Choosing a File Storage System for Team Work
My team works with a big number of media data: video, rendering, photos, illustrations. To ensure the best teamwork, we need constant access to all these files.
At some point, we no longer have enough storage place at our own server, and we started looking for cloud storage that satisfies all our needs.
In this post, I will compare popular cloud storage services for business: DropBox, Google Drive, Citrix ShareFile, and Microsoft OneDrive.
Let’s see our requirements for a cloud storage service:
· Unlimited data. We have a lot of data, about 10TB on an average day. I do not want to constantly think about how much space we need to buy this month or why the quota suddenly ended.
· Versioning of files and logging. Github has taught us that all changes can be seen and rolled back. Therefore, I want that situation with our files becomes exactly the same: any change or removal should be reversible and easy to control.
· Access rights. No more shared folders available to everyone. Each employee must have his own area of visibility and access.
· Upload without registration. My clients no longer should look for file hosting services to send us a large file. Files should be immediately uploaded to our repository without intermediate services.
What was before
When there was less data, and there were no cloud services (for reasonable money), we had to keep a hefty server with hard drives. We accessed it via SMB. It was necessary to constantly look after it, change hard drives, backup. Something always happened to it: either the write/read speed dropped sharply, or a folder or file became inaccessible due to invalid characters, etc.
When we hired more employees, some of them began to work remotely using different operating systems: Windows, macOS. To access the server, we deployed a VPN, which provided slower, access to the files. But VPN was necessary from the security point of view. Although we are talking about file storage here, I want to stress the importance of choosing the right VPN. There are a lot of decent free services out there, you can select something good at low price.
So, at some point, it became clear that this approach was outdated, and we began to look for a new solution.
Storage volumes and prices
Again, we store large amounts of data, about 10TB on average. During active work days, this figure may increase several times. Projects have to be stored for several months after delivery to the client. Therefore, we need unlimited storage, so that we don’t need to think about how many additional gigabytes to buy every month.
The number of employees varies within 10, so for convenience, we will consider the cost for 10 employees.
Price for 10 users per month
Most services have such a price tag only if they are paid a year in advance. When paid monthly, the price is higher by 20-40%. This must be taken into account.
Usually, if something is indicated as unlimited, you need to look for small gray text in the service conditions. Each service has its own features that you cannot notice at first. For some, these restrictions are so strange that they make the service completely useless.
· Dropbox - the maximum downloadable file size is 50GB.
· Citrix ShareFile - the maximum downloadable file size is 100GB.
· Google Drive - the maximum downloadable file size 5TB.
In Microsoft OneDrive business tariffs, the maximum file size is limited to 15GB. This is just some kind of a joke. Today, even budget cameras shoot video at 200 Mbit/s and easily generate files that are hundreds of gigabytes in size. This restriction makes the OneDrive service completely useless to us.
Out accountant Sophia, does not need 2TB of video on her computer. To do this, the system must have the function of selective synchronization. The user must manually mark which files he needs locally on the computer, and which files are needed only upon request. All four services support this feature. However, Google Drive allows you to mark only the root folders, that is, you cannot turn on synchronization only for Accounting > Reports > 2019.
Each employee should have access only to certain folders and files. The system should keep a detailed log of changes in access rights and also log how files are being accessed. All four systems have this functionality. With Citrix ShareFile and DropBox, you can turn on notifications when somebody is accessing certain files or folders. This can be useful for files with sensitive information.
All services under review support file versioning. You can find who accidentally deleted a file from the public folder or what is the date of the last backup. Different unpleasant situations may happen without versioning. For example, someone gets infected with a ransomware virus on his home computer and after synchronization virus encrypts all files to which it has access. In addition to abnormal situations, it is often necessary to roll back to an older version of the file in order to compare changes or fix problems.
File access requests and anonymous upload
Here is a common situation - a client or freelancer wants to transfer large video files to you. And here the torment begins: “Where do I place 100 Gb? Is it better to send a courier with a hard drive? How to use FTP/SFTP?" Even if a client adds a file to a file sharing service, you must first download it, and then upload it to a shared folder for all employees. If there are a lot of files and they are all very large, it is much more convenient to upload them immediately to our storage.
Previously, we had to create a temporary account on the FTP server and provide access rights to the client. We had to explain how to set up an FTP client, how to restore a download after a break, and so on. Now you can simply click "request files" in any folder, and the service will create an anonymous link that can be used to upload files through a web browser. In this case, only downloading is allowed, it is impossible to see what is already there in the folder or to somehow view it on the server. This eliminates the need to create temporary accounts for customers and then monitor their removal. This feature is supported only by Citrix ShareFile and Dropbox.
WebDAV and FTP access
Via third-party software
In some cases, installing third-party software on a computer is not desirable or impossible. Citrix ShareFile has (S) FTP and WebDAV access. Google Drive requires third-party programs to access the drive via WebDAV, but they all require to provide account access rights to third parties. Dropbox does not support third-party protocols, access is possible only through the native client.
We had to drop Microsoft Onedrive due to the ridiculous 15GB file size limit. Google drive does not allow to use the disk without email and G Suite. Therefore, at the moment, we had to choose between Dropbox and Citrix ShareFile. The decisive factor, I believe, will be the quality of the software, because otherwise, the services are similar. Each service has its own odd features. For example, Dropbox for Windows at some point silently stops synchronizing files, while apparently there are no signs of a problem. It can be resolved by cleaning the Temp folder.