The information technology industry is bursting at the seams.
Most business experience data sprawl. It is something IT managers and Managed Service Providers constantly have to prepare for.
We’ve come a long way since CompuServe, back in 1983, first offered a small amount of disk space to its customers.
Considering the amount of data organizations are required to host for their users, it’s not surprising to see the cost of maintaining that storage become astronomical. It’s a constant balancing act between costs and availability of resources.
Whether your business works primarily with documents or large multimedia files, ensuring data continuity through a solid business continuity, or disaster recovery, plan is more challenging than ever.
Businesses are not investing in expensive, high-performance, tiered storage services. They just want general file storage. Leveraging storage as service providers for personal files is an excellent option to offload a significant portion of that financial burden. Advantages of cloud storage, as a storage service, means dramatically improved reliability and increased organizational resilience.
Cloud Storage as a Service
Most people are already familiar with Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive due to the storage service they’ve been providing to retail consumers, but what else is out there? All 3 evolved into enterprise class competitors. Now they’ve been joined by Microsoft’s OneDrive.
All 4 offer a solution to the problem
All 4 provide a cost effective, highly available centralized service to improve storage and collaboration for your employees. Let’s explore how cloud storage works.
Specific Key Points to Consider
It is critical to maintain business continuity. File and storage service availability is necessary to ensure users are able to accomplish the work that makes a business successful. Check the capacity per user and overall ease of use.
Following a foundation of security and compliance best practices will protect users from those accidents where they share sensitive information with the wrong party. Overcoming overshare and incidents like ransomware or data destruction are important.
Finally, cost is a consideration. What’s the point of having such an amazing solution if you can’t justify the cost of ownership?
Which Business Continuity Management Framework to Use
Continuity of business enterprise relies on how much data can be stored in the service per person, and how easy it is to access. Although the first half is transparent, there are licensing implications in each of the services that impact the amount of space accessible.
* There are more granular enterprise class licenses available for Microsoft, Dropbox, and Box but the space provided is similar what’s outlined above.
Each provider has 3 business class offerings comparable with each other. Both Google and Box offer entry level offerings providing 30GB and 100GB per user respectively. Most users will need much less on premises.
Based purely on storage space provided per user, Dropbox is the clear winner with Google and Box following close behind. Both types of Storage as a Service (SaaS) offer unlimited capacity to their mid-tier licenses.
Microsoft’s licensing model grants each user a terabyte of storage, which is impressive in itself, but unlimited is unlimited.
Now that we’ve talked about space, let’s consider accessibility. Users need to access their files without incident, share with internal teams for collaboration, and share with external parties when necessary.
In order for users to access their files on the same account, they need to synchronize those accounts to the cloud through each of these prospective services. Administrators will need to maintain an identity infrastructure like ADFS, OKTA, Ping, or Centrify to handle those sign-in claims. If those servers go down, users can’t access their files in the cloud.
The Microsoft Advantage
Microsoft allows seamless single sign-on without that infrastructure. They either deploy an agent on an existing on premises server for pass through authentication, or by securely synchronizing a password hash with the accounts.
Enabling individuals to access their data, whether they’re online or not, is becoming increasingly important. Each of these solutions have a sync client that will ensure their files are stored and accessed locally on both Mac and Windows PCs (as well as Android and MacOS mobile). Changes to those files are sync’d back up to the cloud to ensure the individual is always accessing the most recent version of their file.
This is a distinct advantage offered by the Microsoft file and storage service. Microsoft’s OneDrive sync is built into Windows 10 and can be controlled via Group Policy. Each of the other clients need to be distributed by an admin and maintained individually.
Nothing is Perfect
No cloud infrastructure is perfect. Downtime is always a possibility. Each of the cloud storage services, with the exception of Dropbox, offer financially backed service level agreements of 3 or 4 “nines” of availability (99.9% or 99.99%). These numbers are measured throughout the year with 99.9% availability representing just eight hours per year of service interruption. Considering the minimal difference over between 99.9% or 99.99% uptime, we can view this as a wash.
Obviously DropBox is out of contention because they don’t financially guarantee uptime with a service level agreement. That’s not to say that DropBox doesn’t meet those lofty standards, but it means that, in a worst case scenario, they offer reimbursement for poor quality of service. Depending on your business, this may not be a concern; however, if the organization maintains a high business continuity policy standard, this may be a deal breaker.
When evaluating migration of your IT infrastructure to the cloud, security should be among the top priorities.
These cloud storage services allow for single sign-on users for businesses-on-premises accounts. The same controls placed on users’ accounts are inherently enforced by these solutions as well! Should anyone attempt to discover a password by repeatedly trying to sign in (Brute Force), having good on- premises lockout and password policies will maintain security.
Additionally, using a federation provider for single sign-on will prevent access outside of your building, or enforce multi-factor authentication for specific services. Federation services often have intelligent features built into them. For example, ADFS’s extranet smart lockout uses machine learning to assess good or bad request by determining regular sign-in locations
These protections are not typically part of the cloud services presented in this article. These are options that ensure business continuity management policies are in place regardless of the file and storage provider selected. All of these cloud storage services invest heavily to comply with global security and compliance standards, but it’s the responsibility of the organization’s leadership to develop and ensure sound business continuity practices and see that they’re maintained.
Microsoft has the advantage of having the share feature designed into the Windows interface. The interface also allows for close integration with other Microsoft office products. While it is simple to share files or folders both internally and externally with other services; Microsoft Office products have the ‘Share’ button built conveniently into the workspace.
Each of the services have a great web-based interface allowing for data storage, accessibility, and file sharing; but the benefits of Microsoft’s complete collaboration provide a real distinct advantage of its competitors.
Business level licenses offered by each of the platforms are listed above. The table below compares exactly the space costs per person. Note: there are additional, more granular, enterprise level licenses available, but not shown, for each of the services listed.
Those cloud storage providers offering unlimited storage have the advantage. Is the advantage worth the extra expense? Google has a strong stake with their Business license, offering unlimited storage (as well as several other G Suite offerings) at just $12. Box and DropBox struggle with a higher starting price point, but offer little else outside of their storage and sharing collaboration services (even though they do include data loss prevention services).
Microsoft is the clear winner even though they offer “just” 1TB per user. For $8.25 per person/month, Microsoft offers storage included with their entire Office Suite. Most organizations, if not all, would be already paying for Microsoft’s suite of programs. Why not save the cost of an additional storage service provider.
If an organization were to opt for the business premium license at $12.50 per user, they would also be getting Exchange Online with 50GB of mailbox quota per person, Microsoft Teams for collaboration services (personal chat, team based persistent chat, external sharing, etc), and SharePoint for an array of collaboration options (Intranet sites, Team sites, external file sharing, and content management services).
And The Winner Is?
While Box, Dropbox, and Google all offer great cloud file sharing and storage services for a very reasonable price (seriously, *unlimited* storage for $12 user/month?!), it’s difficult to compete with Microsoft in the business collaboration space. Users are likely to be using Microsoft Office already and logging into Windows PCs, using accounts provided by Microsoft’s Active Directory.
Integration and Security Compliance is Everything
The integration between OneDrive, Office, and Windows is fantastic and the familiarity offered to your users and admin staff is a clear enabler.
Add in the security and compliance features offered through some of the similarly priced Enterprise licensing, users not only have the ability to seamlessly collaborate with peers, they do so while the admin protects them with encryption, data loss prevention, and advanced features built into Azure AD. These features leverage machine learning to protect end users’ credentials and provide MFA.
Because Microsoft’s licensing options can be so specific, it’s possible to select the preferred features. Maybe you have a subset of individuals who share the same computer, or maybe don’t need all the same bells and whistles as your information workers, no problem; just give them a license that doesn’t include the things they don’t need (the $5.00 Business Essentials license comes to mind here).