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

Table of Contents

The Syncing Nightmare of Too Many Computers, Backups and Cloud Drives!

The Problems:

  • I have three home computers, three work computers, four external hard drives, and six cloud drive accounts, with tens of thousands of original files that are multiplied into hundreds of thousands stored on backup and cloud drives.
  • I have personal files and work files but often I want access to both kinds no matter where I’m at.
  • If I delete a file from the computer I’m working on, it’s not deleted from all the backed up copies.
  • Every time I look at a different drive I have to constantly decide again if I want to keep or delete a file.
  • Because I have 4 PCs, 1 Mac and 1 Linux machine I really don’t have a primary My Documents folder.
  • I have copied files in so many locations that I’m not sure which is the primary backup anymore.
  • I had a 1.5 TB drive fail and lost 200+ documentaries I was saving.
  • I have too many files from using personal computers for over 30 years.

thematrix

The Goals:

  • I want two perfectly organized Master Filing Systems, one personal, one work.
  • I want the easiest system possible for maintaining order and security.
  • I want to get rid of the external hard drives.
  • I want the fewest copies that equals the maximum security.
  • I want each of my Master Filing Systems to be backed up.
  • I want the files to have an organization structure that makes it obvious where everything is and belongs.
  • I want this to be my last file reorganization that will last me the rest of my life.
  • I want to clean out all the clutter and ancient files I no longer need.

Questions to Consider:

  • Can I trust a cloud drive like Dropbox or SkyDrive to be my Master Filing System?   This certainly would make using six computers and my mobile devices the easiest to use.
  • Would it be practical to use a cloud drive as my Master Filing System, and then use software to mirror the  cloud to local computers as backups?
  • Which cloud drive service is worthy of being my Master File Location?
  • How do I handle deleted files so the deleted files are removed from all the backups, but yet stored somewhere for long term recovery?
  • Do I need to worry about music files now that I have Amazon Cloud Player, Google Music, Rdio, and Rhapsody?
  • How do I keep my photos organized in my Master File Location and in-sync with gallery sites like Picasa?
  • What’s the best place to store emails?
  • Should I have a Master Deleted File System?
  • Does any cloud drive service offer a journaling file system?
  • When I create a Master Filing System, what folder structure should I use?
  • Are some file types too large to save permanently?
  • Can Dropbox or SkyDrive work like a roaming profile/home drive on a Windows Server?

Some Answers to Help Decide:

  • Dropbox offers it’s Packrat feature of unlimited undeletes for $39/yr. 
  • Using Dropbox means spending $139 a year minimum – the price of an external drive, but external drives take power, eventually, die, fill full of clutter, and take work to move from computer to computer.
  • Dropbox and SkyDrive have virtual drives making them easier to use than Amazon Cloud Drive, and allowing software like Second Copy to access them.
  • Dropbox virtual drives are available for all my my computers and devices.
  • Second Copy would let me replicate files from cloud drives to my PCs, thus making them the backups and not the cloud drives.
  • I could buy Dropbox for my personal Master File System and use SkyDrive for my work Master File System.  (I have a 25gb SkyDrive account because of work).
  • I have a 50gb Amazon Cloud Drive account that I could use as a cloud backup.
  • If I use Dropbox as my Master Filing System I could go around to all my computers, backups and other cloud drives and re-file all the files I want into it.  That might be the easiest way to create a Master Filing System.
  • For $25 a year Amazon keeps up to 250,000 songs for me in their Cloud Player and a copy in the Cloud Drive.  They also give me 50 GB of cloud space for other files.  Is this secure enough for maintaining my music library?

Are Some Files Too Big To Store Permanently?

When I lost the 1.5 TB of documentaries from my HTPC I began to wonder if some files are too large to save permanently.  At Dropbox’s rates, I’d have to spend $1500 a year to have maintained my documentary collection online.  I’m not going to do that.  Nor do I want to run a home server with backups to support such a library.  Maintaining 140 GB of music files is annoying enough, with copies on my main computer, two other computers, two external drives and at Amazon and Google.  But keeping a perfect copy of my music library in sync is a nightmare.  Then I have a large library of audiobook files scattered across several computers to worry about.  Are they even worth the worry when I spend 99.9% of time listening to books from Audible.com?

The solution here is just to live with what Netflix, Audible and Rdio provides to me, and not try to own my own library of movies, music and audiobooks.  This would certainly simplify a good deal of file management.

Conclusions:

Writing all of this helped me to think things through.  I’ve decided to make Dropbox my Master Filing System for personal files.  Currently I have 13 GB of free space, but I might have to up it to 100 GB ($99/year).  I haven’t decided if I want to spring for the $39/year Packrat feature, but it’s tempting.  It will probably take me months of going through all my file locations and filing what I want to save into my new Master Filing System.  I certainly hope that Dropbox doesn’t go out of business.

I’ve been using Dropbox for a while now, but as a test, I’ll start using it as my primary My Documents folder for all my devices to see what happens.

For a backup to my Master Filing System, I’ll use Second Copy to replicate Dropbox to a folder on my local hard drive.  I haven’t decided if I’ll replicate to two different machines or not.

I might reduce my home computers from three to two and get rid of all the external hard drives.  Since I’d run Windows Media Center on both of them, I might mirror my recorded shows to both machines, but this means maintaining 2 TB drives on both machines, and I’m not sure I like that.  I’m awful tempted to give up trying to save recorded video or even collecting DVDs.

If I succeed with using Dropbox as my Master Filing System and I get a new computer, it will be very easy to set up and start working.  Just install Dropbox client and my software.  Then create a backup folder and start replicating Dropbox files to it as the new primary backup.

Settling on Dropbox means my home files will be available at work, but also on my iPad and iPod touch or even any computer I sit down to use as long as it’s on the internet.  Let’s hope this works out.

JWH – 8/3/12