Is Dropbox the best cloud backup solution?
This is perhaps a question you hear more these days as our usage of the service seeps into more aspects of our life.
Certainly the convenience and accessibility of Dropbox makes it easy to get started and once you’re using it for copying / moving / sharing files, it’s easy to build on that for all sorts of use cases. But are we using it the right way? Are we creating a problem for ourselves? Is it secured and will it become clunky to use?
Cloud Storage Price Comparisons
Before we dive into Dropbox as a backup solution, it’s appropriate to first mention the many alternative and equivalent products. Because there are so many equivalents, I have only included a few for example in the table below.
A quick comparison of these services helps identify some differences that will be important to the discussion as it unfolds.
|10GB for web,
no limit for desktop
|10GB||5GB for paid||5TB|
|Free plan storage||2GB||5TB||10GB||15TB|
|Paid Plans||$10/mth/Tera Byte||$2/mth/50GB||$10/mth/100GB||$10/mth/TB|
How do technical characteristics of the service impact where a service is used?
Because Dropbox has been around for some time, it appears to of carved out a niche for itself. You could call it an opinion, preference or consumer perception, but whatever terms you care to use, when someone says to you “oh, send it to me through DropBox” you know what that means. It’s more than a brand now; it’s an urban term that describes a technique used worldwide every day.
This same function can of course be accomplished with any of the services, but hats off to Dropbox, they have worked hard to maintain that position.
Google Drive has the benefit of linking closely with the other Google applications and is therefore the go to solution if you’re intending to use Google Apps.
OneDrive was previously known as SkyDrive and is a Microsoft services and the obvious choice if you’re using Office 365. The service is built into Windows 8, 10 and is available for other Windows, Mac and the Android, iOS and Windows phones. OneDrives integration into the Microsoft ecosystem, Outlook and other services makes it integrate well with other services, be they Microsoft or otherwise.
iCloud would be the best choice for Apple only users, although OneDrive also claims to have equivalent capabilities.
Dropbox benefits for business users
Dropbox covers a lot of the immediate needs for business user’s right out of the box, for example.
- Its very easy to sync files across multiple locations
- Get your photos from your phone to your PC (Ever needed to take a photo and then try to copy to your PC. No need for thumb drives, network shares or additional logins. Just shoot and share with your DropBox and in a few minutes your photo is in a folder on your PC)
- Sharing a file or folder with a colleague? No need to give them access to your entire system, just send a link by email.
- File too large to send by email? just copy to a Dropbox folder and share the link
- Working at home? Backup you files and they are ready for you when you get to the office
Things that can go wrong using Dropbox for Business
A local businessman shared his story with me about his recent experience with a Ransomeware virus. His company used Dropbox as the network storage for all staff working from the office or home. The facility was of tremendous help synchronizing files across locations and with people working in different time zones, they had been using it for over 12 months. One of the great things about Dropbox is that it syncs all those changes to all other locations efficiently. He was even able to share folders with selected users or partners. Trouble struck when one of his computers contracted the Ransomware virus. By the next morning all copies of all files on all systems were lost.
Fortunately some files were still found on PC's that had not been turned on and quick thinking staff phoned around to warn colleagues. But, in the end sorting out which file to keep and which to recover from backup was too tedious, so the archives were restored and lost information just had to be recovered manually.
The Dropbox team were quite willing to help and rolled back files, but it took months to recover current working documents and some older files just had to be abandoned for lack of time.
Lesson Learned: Dropbox file sync is best used to sync the files of an individual only. Processes need to be in place to:
- Check in / out files and folders to / from the company storage network.
- Specific Dropbox folders should auto sync to a folder on the company network that functions as an arrival / departure lounge for each persons drop box instance
- Backup (not file sync) of this Arrival / Departure lounge should be automated, regular and managed as closely as the rest of the companies digital assets
Woops I forgot to copy
Another business owner relayed to me a dilemma she strikes working with her creative teams. The designers use Mac computers to produce design concepts which can be in the form of a folder, a series of images, documents. In most cases there is more than one idea from which they choose the best to present to their client.
After the project only the best and the selected concepts are retained and some of the rejected ideas in files and folders are deleted. The designers do not as a general rule backup clutter, which will never be used again and has to be sorted through by busy people trying to meet publishing deadlines. Worst still the client could sign off on one concept and the wrong concept is sent to print!
Trouble strikes when the publishing deadline arrives and no one can find the proof, which is sitting one the PC of a person already on board a plan to Singapore.
Lesson Learned: Processes should be in place to:
- Check in / Out, auto sync and backup as indicated above in Example 1
- Arrival and Departure lounge folders are there so Dropbox users don’t need to immediately decide if the files will remain or be deleted. Files stay there and are replicated across all locations until it’s time to place them in a more permanent position or remove them
- Without staff needing to hand over their Dropbox password, a company folder in their account can be automatically synchronized from the cloud into a folder within the company network
I didn’t do it because I don’t understand the way you set up the Dropbox folders
A third example was a start up firm that began using Dropbox as their only file storage for staff. The founder set up folders in a structure that helped him as a founder perform his role. As his business grew new staff attempted to work with the folders he used. It quickly became evident files needed to be reorganized into a structure that allowed specific files/folders to be accessed by those people with the appropriate job function, role or permissions.
So a patchwork of folders with duplicate content, deleted content, renamed files and folders ensued. Index and catalogs documents emerged to help people find the file or folder they were looking for. It was a mess in no time!
Lesson learned: Let individuals organize Dropbox folders on their PC so it makes sense to them for their personal/professional needs. Then organize the company network separately using shared folders in a way that makes sense for the business and is a reflection of the way the firm works.
Is there such a thing as DropBox Best Practice?
What are the implications of using Dropbox as the production tool, there must be a way to gain all the benefits and manage digital assets?
Are there other gotcha’s to using any of these Cloud services?
- Is it Safe?
- Could I lose access at critical times?
- Is it reliable?
To get an Answer: You need to ask the right question
What roles and functions does Dropbox provide that benefit a persons work / private environment?
We recently sent out a quick survey to test opinions which produced some interesting experiences worth discussing.
|Benefits of using Dropbox||Agree||Disagree||Uncertain|
|Convenience is it's key||94%||6%|
|Easy to implement and manage||100%|
|I can have any folder structure I like||100%|
|Important to me that it's files sync across my devices quickly||100%|
|Drawbacks of Dropbox||Agree||Disagree||Uncertain|
|Does not replicate large files well||60%||40%|
|Sometimes files placed on one system don’t get synced to specific PC's under my account||20%||80%|
|Copy files to / from company and other networks troublesome / error prone||90%||2%||8%|
|If a file is changed in two locations, it can be corrupted||10%||90%|
Some of the top advice from seasoned Dropbox users is
- Remember to login to the web console and educate yourself on what the settings do, otherwise your operating under the assumption it will work in a certain way, which may not be the case.
- Use another device for backup of large files.
One user mentioned he tried to send 4 2GB movie files to a colleague via Dropbox.
After 3 days of waiting for transfer he put them on a thumb drive and sent by post.
Why you ask?
His internet connection was ADSL+ and that provides less than 800kbps upload
Screen shot of typical Dropbox folder usage
Putting all this together
People use Dropbox because it’s a reliable way to get your information distributed across all the locations / devices you access information from. It plays well with other Cloud services so you can share information from one Cloud application to another.
The makers of Dropbox probably never envisaged it becoming a replacement for the shared networks used by most businesses today, but people like to use Dropbox for both their private and professional lives. Dropbox will always be used in a way that makes sense for the individual’s personal / private purposes. It works well because the individual can change, rename, and restructure their personal storage in a way that makes sense to them at that time. Company networks are more rigid and organized in a way that helps the business run smoothly.
Asking staff to set up specific arrival/departure lounge folders in their Dropbox structure that sync to the company servers is the best way to give everyone what they want and ensure the company’s digital assets are protected.
Every day we use our technology to simplify multiple aspects of our lives.
Simply put there is a way to combine the requirements of all and make everyone happy;
Dropbox users need:
- Flexible folder structure the individual can change at will
- They don’t want private folders copied onto the company network
- Don’t want unnecessary company folders using up their available Dropbox storage allocation
- Company folders don’t need to be copied to a persons Dropbox unless they are ready to work with them
- All files and folders related to company business should be replicated in the company network, in the correct file / folder or storage unit for the type of content
- A simple set of Arrival / Departure lounge folders is used to store files that are Work In progress for individuals and teams. When the work is complete the files should be moved to the correct location in the company network and any unused files remove from the Arrival / Departure lounge folders.
- All files in the Arrival / Departure lunge folders should be synchronized to an equivalent folder on the company network.
- Companies should backup these Arrival / Departure lounge folders using scheduled backup where that keeps copies of the work at specific points in time, so in the case of a virus the uninfected files can be recalled from a few days / weeks prior.
What about the other storage services
The same techniques and practices can be applied to all storage services. Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and others all have services that sync with a local PC, mobile devices and can be access through a browser. However with so many possible services, each with their own unique features it’s likely your teams will be using more that one cloud storage service. Managing the API’s, user credentials, storage and backup regimes can become a major activity for your IT teams to manage.
The answer is to use smart NAS to automate the process.
Using a NAS to automate
The simplest way to manage this multi-vendor Private/Hybrid cloud environment is with a smart NAS (Network Access Storage device). The latest breed of smart NAS devices like those manufactured by QNAP or Synology come with all the technologies available at no extra cost.
For example: You can buy a QNAP NAS fully configured for a business environment from the specialist NAS provider smikbox. This smart NAS device is delivered with the essential technologies included and all the partitioning, scheduling and replication programs ready to use for a modern multi-vendor cloud service environment.
A typical business NAS is quite different to a simple Direct Access Storage drive (DAS) you might attach to the network or using USB because it would feature:
- Extendable RAID storage arrays with high speed SATA SSD drive technologies
- High speed 1GB, 10GB and 40 GB internal networking capabilities
- Automated backup, Real Time Remote Replication and snapshot technologies
- Dropbox folder synchronization to/from the NAS to backup the company folders of an individuals Dropbox folder structure.
- Management of storage of multiple cloud storage providers. For example Google Drive, Amazon S3, OwnCloud, Box, Qsync and One Drive can also be automatically synchronized to the NAS and managed in the same way as Dropbox.
- Office to Office multi-site automated sync and replication
- User access management including DNS services, Active Directory
- Private / Hybrid company Cloud platform with highly secure VPN between locations
- Virtualization for multiple Windows server, Windows PC, Linux and Android machines
- Docker application container and MS micro services
- Suitable technical specifications for example: high speed memory, CPU, cache, S2 accelerator, Graphics card, 1GB, 10GB and/or Thunderbolt 40GB networking.
Sound expensive? Well its not!
Mid range business NAS will set you back about the same amount as a high end PC and you will get a lot more grunt per dollar with a NAS!
Even when you are already using Dropbox or other Cloud storage services, you may be able to make use of.