SharePoint and OneDrive: the TwoDrive document dilemma

Microsoft has made some valiant efforts to keep your documents synchronized (Microsoft Sync, anyone?), so it is nice to see their laser focus on OneDrive. Unfortunately, if you have adopted SharePoint, you run into the TwoDrive dilemma. In this article, I will attempt to shed some light on best practices for deciding when and where to share your documents.

Note: When I refer to OneDrive, I am talking about OneDrive for Business, not the personal variant.

What is OneDrive?


OneDrive is Microsoft’s answer to Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and, well, you get the idea. As with all of these products, you are allocated a certain amount of space online, and you can upload nearly any type of document. Depending on the plan, OneDrive storage starts at 1TB and moves up to 5TB.

As you can imagine, OneDrive adds some nice features to entice the IT crowd. Aside from the standard apps available for most operating systems, users can enjoy the benefits of Microsoft Office integration, information-rights management, data-loss prevention, and more.

What is SharePoint?


It is hard to nail down what SharePoint is and is not, but most organizations use it as the face of their corporate intranet and to create team collaboration sites.

If you have an important project, you can very quickly create a team site to maintain documents, project plans, shared calendars, and even meeting notes. If you run an HR department, you can create a website that provides new-hire orientation documentation, corporate training, and much more.

The dilemma

Back when networks started popping up in corporate environments, a big selling point was the ability to create shared drives where people can create a folder on the network and add files. Typically, users would have a personal folder where documents were visible only to them (and perhaps their evil overlords). Users could work with IT to create folders for specific departments or project teams.

These shared drives were — and frankly, still are — so popular because they are so easy to use. You simply open File Explorer, click a drive letter, and all the files you need are accessible.

Shared drives are not without their problems. First, you had to be on the network to use the files. Second, you never knew if the document you were looking at was the latest or some out-of-date version. Finally, everyone would just keep adding new version numbers to the document, so it became a nuisance trying to find the right one (and don’t get me started on how filenames get sorted without a double-digit number at the end).

Like The Little Engine that Could, Microsoft has released plenty of products in an attempt to unify your files in one place (Groove Networks, anyone?). Unfortunately, the problem persists with SharePoint and OneDrive even today.

Comparison time

As you can see in the following chart, OneDrive is a tool for you to store all your personal files and use them across all your devices. SharePoint’s focus is to provide you with a location to share important files with people within your organization.

OneDrive and SharePoint comparison chart.
OneDrive and SharePoint comparison chart. Click to enlarge.

When to use OneDrive

If you always want access to a file, even if you are not on a network, then OneDrive addresses that requirement. Since you have at least 1TB of storage, it would not be a stretch to say most people could just sync their entire My Documents folder.

Here are some reasons to use OneDrive:

  • Back up your personal files.
  • Easily access and edit your files on nearly any device.
  • Quickly share your files with other people.
  • You are working on draft documents before publishing them to a wider audience.

When to use SharePoint

As I mentioned earlier, SharePoint’s two primary use cases are to provide a landing page for individual departments and other landing pages for teams to collaborate on projects. SharePoint is also a document-management system, enabling you to do interesting things like build workflows. For example, you can create a draft document, send it through an electronic review process, and then gain approval.

Once you upload a document to SharePoint, any people with the proper security group can read it. Those same people may or may not be able to edit or delete the document. Compare that feature to OneDrive, where all your files are secure by default, until you decide which ones you share.

Here are some reasons to use SharePoint:

  • You want to share a document with your team, department, or group.
  • The document takes place in a workflow.
  • When people use SharePoint search to find a document, you want the file to display in the search results.
  • The document is in a final state, meaning it is the latest-and-greatest version of a document.
  • The document requires a retainment policy (for example, it needs to be stored in a safe location for seven years).
  • You are working with a control document that requires strict adherence to corporate standards.

What about SharePoint sync?

The title of this article contains the word dilemma because no one wants to deal with the confusion of figuring out where to access a file.

SharePoint sync is a way to bridge the gap between these two products. With this feature, you can go to a document library, click the sync icon and a folder on your computer will automatically sync any documents to and from your computer.

As you can see in the following image, you will have to define which folders to sync (SharePoint won’t just find anything you have access to and bring it down to your computer). Also, if the folder uses certain features like content types (which is not something I cover in this article) or workflows, this option may not work for you.

Important: Sync does not operate on a Mac, nor does it work on non-Windows devices. You might see the icon in the browser on your Mac, but it will not do anything. A Microsoft support representative informs me this feature may be available in “Q1 or Q2 of 2017.”

SharePoint sync for Windows computers.
SharePoint sync for Windows computers.

Having attended plenty of Microsoft conferences, I have heard a lot of customers share a need to make synchronization and document access easier. This is a hard problem to solve because SharePoint and OneDrive have very different use cases.

Maybe one day Microsoft will offer a completely unified file-management solution where everything you need is a click away. For now, my advice is this: Deal with this TwoDrive dilemma by defining a set of policies and best practices that work for the widest audience of your users.

Photo credit: Pixabay, Microsoft

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