud storage products, it’s possible to start out by using OneDrive for free. Simply type in an e-mail address and choose a password and you’re good to go, with immediate access to 7GB of storage plus an extra 3GB thrown in if you activate the so-called Camera Roll option to upload digital photos to the cloud for safekeeping. That compares with 15GB for Google Drive with, on both platforms, the option of paying for extra space as and when needed.
Although aimed mostly at the consumer market, the free OneDrive is a perfectly workable solution for small businesses, as is Google Drive. You also get much the same choice in terms of access, with a browser interface and apps for use on tablets and smartphones, although Windows phone support is only available with OneDrive. Both products also include a client to synchronise content held in cloud storage with local copies on desktop and laptop computers, to allow for offline working.
As with the old SkyDrive, files can be simply dragged and dropped into OneDrive cloud storage and back again although you can’t copy whole folders. Content can also be organised into folders and edited in the cloud using Office Online, previously known as Office Web Apps, plus it’s possible to add extra functionality using downloadable apps.
One of the big changes compared to the old SkyDrive implementation, however, is a Windows 8 look and feel across all the supported interfaces plus an integrated app in both the latest Windows 8.1 and RT operating systems to view, edit and share files on OneDrive.
OneDrive users also get the benefit of close integration with Office 2013 which, by default, uses cloud instead of local or network storage. Google Drive can’t do this, at least not without converting back and forth between Microsoft and Google document formats. That said it’s important to stress that you don’t get desktop copies of Word, Excel and other Office applications as part of the OneDrive product.
If you can live with the limited functionality of the Office Online apps that’s fine, otherwise you need to subscribe to Office 365 (the Small Business edition starts at £3.30 per user/month) which also gives you hosted e-mail, Web conferencing and 25GB of cloud storage per user.
The Business Cloud
Originally called SkyDrive Pro but now dubbed OneDrive for Business, the cloud storage service in Office 365 looks and behaves much like the free implementation, albeit with the addition of central control and administration.
Under the skin, however, it does a lot more than simply let you store files in the cloud, making use of SharePoint Online (also included in Office 365) to deliver enterprise collaboration features such as document versioning, document check-in/check-out, content approval, workflows and so on. OneDrive for Business in Office 365 also uses SharePoint to host customisable Team Sites and is a lot more restrictive when it comes to sharing information outside of the organisation compared to the personal version.
If that wasn’t complicated enough Microsoft has also announced an unbundling of the OneDrive for Business component to create a standalone product independent of Office 365. This will give users the same 25GB of storage and much the same local synchronisation and device access options at a cost of $5/month, with a half-price promotion to start with, ending in September.
The e-mail hosting and other applications included in most of the Office 365 plans won’t be in this version. Neither will you get the desktop Office products, but there are plans to add other new features to all OneDrive for Business deployments. Features such as a new Site Folder view, improved search, more obvious navigation controls and simplified addressing scheme. Plus there’s also a new iOS app specifically to work with the business version of the OneDrive service.
What To Choose
OneDrive has come on significantly since Microsoft first joined the cloud storage brigade. Gone are the annoying glitches and gotchas that plagued the first Skydrive implementations and with its smart new interface OneDrive, in all its forms, has morphed into a very usable, scalable and effective solution.
Moreover, for small businesses the free implementation ticks most of the boxes and matches what Google Drive has to offer including being able to expand capacity at minimal cost. It also sticks with Microsoft document formats throughout making life a lot easier for business users.
For those wanting central administration, e-mail and other collaboration features plus access to the desktop Office products, then Office 365 is still the way to go. Especially those on out-dated versions of Office, where it could be a better alternative than Google’s business product – Google Apps for Business – which doesn’t include anything to match the latest Office applications.
Which just leaves the unbundled OneDrive For Business product due for roll-out in April. Filling a niche between OneDrive and Office 365 this looks like it could meet the needs of organisations looking just for cloud storage and collaboration tools, but we’ll need to see exactly what it has to deliver and what gets left out to be sure.