Can OneDrive Replace All My Hard Drives?

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Now that Microsoft is offering unlimited OneDrive storage to its Office365 users, it’s hard not to consider moving my entire digital life to the cloud. Is that crazy? Can I trust Microsoft with my files? Do I still need back up?  I have four computers with nine hard drives, some internal, some external. I also have two tablets and a smartphone. Can I consolidate all those files into one cloud filing system to share among all my devices? What happens when the net is down?

OneDrive

Security and Privacy

We trust our money to banks backed by the Federal government. Can cloud storage sites become as trustworthy? We don’t have to worry about backing up our money, so it would be great to have an institution for banking our files.  We want similar levels of security for our digital files as we do our money. We want privacy, and we want to believe our files will never be lost or stolen.

Because Microsoft is a corporate giant, and because it wishes to dominate the business and personal computer landscape, I have a feeling it will do everything possible to protect and secure our files – otherwise it would be sued out of existence. Is even that logic comforting enough to make me trust OneDrive with all my digital possessions?

Users of cloud storage have to decide what kind of files they will trust to file banks. Ripped movies and songs are different from personal photographs or banks statements, when it comes to privacy and security. But if hackers can break into your home computer and cloud servers, which are safer? Would Sony have been safer keeping their files on OneDrive? Who knows what’s safe anymore. My mistake, and Sony’s might be having one system, with one root level access. That implies spreading the risk across many cloud drives.

For now I’m going to trust OneDrive with all the files I don’t care if I lose. I will wear a belt and suspenders with files I’m desperate to keep no matter what.

Because I map OneDrive and Dropbox to my computer, I could run SecondCopy to replicate every file I save to OneDrive to Dropbox. Or I could subscribe to a cloud backup service. Finally, if I was super-paranoid, I would save to a local hard drive.

Speed

Accessing and saving files from a hard drive, SSD drive or USB drive is faster than working with the cloud directly. The speed of processing files will be determined by the speed of your internet provider.  Speeds across the net vary sharply. I often get 20Mbps downloads, but only 1.5Mbps uploads. And the upload speed is what determines how long it take to save a file. It can take weeks to upload a terabyte.  But once in the cloud, files are much faster to access.  You wouldn’t want to edit movies in the cloud, but it’s fine for most other tasks.

For many devices, Microsoft keeps a copy of your files locally – a kind of backup, and then copies those files to the cloud in the background. Using those files are just like normal. It’s easy to keep a full local copy of all your files on computers with 1TB drives, but tablets with 16GB or phones with 8GB makes that hard. The is a computer science problem that will require a lot of clever programming to solve.

My guess is network speeds – wired, wireless, cellular – will increase more and more, and eventually our files will reside completely in the cloud.  We’re becoming so netcentric, so interconnected, that we’ll always trust being linked. Eventually, it will be safer to store files in the cloud, than on local drives.  Just imagine if your computer burns up in a house fire, or your phone falls in the lake, if your files are stored in the cloud, it’s only a matter of finding another device to access them.

This implies two things for our future: unlimited bandwidth and faster networks.

I’ve been moving some audio book files as a test, and I’ve finished about 24GB in about forty hours. When I consolidate all my data from all my drives I doubt I’ll have more than 400-500 GB, so it might take me 15-20 days to get my files uploaded to OneDrive. I’m not sure what my Internet provider will think about that. Using OneDrive will effect your internet quotas.

I doubt I’ll access my audiobooks over a cellphone connection, not because of speed, but because of metering.

Convenience and Simplicity

Ultimately, convenience corrupts everyone. I no longer play my CDs or MP3 files, its way easier to play songs off of Spotify. Once I trust Spotify completely, I’ll delete 200 GB of mp3 files off of OneDrive.  People are going to stop collecting and saving digital content like movies, television shows and songs. Why go through the headaches of running your own media server when you can pay Netflix or Spotify to do it for you? Owning creative content is going to disappear – renting is just too convenient.

That means maintaining the content you personally create, the words you type, the pictures you take, the movies you make, are going to be the files you want to protect and save no matter what. It’s now possible to configure your mobile devices to automatically save to OneDrive, and once those files are online they’re available to your other devices.

Once I trust the idea of having all my files in one location, accessible to all my devices, my next goal will be to develop a file organization system.  I’ve been doing that for a few years with Dropbox and I’ve become very good at finding and filing files.

Costs

I get unlimited OneDrive because I subscribe to Office365. I pay $99/year for a 5-license subscription, but I could have gotten a single license for $70.  Dropbox was charging $99/year for 100GB of just space. So Office365 is a bargain. I’m either getting free Office Professional, or unlimited cloud space for free. I will also save on external drives, USB drives, and buying computers and mobile devices with lots of extra storage space.

Now, if you only use Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and can live with less than 15GB of file space, just get a free Outlook.com account, and use the online versions of those programs. Or if you’re Google oriented, they offer Google Docs and free cloud space. However, I wanted Outlook, Access and Publisher.

Pros

  • Simplicity – can throw a lot of hardware away (one of my machines was for backing up).
  • One location to organize – never work about duplicate files over many drives.
  • Accessible from all computers, tablets and mobile devices.
  • File versioning – can undo back to previously saved versions.
  • Recover deleted files.
  • Automatic backup (?).

Cons

  • Trusting everything to Microsoft – what if they screw up or go out of business?
  • Using OneDrive is more complicated than using a hard drive, but it offers more sophisticated features.
  • How OneDrive works is changing – it’s in a state of flux at the moment.
  • File upload time is very slow.
  • File download time is much faster, but not like from hard drive or SSD.
  • First attempt to move to Microsoft OneDrive presented some problems.  Dropbox is more bulletproof now.
  • I might need to backup OneDrive to Dropbox for extra safety.
  • $100 a year for 5 computers, or $70 a year for 1 computer – but I get Office365.
  • Privacy issues.
  • Locks me into Microsoft for the rest of my life.
  • Sync issues with mobile devices.
  • Can I still use Google Docs?
  • No file larger than 10GB
  • And there might be a current limitation of having just 20,000 total files.
  • Not all programs work with placeholder files.

Other People Worrying Over the Same Thing

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