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Office 365 should never be compared to Dropbox, Google Apps or Amazon

  1. iStock_Nicholas McComber

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 662 Likes: 101
    7 |

    Office 365 with SharePoint on-line should never be compared to Dropbox, Google Apps, Google Docs, Amazon cloud offerings or Microsoft OneDrive Live. These are good products and competitive in the marketplace they serve, but they are just cloud storage. Chris Watkins, from ffox Software. explains how to approach these solutions.

    They all store files off-site in an NTFS type file store. SharePoint on-line stores files in a SQL database delivering huge advantages in security, file grouping, file analysis and file location.

    What does this mean in practice? – If you consider a standard NTFS type file storage system such as you would find on any computer.

    When you create and save a file you are prompted to give the file a name so that you can find it again when it is needed. The most modern software will also be configured to save the file to a default location such as ‘documents’ or ‘my documents’. You can elect to modify the location by creating new sub-folders within the ‘documents’ folder.

    This way you can group similar files together, say by subject or function. So, a user’s documents area may have sub-folders like ‘invoices’, ‘orders’, Fred Blogs Ltd, etc. In addition, the NTFS file store will record ‘date created’, ‘date modified’ and ‘file size’ for each file. Standalone computers usually have the default ‘documents’ folder on a local hard disk drive or a cloud resource, but networked computers are often configured to default to a department, or team ‘documents’ area that is a network share on a server and all users store their documents here either in a personalised folder or in team folders where other users can access them as required. This practice makes it simpler for the IT team to copy the files to a backup device to protect against file loss or corruption.

    This system works and has served well for decades, but it has weaknesses.

    1. File naming is open to each individual user preference. The human mind is individual and what may be obvious as to one individual as a distinctive filename is often confusing for other users. This can be overcome by enforcing a corporate‘ standard’ for file naming, but that requires training for users in what they must, and must not, include in a filename.
    2. As users can create sub-folders within the storage area and files can end up being buried many layers deep in a file system.
    3.  By default, the file search facility in an NTFS system searches file names, created date and modified date. This can be changed to enable indexing by metadata and even content search, but this slows the whole storage system down to a considerable degree. Additionally, file searches in NTFS systems usually take quite a long time, especially if the file resides in a storage area used by many people.

    The SharePoint Alternative

    In Office 365 Library Files are saved into a SQL database which requires certain metadata for each item stored. Grouping of similar files is achieved by creating separate ‘Libraries’, which are effectively separate SQL tables in the database.

    The configuration of ‘Libraries’ is a simple task that can be completed by a user, or restricted to a supervisor for more effective control. Alternatively, files can be grouped within a library by including a metadata column which identifies what category the file belongs to. To ensure that different users are consistent in categorisation this can be populated by use of drop list menus. For instance, a drop list can contain ‘invoices’, ‘orders’, ‘correspondence’, etc. if the file is an invoice, the user would simply select ‘invoice’ from the list.

    The files are stored in a database along with the metadata that describes each entry. In addition to each file being searchable by looking through the list, each metadata column can be filtered and sorted to display only groups of files that are relevant to the search.

    The above shows only documents with the word ‘business’ in the name, but the search could just have easily been on multiple columns to deliver such results as documents which contain particular words in the name and that were created after a particular date, or before a particular date, or between two dates, or indexed by a particular user.

    Additionally, as the files are stored in a database they can be ‘crawled’ as a matter of routine. O365 SharePoint on line ‘crawls’ content every 15 minutes or so. Provided that the content of a file is of a type that is readable (Word, Excel, Power Point, HTML notepad, etc.) the entire content will be indexed and searchable.

    This means that a short time after indexing a document into the library it will be findable with the use of the ‘Search’ option found just below the App Launcher icon on the library screen.

    This means that a search, either on all documents in the library or on the whole site (multiple libraries) will return all documents which contain the search string.

    It doesn't take much thought to extending this across all documents and files pertaining to a business. Imagine being able to consistently locate all 'Invoices' created between two dates, or all communications with 'Fred Bloggs Ltd'

    When considering a move to cloud storage, think about the simple wants and needs of the business and evaluate what each vendor can offer out-of-the-box and without the need for expensive intervention from a developer.

  2. David Reinhardt

    David Reinhardt UKBF Contributor Free Member

    Posts: 34 Likes: 7
    Thanks ffox, this is a great comparison of the storage features.

    I'd like to add that the the MS Office 365 offering covers a much wider range of features than just storage: most notably email and access to MS Office software (download and install). These are all fully integrated with SharePoint and make the whole offering very compelling for anyone running a small business.

    A question - Microsoft licensing can be quite confusing. Which of the Office 365 license include SharePoint (instead of just One Drive)?

    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
    Posted: Dec 14, 2016 By: David Reinhardt Member since: Dec 5, 2016
  3. Parley

    Parley UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    Posts: 24 Likes: 0
    I am looking at Sharepoint also but abit confused over which option I need, I already have office installed and have a server.
    Posted: Dec 14, 2016 By: Parley Member since: Feb 17, 2011
  4. ffox

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 662 Likes: 101
    Enterprise E1, E3, E5
    Business Essentials, Business Premium, Business

    Having said that I always recommend an Enterprise (E1, E3 or E5) licence as I don't believe that there is much in the way of realistic saving to be made by using the Business plans

    If you just want SharePoint, you can also subscribe to SharePoint Online Plan 1 or 2.

    If you already have Office, the E1 plan should do nicely. The per user savings are quite substantial over the E3 licence. However, don't forget that an E3 licence allow each user to install Office 2016 (or equivalent for Android or IoS) on up to five devices.

    You may find that your server becomes redundant, unless you use it for other purposes.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2016
    Posted: Dec 14, 2016 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
    David Reinhardt likes this.
  5. Asterian

    Asterian UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    Posts: 14 Likes: 0
    I don't want to sound rude, but can I get a plain English explanation on whether or not should I continue to use Office 365? I bought it as a normal user, then after I became an entrepreneur I proved to be useful when sharing large files with editors and DTP guys.
    Posted: Dec 15, 2016 By: Asterian Member since: Aug 24, 2016
  6. ffox

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 662 Likes: 101
    Hi there. There is nothing rude about your question at all. Having said that, I can't answer without knowing much more.
    Office 365 is a broad platform and can be used for many, many things, but before I can offer suggestions I would need to know what O365 licence you have and what you need to achieve with it for your business.
    You say that you have used it for large file transfer, great, but it has many facets. Probably the most useful for someone just starting out would be email and cloud file storage. The email can be used with mail software installed on your PC (or MAC or whatever you have), or though the internet browser, and is accessible from whatever machine, or tablet or phone you use. The same with cloud storage, your files can be accessed on a PC, tablet or phone from wherever you happen to be.
    If you have specific questions, please ask and I will gladly try to answer.
    Hope this helps.
    Posted: Dec 15, 2016 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
  7. _francois

    _francois UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    Posts: 0 Likes: 0
    Hi - thanks for posting and highlighting the need to make a considered choice when looking for cloud storage.

    I think your statement, "they all store files off-site in an NTFS type file store. SharePoint on-line stores files in a SQL database," is incorrect and hence I would consider the basis for your comparison invalid. For example, Google, Amazon and Dropbox (build on Amazon's AWS platform), use database storage for data giving the benefits you enumerate for Sharepoint

    It is true that not all storage products are the same and one needs to make an effort to chose the right one for you and your business. As a reseller and integrator of cloud storage products (from Google and Microsoft amongst others), I find myself steering away from Sharepoint/OneDrive to Dropbox or Box and linking those with Office365 which is a very tidy solution, and one which individuals find more intuitive. But it does boil down to "what are you trying to do?", "what do you need to store?", "who needs to have access to it?", and "how much effort can you put in to make it happen?"
    Posted: Dec 16, 2016 By: _francois Member since: Aug 12, 2011
  8. ffox

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 662 Likes: 101
    Many thanks for your comment. However, I have to point out that you are mistaken. While both Google and Amazon do have cloud SQL offerings, neither use SQL BLOB (binary large object) as the default storage method for files and documents. As far as I'm aware the Office 365 SharePoint on-line platform is the only cloud solution that does.
    G-Suite now has increased domain and site search power, and I'll be the first to admit that no-one knows more about search engines than Google, but it is still limited to a very crude level of taxonomy. Meta tags are required in the document or file as they are with a web page and this means a high level of training and discipline to ensure that the search engine will consistently find what the user is looking for.
    SharePoint enables the organisation to specify meta tags through the use of library columns. These can be designated as 'required' or 'optional' at the point of document storage. Once a library is designed any document that is created within the library, or imported to the library will contain the meta tags. If the meta tags are 'required' the document will not store correctly until they are populated with data.
    BTW. I wouldn't recommend Dropbox for any item of importance as it is very insecure.

    As you say, it depends on what you want to do. This is the point of the article, to make it clear to potential purchasers the there are significant differences in cloud solutions.
    Posted: Dec 16, 2016 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004