Pros & Cons of Using Different Types of Cloud Storage at IU

Go Paperless! IT Training can help!

This is the first in a series of articles that will appear over the next few months as part of the Go Paperless initiative at Indiana University.

There are many different cloud storage solutions on the market today. Some of them are officially supported by Indiana University. A cloud service is usually a storage and/or sharing platform where the physical location of the storage medium is unknown and unimportant to the end user. For example, if I upload something to one of these services, it isn’t clear where it’s going; it may be going to one of many data warehouses somewhere in the world.

This article will discuss several of those officially supported cloud storage applications and several non-supported services. I will describe the service, then discuss the pros & cons of each. Lastly, I will include some hyperlinks to training resources so you can explore the options further.

Here are the applications we will review:

  • Officially Supported
    • Box
    • SharePoint
    • Slashtmp
  • Non-Supported
    • Dropbox
    • Google Drive
    • OneDrive

If you would like to see a side-by-side comparison of all cloud storage options at IU, see the following Knowledge Base articles:

Officially Supported Cloud Services

Indiana University has purchased access to Box for all students, faculty, and staff, and allows graduate students, faculty, and staff to use the SharePoint environment. These services stand out primarily because the university has an agreement about ownership of intellectual property uploaded to these services. Let’s examine them more individually now.

Box

Box company logoBox is much more than just cloud storage, Box is a collaboration platform. Users can upload any type of file, configure sharing permissions, create collaboratively, and share documents. Box offers users a secure means for groups to work privately on documents. IU users have unlimited storage space to collaborate. Being a platform, there have been many third party developed applications. Using Box, you can keep your documents in the cloud and edit them using the Box Edit app (the recommended way to use Box), or you can synchronize a folder from the cloud to your desktop for offline editing. It is not recommended that you synchronize your entire box account as a myriad of issues can arise with collaboration features. There are plugins to Microsoft Office that allow for easy sharing of files from Box. This is the primary cloud file storage service for individuals at IU.

Pros
  • Granular collaboration permissions
  • Easy to collaborate with anyone – IU username not required for non-IU folks
  • Unlimited quota
  • Many third-party applications
  • Mobile parity on iOS and Android
  • Approved for institutional data (Restricted)
  • Single sign-on with your IU account
  • Share with anyone – Box account not required
  • Online-only note taking with Box Notes
  • Real-time, multi-user editing of Box Notes
  • Threaded commenting
  • Task assignment
  • Robust version control
  • Search full-text and metadata of uploaded documents
  • Allows groups to create group accounts on the service
Cons
  • Windows Mobile and Blackberry apps lack many features
  • Sync folders are universal, not machine-based (i.e. a folder can be marked to sync or not, but it will be synced to every machine connected via Box Sync)
  • Some users might find the variety of different applications confusing or overwhelming.
Training Opportunities for Box

To see how Box stacks up to other enterprise and commercial file storage solutions, see the KB article, How does Box compare to other enterprise and commercial storage solutions?

The next two services do not fit the definition of a cloud service mentioned above. However, they do behave in a similar manner. These services do not have an unknown data destination. For the most part (excluding some of the IU SharePoint service) the data is being stored on IU-controlled servers. In fact, the SharePoint landscape at IU is shifting and it may be a very different service in the future. Discussion of this landscape is well outside the scope of this article.

SharePoint

SharePoint 2013 icon.The SharePoint service at IU provides sites for groups and individuals via Group Sites and My Sites for all faculty, staff, and graduate students. The service allows you to store, collaborate, publish, and network with powerful tools such as task-lists, wikis, blogs, calendars, and document libraries. SharePoint sites can be as simple as a central file repository or they can be as complex as a complete workflow, task, and project management system. As a Microsoft product, SharePoint integrates deeply with Microsoft Office products including Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook. Users can also mount shared drives on their Windows workstations. You can create customized data entry forms using InfoPath, standardized documents in word, create discussion forums to plan and execute projects, and curate a library of information crucial to day-to-day business.

Pros
  • Integrates well with other Microsoft products including Office and Windows
  • Powerful user access and alerting customizations
  • Central repository for documents: no more emailing attachments
  • Can store customized tabular data
  • Create versatile workflows and dashboard tools
  • Approved for institutional data (Restricted)
  • Online editing with cloud-base versions of some office applications
  • Allows groups to create group sites
Cons
  • Requires a high level of knowledge before powerful features can be utilized
  • Does not integrate well with non-Microsoft products
  • Must have an IU account to access the data
  • Capabilities for Mac users are extremely limited
  • Steep learning curve for new users
  • Limited support options at IU
  • Browser dependent (Microsoft Internet Explorer allows all features to be utilized, other browsers offer a limited set)
  • Mobile capabilities limited
Training Opportunities for SharePoint

There are several ways to get SharePoint training at IU:

To learn more about the SharePoint service at IU, visit the SharePoint @ IU Resources page.

To see how SharePoint stacks up to other enterprise and commercial file storage solutions, see the KB article, How does Box compare to other enterprise and commercial storage solutions?

Slashtmp

Slashtmp

Slashtmp is an IU-created and -hosted service that allows temporary storage of large files to be shared with others inside or outside the university. Slashtmp comes in two flavors, Slashtmp CRITICAL and Slashtmp SIMPLE. The reason this service is included here is because it is the only service we discuss that allows sharing of critical data. The primary purpose of Slashtmp is to transfer files.

Pros
  • Can store critical data
  • Can require authentication
  • University hosted and supported
Cons
  • No synchronizing
  • Not permanent, files expire in 30 days

Non-Supported Commercial Cloud Services

These services are not suitable for storing documents that contain institutional data, but as cloud services, they are applications that some folks might use for personal projects and storage. The descriptions below will describe the services and briefly summarize their pros and cons.

Dropbox

Dropbox IconDropbox is a file storage and sharing service. Using Dropbox, you can upload and synchronize folders across multiple computers. The sync feature for Dropbox is the primary way to use the service. Dropbox also allows users to give access to folders to other Dropbox users; however, it does not have the granular permissions that you will find in some other applications.

Pros
  • Synchronize folders to multiple devices
  • Fastest and most efficient desktop sync tool
  • Choose which folders appear on which devices
  • Automatic backup of photos taken with mobile devices via the Dropbox app
  • Share folders with other Dropbox users
  • Version control
Cons
  • Not approved for institutional data
  • No granular permissions
  • When sharing, uploads from other users impact your quota
  • Must download files to edit then upload again when finished.
Training Opportunities for Dropbox

To see how Dropbox stacks up to other enterprise and commercial file storage solutions, see the KB article, How does Box compare to other enterprise and commercial storage solutions?

Google Drive

Google Drive IconGoogle Drive (formerly Google Docs) is a cloud storage service provided by search giant, Google. Google Drive offers many features from the previously mentioned services. Google Drive is centered around creating documents using various apps like Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Since Google Drive is hosted in the cloud, collaboration is fairly easy. Collaborative editing is done in real-time. Google Drive can be synchronized like Dropbox or it can be completely cloud-based like SharePoint. Google Drive does not allow the hybrid model (store in cloud, edit with a desktop application) that Box uses.

Pros
  • Real-time, multi-user editing of documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows
  • Granular collaboration and sharing permissions
  • Search in document titles, contents, and metadata
  • Can save Microsoft Office document formats for Word, PowerPoint, & Excel
  • Option to synchronize documents to multiple computers or edit completely in the cloud
  • Ownership of a document is with the document creator
Cons
  • Not approved for institutional data
  • Docs, Sheets, and Sides are not as full featured as their Microsoft Office counterparts (Word, Excel, & PowerPoint)
  • Does not allow in-browser preview of as many file types as Box
  • Since ownership is with the document creator, it’s difficult to transfer ownership
  • Difficult to find documents – document organization is overwhelming
  • Requires a Google account
  • Quota shared across your Gmail, Picasa/Google+ Photos, and Google Drive
Training Opportunities for Google Drive

To see how Google Drive stacks up to other enterprise and commercial file storage solutions, see the KB article, How does Box compare to other enterprise and commercial storage solutions?

OneDrive

OneDrive IconOneDrive is Microsoft’s entry in the cloud storage arena. If you live your digital live entirely in the Microsoft universe, this is the cloud service that will be the most seamlessly integrated for you. OneDrive is tightly integrated into Windows 8.1 on tablets and desktop/laptop computers as well as Windows Phone. If you are an avid user of OneNote, your notebooks are stored and synchronized using OneDrive. OneDrive also has built-in web versions of Microsoft Word and Excel to facilitate easier editing of files in the cloud.

Pros
  • Integrates with Windows 8, 8.1, and 10
  • Online versions of Microsoft Word and Excel
  • Can share photo albums or documents with others
  • Synchronized OneNote notebooks
  • Can share documents, photo albums, and other files with others
Cons
  • Not approved for institutional data
  • Not well integrated with non-Microsoft file types
  • No granular permissions
  • Requires a Microsoft account
  • Much stricter rules for what kinds of content can be uploaded to OneDrive compared to the other services listed in this article.
Training Opportunities for OneDrive

Other, Lesser-Known Cloud Services

There are many other services out there that are not mentioned in this blog post but fall under the non-supported category. Some examples are iCloudCopy, Amazon Cloud Drive, and Space Monkey.

In Conclusion

I hope this article helped clear up some confusion that users have about what cloud service fits their needs. The cloud service you choose will depend on how it will be used. You should use one of the University Supported services to share institutional data including any files you use to do your day-to-day work. As for your personal documents, you can choose whichever service best fits your needs. All of these services have a quota for the free service and they all offer you the change to pay to upgrade your storage.

If these options are still confusing, you can watch the webinar recording, “Understanding the Cloud Storage Options at IU” for more clarification.

View webinar recording. View the webinar recording for “Understanding the Cloud Storage Options at IU.”

The one you choose to help you be paperless is up to you. Choose well and let us know if you have any questions in the comments section!

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