OneDrive for Business Review
OneDrive for Business is a good, cheap option for SMBs that don't need too many features and want an EFSS solution that gets the job done, no more, no less.
For decades now, Microsoft has consistently made some of the best productivity software available to business owners. Rather slowing down, its only accelerated that trend in recent years, producing some of the best cloud-based tools available today.
During this review, we’ll be looking at Microsoft’s stab at creating one of the best EFSS providers, OneDrive for Business.
OneDrive for Business (as well as the regular consumer version, which you can read about in our OneDrive review) comes integrated with Office Online, making it one of the best tools available for supporting collaboration. In addition to being powerful, it’s also incredibly affordable, which has been a welcome trend in Microsoft productivity software in recent years.
While OneDrive has brand appeal and is great for some collaborative endeavors, limited third-party integrations, reporting capabilities and a few other misses hold it back from dominating the EFSS space.
Stick with us as we cover all the pros and cons to help you decide if it’s the best cloud storage tool for your business needs.
- Fast block-level sync
- Good file-sharing features
- Strong app integrations
- User-friendly experience
- Limited role customization
- Limited reporting features
- No 24/7 live support
- Unlimited storage plan
- Great application integrations
- Office Online & Google Docs
- Strong security
- No block-level sync
- No annual discount
- 5GB file upload max
- Office Online
- Fast sync for Microsoft Office Docs
- No third-party app integrations
- Limited reporting tools
- Limited support
The two essential features of EFSS are sync and share. Beyond that, there are a range of features that separate the okay services from excellent ones. The following table will give you a quick overview of what you’ll get with OneDrive for Business.
The biggest feature advantage that OneDrive has over the competition is its tight integration with Microsoft Office. Beyond that, the service offers most of what you’d expect, though doesn’t always excel when it comes to execution.
Some notable misses that we’ll discuss include limited block-level sync, no built-in third-party app library, weak reporting tools and limited direct support.
OneDrive for Business offers good price plan flexibility. The trick is finding the right plan: the options can be a headache to sort through thanks to separate sets of pricing for OneDrive for Business and Office 365 Business plans.
The OneDrive for Business page includes a plan called Office 365 Business Premium that costs $150 per year and includes Office 365. What it doesn’t tell you is that there’s a cheaper Office 365 package that costs less but doesn’t include business-class email hosting, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Yammer and Microsoft Teams.
|Plan||OneDrive for Business||OneDrive for Business Advanced||Office 365 Business||Office 365 Business Premium|
$ 60 00yearly
$ 120 00yearly
$ 8 25monthly
$ 150 00yearly
OneDrive Storage per User: 1TB
OneDrive Storage per User: Unlimited
OneDrive Storage per User: 1TB
OneDrive Storage per User: 1TB
Both OneDrive Business and Business Advanced require that you pay for one year of service up front for your entire user base. Office 365 Business Premium and Office 365 Business have month-to-month options for $15 and $10 per user, respectively.
In addition to being generally cheaper than the competition, it’s worth noting that, with OneDrive, users get their own separate storage allotment. With many other services, including Dropbox, users share space, another huge advantage for OneDrive over the competition.
Despite being a Microsoft product, OneDrive is available for both Windows and Mac OS, meaning your employees can use the device of their choosing.
Install the desktop client and OneDrive creates a special folder called a sync folder. Files kept in this folder are stored both on your hard drive and in the cloud. This simple mechanism lets you sync files in near real-time across devices, whether those devices belong to you or your collaborators.
In addition to the sync folder, you can also access content from your web browser. OneDrive’s online interface is both intuitive and good looking.
Menu options in the left margin let you jump between “files,” “recent,” “shared with me” and “recycle bin” pages. There’s also a link further down called “OneDrive admin” where you can find user management, billing, support and similar options.
One of the great advantages of moving your collaborations to an EFSS platform is mobility. So, it’s no surprise that OneDrive offers mobile apps for Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices.
The mobile experience is as polished as the web experience and actually even easier to use. Just tap the menu button in the upper-left corner to view your files, photos, recently accessed content and shared content.
By default, files aren’t stored in your mobile device’s hard drive. However, you can tag and store them that way if you need offline access for air travel or anything else.
Other mobile app features that will please SMB users include document scanning and automatic photo or video uploads.
Before you can get started using OneDrive to collaborate on content, you need to add users from within the OneDrive admin center.
The admin portal is organized into cards that can be deleted or moved in accordance to your preference. Cards include:
- Users: add, delete and edit users
- Billing: check and pay balance
- Office software: install Office software and share download links
- Domains: add or change your business domain
- Support: contact support
- Message center: check messages from Microsoft
- Active Users: track active user data
User creation is straightforward. In addition to adding basic user information, you can autogenerate or set your own password, define roles and pick product licenses.
Available roles include:
- User: no administrative access
- Global administrator: access to all admin features
- Customized administrator: access to select admin features
You can select whether or not to license users. If you license them, you’ll be billed your monthly or annual subscription rate for them. Users without licenses can only access content and don’t get 1TB of personal cloud storage.
To more easily manage content access, OneDrive lets you set up groups and assign users to them.
On the downside, the service doesn’t offer much in the way of user reporting. However, Microsoft does have a notification up in the admin center that its developers are working on that aspect.
If you need detailed reporting and don’t want to wait for Microsoft to things together, Citrix ShareFile is a EFSS tool that offer excellent, customizable reports, plus great user role customization.
In the meantime, you can click on the information icon (“i”) in the upper right corner to check recent account activity. OneDrive for Business also has a search and audit available in the admin center to track specific types of activity like “downloaded file” or “modified file.”
OneDrive for Business lets you share content both internally and externally via email or by generating a link pointing to the folder or file you want to share.
For control, you can set links to expire after a certain number of days and restrict link access to specific individuals. While this is more than some EFSS tools offer, we’d also like to see the option to create link passwords.
OneDrive has a “sharing” column to quickly spot what content has been shared so that you don’t lose sight of it. That feature loses usefulness, however, when you’ve got hundreds or thousands of files stored in the cloud.
A separate “shared” view to audit all shared content in one place would be welcome. There is a “shared with me” view to see what content other OneDrive users have invited you to access.
It’s arguable that device synchronization, or sync, stands as the most essential ingredient of online collaboration. Sync lets you and your coworkers access the same content from different devices and view each other’s edits in near real-time.
There’s no need to email files or access sluggish VPN network drives.
We mentioned earlier that the common mechanism used to enable sync is a special folder that simultaneously stores content on your hard drive and in the cloud. Otherwise, this folder looks and works just like any other file system folder.
OneDrive sync speeds for initial file uploads and downloads are in line with other services. Where the service sometimes lags is when changes are made to those files.
The ideal way to handle file changes is to use what’s known as “block-level sync,” also known as “differential sync.” Block-level sync means that only the parts of the file that change get synced rather than the whole file.
The result is much faster sync speeds.
OneDrive only uses block-level sync for Microsoft Office files, which it started doing in 2014. Previously, differential sync had been reported to be in the works for Q2 this year. However, Q2 has come and gone and there’s been no word on when, or if, Microsoft still plans to add this functionality.
OneDrive does have a neat sync feature that most other EFSS tools don’t: the ability to block syncing of certain file types. So, for example, if you want to keep your Excel spreadsheets from being stored on your employees’ hard drives, you could block Excel sync.
A more important feature that you get with OneDrive is selective sync.
Selective sync lets you turn off sync for certain folders, preventing them from being stored on your hard drive. For business users restricted by the slim, generally low-capacity (250GB, 500GB) solid-state drives featured in ultraslim notebooks, selective sync should be near the top of the EFSS shopping checklist.
Integrated apps enhance productivity by letting you open and edit cloud-stored content from within the EFSS portal using various work productivity apps. For OneDrive, that experience begins and, for all practical purposes, ends with Microsoft Office.
If you opt into one of the Office 365 plans, your employees will be able to download desktop versions of:
- Outlook: a configurable email platform
- Word: for word processing and document creation
- Excel: for spreadsheet creation
- PowerPoint: for presentation creation
- OneNote: for note taking
- Access (PC only): a database management system
- Publisher (PC only): a desktop publishing application
Each of these tools can be installed on up to five devices per user.
Office 365 Business Premium also gets you business-class email with a 50GB inbox and a custom company domain address. Even if you just go with a OneDrive for Business plan, though, you can still open and edit Office documents using Office Online, which is free.
Office Online includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, which happens to be one of the best note-taking apps available. The big difference between Office 364 and Office Online is that the latter is browser-based.
Otherwise, it’s still a top-shelf productivity suite.
OneDrive for Business lets your collaborators integrate free and paid third-party apps into your cloud storage so long has that feature hasn’t been disabled in the admin center. Third-party apps let people add work with non-Microsoft productivity tools without leaving the OneDrive web platform.
An EFSS’s third-party library adds considerable value to the cloud experience.
The problem with OneDrive is that while third-party apps exist, Microsoft doesn’t have a searchable app library like Google Drive and Dropbox, for example, do. That makes it hard to find tools quickly.
For an SMB owner, storing financial data or sensitive intellectual property in the cloud can be understandably unnerving. This is often more true of working with popular cloud storage services like OneDrive, which tend to make more enticing targets for online crime thanks to large user bases.
Adding to the problem is that Microsoft tends to be pretty vague about its security setup.
There’s very little documentation available about Microsoft data center security and what steps are taken to secure customer data. That may be to keep from scaring off OneDrive Personal users, given that OneDrive Personal content is not encrypted while stored in the cloud. Or, at least Microsoft has never said it is.
OneDrive for Business encrypts content at the disk level using BitLocker and at the file level using 256-bit AES encryption. Encryption basically means scrambling data to make it unreadable without a secret key. Microsoft stores that key on a separate server from where your content is kept.
Microsoft also encrypts OneDrive for Business data while in transit to prevent interception or eavesdropping as your data travels between your device and the data center. This is done using TLS (transport layer security), a type of secure tunnel, and RSA 248-bit protection, which scrambles your encryption key.
When it comes to SMB security, the biggest risk to your content might be weak passwords used by your employees. That’s because passwords are much more susceptible to brute force cracks than 248-bit encryption keys and why using a good password generator is important.
OneDrive for Business does let you set a password creation policy for your employees but the only configurations are for password expirations. You can’t set mandatory password requirements. Password are required to be at least eight characters long, however.
As the admin, you can require two-factor authentication. Doing so means that in addition to their regular credentials, account holders must enter a special security code when logging in from an unfamiliar machine.
For SMB users, we would absolutely you turn this feature on because it means that stealing or cracking a user’s password isn’t enough to login to your cloud storage account.
You can access OneDrive support at any time by clicking the “?” button on top-right side of the web tool. Menu topics include help, feedback and community.
The help option sends you to the Microsoft Office support portal.
Once there, you can search for help articles or browse by platform (i.e., Word, Excel, OneDrive). Each platform page, including the OneDrive page, subdivides articles by topic categories like “getting started,” “share files,” “sync files” and “troubleshoot problems.”
The article library is extensive and individual articles are content-rich. There’s also an Office training center to improve your skills and videos detailing key aspects of OneDrive and other products.
If you can’t find the answers to your questions or problems in the support portal, you can get direct support from inside the OneDrive admin center by clicking “new service request.” Type the exact nature of your issue in the text box and OneDrive will display article links.
If these aren’t helpful, beneath “call me” you can input your telephone number and request a call.
Callback saves you from having to wait on hold. Telephone support is even available 24/7 and Microsoft lets you know how long you can expect to wait for a call. Live chat is also an option.
Email support is not, which is strange since it’s the goto support channel for most EFSS solutions.
There’s also an active OneDrive user community. You can search previous forum topics or start a new discussion. Often times, crowdsourcing fellow SMB users and IT professionals works best for finding innovative solutions to problems.
OneDrive for Business is one of the most popular EFSS tools today and for good reason. Low cost, a nice interface, integration with Microsoft Office and good support are all big plus marks. For a service as commonly used by businesses as OneDrive is, though, we kind of want more.
The biggest misses are limited block-level sync, user role management and reporting options, plus no way to easily find third-party apps. We’d also like to know more about Microsoft’s data center security, which the company doesn’t seem inclined to talk much about.
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It’s troubling to think that Microsoft might be banking on the fact that Office 365 is such a big draw that it doesn’t need to take security as seriously smaller players in the EFSS space.
We love to hear from our readers about their own experiences using OneDrive, especially given that Microsoft has historically been such a divisive company. So, let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading.