O365 – SharePoint vs. OneDrive and what you really need to think about

There is a monster debate raging in MVP circles about OneDrive, OneDrive for Business (ODB) and “issues” that surround ODB.  The big thrust of the debate surrounds the sync technology in ODB and how it works.  A secondary debate rages about the fact that ODB offers 1TB of storage per user against the substantially smaller amount of storage offered in SharePoint Online.

At the risk of starting a possible flame war, it strikes me that the debate starts from an incorrect assumption; that assumption being that SharePoint and ODB (which is SharePoint, after all) are a direct replacement for on-prem file servers.  After working with Sean, Colin and Keith (our SharePoint MVP’s) for the past 6 years, I’ve learned that treating SharePoint in this fashion is quite possibly the worst thing that you can possibly do!  Now, I realize this may sound completely batty but bear with me for a bit while I explain my reasoning.

File servers have become big unwieldy beasts because people don’t think about the stuff they throw on to the server.  One use files build and build and build causing storage to grow and grow and grow.  I’d be willing to bet that 80 – 90% of the files on any given file server are “junque”, to put it politely.  Of course sysadmins can impose quota limits on the amount of storage used by any given individual but there is no real “control” other than that.  Ultimately, the file server just becomes a big “data soak”.  And while there is some search ability built into Windows it is pretty basic when compared to the search ability in SharePoint.  In other words, for the most part, files servers are unstructured.  This is a lousy environment to emulate in the Cloud in general and O365 in particular.

SharePoint and ODB offer many mechanisms to manage data including (but not limited too) versioning, metadata (for search), lists, libraries and forms.  I believe the true value to any organization of SharePoint and ODB is to leverage the tools and capabilities within the products to manage data in a much smarter way than just the mish-mash of a fileserver.  At itgroove we actively advocate against using import tools to “slurp” the contents of fileservers into SharePoint and I’ll go out on a limb and extend that to advocating against slurping your home drive, or whatever, into your OBD.  I’ll also advocate against using (or, at least, relying on) the OBD sync client as I think it promotes continuing “bad habits”.  I think Microsoft has painted themselves into a corner with the sync client (and I know I’ll get flamed over that) because they have blurred what OBD and the personal OneDrive do.

From my perspective, the personal OneDrive is your personal “fileserver” in the Cloud.  It is unstructured, just like a fileserver, so you can treat it as such.  And it has a sync client that works well because it doesn’t have to deal with a SharePoint backend.  ODB, on the other hand, from my perspective should always be accessed from a browser and the tools should always be leveraged.  Make sure the metadata is updated, use versioning,  manage your data.  And organizations need to think long and hard about what data they believe should be “offloaded” into user’s OBD’s.  This is the core of my argument.

The lure of 1TB OBD storage has many organizations looking for ways to put data into user’s OBD’s rather than into the “main” SharePoint datastore within O365 which has considerably smaller storage allocations.  But when framed within my argument that data needs to be properly managed, offloading organizational data into OBD makes little sense.  It makes more sense, from my point of view, to look at the tools within SharePoint and consider other, better ways to manage your data.  Perhaps some InfoPath forms and backend lists can replace reams of one-use Excel files.  Maybe versioning can do a better job of managing the various iterations of your Office files.  Maybe libraries and workflows can better manage some business processes.  In other words, the data and the job that it performs should be analyzed and then mapped into/against SharePoint using the best available tool for the job.

SharePoint and OBD really make lousy file servers (have I said that already???) so don’t treat them as such.  If you leverage the tools properly your actual data storage use will be considerably smaller than you think; certainly much smaller than the storage use on an unstructured file server.  And a bonus will be overall better control (and security and management) of your organizational data.