As your company grows, so does the necessity to better manage company documents and files. Like many companies, SmarterTools utilized file servers at our data center and created shares for various departments. This was, of course, a decent solution, but one that required a bit of maintenance by our IT staff and required our employees to use VPN in order to access the server, and this wasn’t a good solution for the up and coming tablets. So, in 2010 we decided to evaluate “cloud based storage” solutions. We looked at Box.net, Dropbox, SugarSync and a few others and eventually settled on Dropbox. We have been a long time customer and supporter of Dropbox and we’ve used them through thick and thin, like their security mishaps and some terms of service issues. We weathered these storms because the service is robust, it’s reliable and its sharing and team features keep the management of our documents and files simple and secure. However, the recent updates and rebranding of both Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive has made us re-evaluate the functionality and pricing of Dropbox. Through this re-evaluation we discovered that we can decrease our file storage costs approximately $3700.00! You read that right – a $3700.00 savings!
Why use a cloud storage solution versus a file server?
Apart from the savings we see from an IT standpoint, there are some personal and technical savings as well. SmarterTools employees need access to documents and files whether they’re online or offline. We work all hours of the day and from anywhere; some of us travel, some work better at night, some work better from home and several are responsible for 24 x 7 x 365 emergency support incidents. In addition, we use many different mobile and desk-based devices. While everyone is provided a laptop, that laptop may be Windows or Mac. We use tablets such as iPads or Asus Transformers and use a variety of mobile phones as well, including Windows-, iOS-, and Android-based devices. With an internal file server, in order to get to a file we’d have to deal with all of these personal, geographic and technical variables and use a number of different methods, applications and protocols to reach our company documents and files. Sometimes that became a huge hassle. For example, many tablets and phones don’t support VPN well and that’s a critical component for reaching a networked server. IN addition, some devices, like the iPad, aren’t file based.
Ultimately, we ended up with Dropbox because every situation, platform, location and device mentioned above is fully supported and we’ve found that everything synchronizes quickly and completely, and while we were paying close to $4000.00 a year to use the service, the price was worth it considering how it made things so much easier on the entire team.
So, why move to another provider? One of the things that makes SmarterTools a successful business is that we are never really content with how things run or with how we do things. We always look for improvements. With the recent announcements from Microsoft about SkyDrive and the rebranding and added features of Google Drive, we felt it would be worth our time to evaluate these new developments. I have to say, we’re pleasantly surprised with the results.
Doom for Dropbox?
First things first: Dropbox is a wonderful service. Even though they’ve had their share of adversity and public brow beating, we were very happy with the service they provided. The unfortunate thing for Dropbox is that their Team feature, which is what we had to use in order to be able to share department-level access across multiple users, secure access to folders and files, etc. requires adding additional “users” to the team account, and this can be very pricey. The pricing for our Dropbox usage is as follows: $795.00 for Team sharing, which includes 1TB of space and 5 users. Additional users are $125.00 each, so for 25 more users we pay an additional $3125.00. All together, that’s $3,920.00. In addition to the cost, when using the Team features of Dropbox, each users’ Dropbox account is converted into your Team account. So, when an employee leaves, you must email Dropbox support and have their user turned into standard account. Otherwise, users wouldn’t have access to any files they’ve put into their personal Dropbox space.
Looking at Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, their services are based solely on space. That means that only a main, corporate account needs a paid plan. Accounts that have shared access to folders on the primary account can be free! Using SmarterTools as an example, we only need one account that has 200GB of storage. We want to share this 200GB of content so our employees can sign up for a free Google Drive or Microsoft SkyDrive account and then accept invitations to the shared resources that are created on the primary account. As of now, accepting a shared resource on a free account does not impact the 5GB or 7GB allotments that Google and Microsoft respectively provide. That is a huge cost saving advantage! In addition, when an employee leaves the company, all that needs to be done is that the main SmarterTools account needs to remove that individual’s access to any shared resources. For Google Drive, those files and directories on the users’ machines are then automatically, and instantly, removed.
Let’s look at a pricing comparison for Google Drive and SkyDrive. Again, with 30 accounts on Google Drive we’d need a primary account and pay $120.00 per year for 200GB of storage. The additional 29 users would be free accounts. With SkyDrive the cost is $100.00 per year for a primary account with 200gb of storage, and the additional 29 accounts would be free! Compare either of these to the $3,290.00 cost at Dropbox for users and and the $795 Team feature and you see the overall savings!
How do we protect our documents and files from a cloud storage disaster?
When you’re in the software and services business, you understand the risks associated with having tired programmers and network administrators. No matter how many policies or procedures you put in place, something can happen. Because of this, we don’t rely solely on the cloud storage company for backups. Even though Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive support file revisions there is still the possibility of file loss. To alleviate some of that concern we also have a server configured with an account which pulls down all documents and files. This server is then backed up in our datacenter as all our other servers are and can be used in case of a cloud storage disaster. Now this isn’t a “file server” per se, so we’re not accessing the server for access to files, etc. It’s a server that we use for other things that also acts as our backup server. Therefore, the maintenance and other costs associated with a standalone file server are not issues.
Ultimately, we chose Google Drive because…
So the question is why did we decided to go with Google Drive versus SkyDrive? The answer is really simple: just like Dropbox, Google Drive’s clients for Mac and Windows desktops download shared files to machines. As of today, Microsoft SkyDrive clients do not work like this. The shares are available in the SkyDrive Web interface, but their desktop clients and tablet/phone clients does not support shared folders and files which is a necessity.
Taking all of this into account, things are looking a little grim for Dropbox. Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive are incredible offerings at incredible prices. Apart from the cost savings, the effort both Google and Microsoft are putting into cloud storage gives us a great deal of confidence in their offerings, in the progress they’re making and that any issues we’re currently seeing will be quickly resolved. On the other hand, Dropbox seems to be screwed!