OneDrive Review - 2021 Content Service Provider Roundup

Updated
October 26, 2021

This is part of the 2021 Content Service Provider Roundup series.

OneDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage solution, providing both personal cloud synchronization and backup as well as business collaboration solutions. While it can be purchased separately, from a business offering perspective it’s inherently tied up with Office 365. If you checked out the Box.com review you may notice that you still need Office 365 to deal with office based documents either on the desktop or with Office online products. Things get a bit confusing in terms of OneDrive (the cloud storage service that can be purchased separately or included in a office 365 subscription), it’s relationship to SharePoint (which you’ll find your OneDrive urls branded with), it’s relation to Office 365 (the subscription) and office online (collectively referring to any of the online versions of individual office products). Rest assured though, I’ll mainly be focusing on OneDrive, one of the most competitively priced cloud storage solutions on the market.

User Experience

General Impressions

Installing the app on a mac was easy enough. The 124MB installer takes up around 389MB installed which seems like quite a bit. My overall impression of the web experience on OneDrive is that overall it’s designed to mimic a traditional filesystem used by a single user rather than focused on the collaborative aspects. I was looking forward to the intelligent difference uploading however for a 1GB file, the entire file was uploaded. I tested this on both a 1GB plain text file (.txt extension) and a plain text xml file (.xml extension). I find it odd that it wouldn’t work for text files, making me wonder if this is an office file only feature.

What happens when I add a word to a ~1GB text file.

All that aside the web interface for OneDrive was snappy and major actions were intuitive and easy enough to find in the actions submenu. Upload and download speeds were great when tested, though the relative speed to other service providers was not tested (this may be tested in an upcoming benchmark).

Tracking File Changes

File version history is a way to track how a file changes over time. Each time a file changes the version number is incremented. Interpreting the version number is a little more complicated with OneDrive’s somewhat superfluous decimal version numbers (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc.). Version history is easily retrievable for any file through “Version history” in the actions menu.

Each version of the file counts as taking up space towards the storage limits, so holding 2 versions of a 1GB file counts as 2GB of storage used. 100 versions is the lower limit on the maximum number of versions you can allow, and 500 is default which is generous in comparison to other providers. When using the OneDrive app to automatically sync a file locally, everytime you save the file counts as a version, meaning large frequently edited projects can easily eat away at available space. OneDrive does not provide a mechanism to set the version history per file at the time of writing. Keeping track of what changes are in what version is a little tricky as OneDrive does not seem to allow you to preview the file at a specific version using the web, meaning you’ll need to download it to try to understand what has changed when and what version of the file you’re looking for should you need to reference an older version. Similarly the activity stream is slightly unhelpful by mentioning that a user edited the file, but not indicating what version of the file this created making it difficult to correlate comments in the activity stream to specific versions of the file. That being said file versions are present, durable, and easy enough to revert or download.

Documentation and Ownership

SharePoint offers comment activity streams for any file, though they are slightly hidden. The detail view of the file does not show up when you select any given file. Rather you must select “Details” from the actions menu on the file. Meaning it’s possible your comments would go unseen. This is remedied by offering an ability to subscribe to notifications for a given file, though a more intuitive view into the file activity would be desirable. That being said OneDrive has deep integrations with SharePoint which lets you add lots and lots of metadata in the form of internal intranet pages, but in a more centralized way. Furthermore you can’t add comments to office files in OneDrive itself, though comments made in the document show up in the activity feed but only as generic activity and not in the form of the comment itself, making them less useful though this may be done for security reasons.

The file Activity feed view

Internal Collaboration

Sharing files internally is easy enough through the “Manage access” pane that lets you add individuals by name or email or groups which are configured through the 365 admin center. One of the strongest points of OneDrive is it’s deep integration with Office365. In fact at the price points on offer today you’d likely be able to get an Office 365 subscription with access to the entire office suite with unlimited OneDrive storage for less than the price of storage on another platform. Being able to click straight from a document into the online version of word or excel for editing or commenting is super convenient.

Client Collaboration

Link sharing is possible, with two levels of granularity (read only, or edit permissions). You can quickly see the link sharing details for a given file on the side pane. It doesn’t seem like there is a detailed audit trail that is quickly accessible for who access that link and when. You can set expiration dates and passwords which is very nice for controlling access making OneDrive a good solution for sharing docs out. There aren’t a lot of deep integrations for OneDrive that integrate OneDrive for example into DocuSign. There also isn’t an option to create a shareable link that allows clients to upload files without granting read access. It is possible to share a folder that allows file uploads without the user having to even log in. You would likely want to manage the folders on a client by client basis and move the files out of the folder once they arrive to prevent them leaking to others with the link, making incorporating this into your workflow slightly cumbersome.

Search

OneDrive was not able to locate text from within my text based XML document (under either the XML or TXT file extensions). The text I searched for was in the first few hundred words of the document. However it was able to search successfully within my word files. The search result UI is lacking in terms of providing contextual clues as to how the search term appears in the document. Clicking into the document doesn’t highlight or go to the search term either. While the document text search is a huge plus, the lack of context means you’ll have trouble figuring out how a term is used without going document by document, especially as the number of documents explodes if your team actually centralizes their workflows around OneDrive. Search does not look through old versions of the file, this may or may not be desirable depending on what you’re looking for but there is no option to control this behavior.

Search results for the query "Jeremy". OneDrive does not show any context on where the result appears in the file.

True to the Microsoft strategy, one of the main benefits of OneDrive search is its integration into SharePoint’s organization-wide search allowing you to search for a term across Files, Sites, People, News, etc for a somewhat holistic internal search experience.

Administration

Migration

OneDrive, being integrated with SharePoint, allows for use of the plethora of SharePoint/Office365 migration tools, both from on premise instances of SharePoint you may have or other sources. Microsoft offers specific guides under their Migrate to Microsoft 365 document section outlining the use of the Microsoft 365 migration app. Furthermore there are many third party migration tools specifically geared towards pulling data into OneDrive for business such as Mover (acquired by Microsoft in 2019), OneSync, AvePoint, CloudFuze, etc. that make this process easier and more scalable. Microsoft recommends Mover for large migrations. Mover is a free service that only supports Microsoft cloud destinations.

IT Administration

OneDrive for business offers a few mechanisms for admins to pull in terms of controlling their data. The ability to audit data access is lacking as far as we can tell. Storage metrics are readily available in a file tree explorer.

The OneDrive storage metrics view

However in a world moving past storage limits, and several of the OneDrive plans offering “Unlimited” storage there is questionable necessity for a pure quota oriented view. The other tool available is Sharing reports which let you see within your collection what shared links are made.

Resource Path	Item Type	Permission	User Name	User Email	User Or Group Type	Link ID	Link Type	AccessViaLinkID			
personal/ameer_softwareindepth_onmicrosoft_com/Documents/Client Folder	Folder	Contribute	SharingLink		SharePointGroup	d8dfd49a-ca60-419e-836a-4c48f97bc7ae	Anyone

Overall the administration tools provide little insight or flexibility in generating reports. It’s possible that there are extended compliance offerings that build on top of this. Site Collection Features offers some tools site administrators can offer that are mostly internal Office 365 integrations.

Stability

Office 365 publicly reports their own uptimes. To see specific incident details you must login to the Service health dashboard, and you can only see events up to 30 days in the past. Service interruptions are mildly frequent (17 in the last 30 days) across the entire suite of Office 365, and primarily centered around exchange; however no interruptions were noted impacting OneDrive among the 17 observed. The Service Level Agreement promises 99.9% uptime for OneDrive for business before providing service credits where the calculation method outlined is the number of minutes the service is available to each user across all users divided by the total number of minutes for all your users. Claims for service credit must be submitted within 2 months of the billing month in which the SLA was breached according to the SLA at the time of writing. Overall we find that OneDrive is a stable cloud storage solution though some of the more complex parts of the broader Office 365 ecosystem may see more frequent interruptions.

Security

OneDrive offers two factor auth and other standard account level security. It does not seem there is the ability to set or enforce password policies or life cycles at the account or team level. All files are encrypted with file level AES256 keys that are themselves protected by master keys that seem to be service wide. You can find more information about security at How OneDrive safeguards your data in the cloud. Content level security is fairly broad, allowing you to restrict permissions to edit or read only by Team or user. Folder level permissions are possible and folder permissions inherit from their parent downward. Controls are not provided for enabling or setting expiration policies around link sharing from a collection administrator perspective, however you can generate sharing reports (as outlined in IT Administration) and there are controls around setting expiration policies for guest access.

Comparison

Limits

OneDrive offers a generous standard 100GB maximum file size per user. Most plans for business offer a 1TB total storage per user maximum. The exception is the $10/month dedicated OneDrive for business plan which offers unlimited individual storage. This is quite a good deal compared to the other options available on the market, however as a business user it’s hard to turn down the Office 365 Business Standard that includes the Office Suite. There are no bandwidth limits in the service agreements that I could find for any plan of OneDrive. There is a recommended limit of 300,000 files for syncing in OneDrive across all document libraries. There is also a limit on total file path length of around 400 characters, which is lower than the limits of MacOS (1024) though larger than the windows limit (260) meaning some Mac users may run into issues syncing deeply nested file structures.

Alternatives and Competition

Alternatives will be updated when the 2021 content service provider round up is completed.

Pricing

Relative pricing will be discussed when the 2021 content service provider round up is completed. For now you can view pricing at https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/onedrive/compare-onedrive-plans

Summary

Microsoft OneDrive for business is an extremely competitively priced offering for the raw file storage power. From a user experience perspective OneDrive feels built out for the single user experience, case in point being the accessibility of the file activity feed and the lack of detail in the messaging therein and the poor search experience. OneDrive does offer sufficient capabilities to share files with team mates or to external parties. From an IT administration perspective OneDrive is lacking in tools to audit or configure policies around how data is used or shared. While lacking external integrations OneDrive is deeply and happily integrated into the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. OneDrive is a no-brainer if you need access to the Office suite of tools.