From SharePoint to Google Drive
Why is it so hard to share the love?
I mention many products and services in this article, but I have never been compensated in any away for referencing them. My love is not for sale!
SharePoint Was Too Much
Most IT professionals are familiar with SharePoint as one of the most fundamental collaboration and document management options for business. It is a comprehensive service that seeks to create a central location where collaborators can share and search documents, chat, initiate calls, etc. SharePoint also allows document libraries to be set up such that documents must be “checked out” before they can be edited. As documents that are checked out cannot be edited by others, it is a great feature to prevent two people from editing the same document at the same time. The above only scratches the surface of what SharePoint can do. For me, this is a bad thing.
Mission: Cloud Collaboration without IT Support
My task was to set up a way for attorneys, clients, and investigators to collaboratively review, edit, and create documents relevant to a trial. Different people would need to have different rights to different documents, and not all documents would be available to all users. The attorneys involved did not have a budget for full time IT support, so the solution would necessarily be low-maintenance. I was really hooked on the check-out feature because I have frequently struggled with multiple document versions resulting from simultaneous updating. After much research, I decided to give Office 365 and SharePoint a go.
SharePoint: Death by One Thousand Cuts
My biggest problems with SharePoint involved the desktop utility I used to upload files. Like Dropbox or Google Drive, SharePoint connects to computers with the OneDrive for Business application, which essentially synchronizes a folder with SharePoint. Any time I would synchronize a large amount (more than 10 gigabytes) of data, I would get multiple errors from which the system could not recover. The application would require me to “rebuild” the folder, which then required me to re-sync whatever did not make it the first time. Rinse and repeat four or five times, and I was set. All in all, it took about two days to upload 20 gigabytes of data.
It is also a chore to add storage within SharePoint. Once you find where to purchase additional storage (which was very reasonably priced, to Microsoft’s credit), you then need to allocate the new storage to the particular folder, which requires lots of clicks. Nothing about the process is particularly intuitive, especially for my technologically-disinclined clients. Finally, SharePoint and the OneDrive for Business client are not Mac friendly, which is definitely a negative for my clients.
This is not to say that SharePoint is not a good solution for certain situations. It is a fully-featured package at an incredibly reasonable subscription rate that would likely appeal to larger organizations with dedicated IT support.
Contender 1: Dropbox
Once I came to grips with the fact that SharePoint just was not working as smoothly as I needed, my first idea was to create a separate Dropbox Pro account and then share the files to users who needed them. Unfortunately, a number of problems got in my way. First, with Dropbox, file sharing counts against the storage of the people with whom you share. This becomes a problem, especially with large shares. Second, Dropbox does not allow sharing folders where the parent folder is already shared. This is a real deal breaker for me, because I need to really customize access to specific items in the share. Third, Dropbox does not support multiple instances on the same Windows or Mac user. Since I already use Dropbox, there would be no easy way for me to transfer my files to the new shared Dropbox account I would create.
Now, without getting too detailed, there are definitely workarounds to all of these problems. However, the solutions are complicated, and require someone with IT knowledge at the ready when something goes wrong. I need this setup to be set it and forget it. This is not to say that Dropbox is not a wonderful service. Its selling point is its reliability and simplicity; it just will not work optimally for what I need.
The Winner: Google Drive and InSync
My next idea was to create a separate Google Drive account on the firm’s domain. Unlike Dropbox, Google Drive shares do not count against the storage quota of other users. Also, with some help from InSync’s tool (either $20 per Google account one-time or $20 annually for multiple accounts), you can have multiple Google Drive accounts working on a single Windows or Mac user account. My biggest issue with Google Drive is that it does not support synchronization over the local area network such that a tremendous amount of bandwidth is required for large shares.
Nonetheless, using the InSync client, I was able to add my newly-created Google Drive account and upload the near 20 gigabytes of material in under six hours from my home broadband connection. There were no errors and I was able to provide read-only access to those who needed it. Google Drive offers no check out capability nor secure sharing downloads with non-Google account holders, but I can live with these deficiencies in exchange for the ease of use.
After so many years of relying on the tried and true enterprise solutions (like SharePoint), it is good to reexamine the different products that are available. Dropbox is too frequently ignored as a consumer solution, when in fact it has matured to a reliable and secure option for businesses of any size. Google Drive really has a ways to go (LAN sync!!!), but it a resources that many businesses, already using Google Apps for email, don’t realize they have. Neither Drive nor Dropbox is an objectively superior choice to SharePoint; it depends on the business’ needs. Ultimately, it is the IT professional’s job to K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Smartypants!)