If you’re reading this, then most probably it is because you’ve been looking at ways of consolidating all that data you’ve been accumulating over the years and are now trying to neatly organize and be able to access it from numerous devices. Preferably both when at home or on the go.
OneDrive can provide just that plus a lot more. Sure enough, it is not the only cloud storage solution out there that can achieve the task at hand, but it is the most versatile, cross-platform friendly and easy-to-integrate product that I have come across so far in my experience.
What is Microsoft OneDrive?
Microsoft OneDrive is a cloud-based backup and syncing service. And I want to emphasize the syncing portion of it in this article, as that’s where most users get confused about how OneDrive operates.
You may say ‘I already have OneDrive’. Yes, the tool is free and comes preinstalled on all Windows 10 and 11 versions. However, the tool only manipulates the data, it does not guarantee available storage on the cloud.
Microsoft will provide 5GB of free storage to any user that signs up for a free Microsoft account. That amount of storage can be enough to backup some very important documents like tax information or some word documents and pdf files. But if you want to backup pictures and videos, then you will need to subscribe to one of Microsoft’s 365 plans.
What Are the Advantages of OneDrive?
Have you accumulated a lot of documents and pictures over the years and would like a better way to keep them organized and accessible from more than one device? Or maybe your phone’s storage is quickly filling up due to the number of pictures taken regularly? Would you also like to have access to these photos from other devices in your household and even when you’re away? Looking for an easy way to securely share data with friends, family or coworkers? All that is what OneDrive is good at.
Access Files From Anywhere, Anytime
Because your data is not stored somewhere locally, like on a storage device in your household, but rather on the cloud, your data will be available from any device, as long as you’re connected to the internet.
No more taking that external backup drive with you on vacation, or forgetting some important documents at home when you go on a work trip. It is all at your fingertips and any modifications you make to these documents while away, will reflect on all other devices when you return home.
One very important thing to mention is that you will want to have a reliable internet connection in order to access your data, especially if you’re working on large files like photography. If you’re going to a location where you know the internet connection isn’t reliable, it’s best to make sure the data in one drive is synced to your computer beforehand.
When you place folders under your OneDrive, you will start seeing a ‘status’ icon next to each item. The status of an item will tell you if it is currently syncing, if it resides on the cloud only, or if you have a copy of it that will stay on your computer at all times. There are other statuses like sharing status, not syncing or paused syncing. To make sure you have a copy of your data stored locally at all times, right-click on it and select ‘Always keep on this device’. We will get into more detail about data ‘status’ and selective sync later on.
File Syncing For Collaborative Work
If you’re like me and need to share documents or folders on a regular basis with other colleagues or contractors, then know it’s never been easier. You can have one folder for each contractor or colleague that you need to share work data with.
Say you have a folder ‘Ralph_Accountant’ that we want to share with Ralph. This folder contains a few excel spreadsheets in which you input data daily. Ralph needs to be able to manipulate these documents, edit them and eventually create new ones. Simply right-click on that folder, click ‘OneDrive’ – ‘Share’ and you’ll be presented with a screen where you can either type Ralph’s email address and hit send, or copy the link to your clipboard and send it to Ralph through a different preferred method, like Zoom or Teams for example.
Once the folder has been shared with Ralph, any modifications you or Ralph are making to any document within this folder will reflect both on your and Ralph’s end. That’s a feature of OneDrive called ‘Collaboration’, which makes it extremely easy for two or more people to work on the same document either at different times or concurrently, using their own device.
Need Jenn to be able to see what you and Ralph are working on but you don’t want her to alter these files? You may also want to avoid her saving this data to her computer. You can follow the same sharing procedure, except you would click on ‘Link settings’ prior to sending out the invite. In the link settings pop-up just select these options according to your preference, and then send the link to Jenn.
The same procedure as above applies to individual files, not just folders. I just like to use folders as it is easier to stay organized by easily adding and removing data from within these folders, which will inherit permissions from the parent folder. That means Ralph will have access to any new documents created within the folder we already shared with him.
Secure File Storage
The main concern users face when deciding if they should backup their data to the cloud, is security. And this is for good reason. We feel in control when the data is with us. However, be it on the cloud or locally stored, your data is just as secure as you make it. An attacker steals or encrypts data ‘remotely’. So unless you’re extremely technically inclined and have a hardware firewall properly set up at your residence or office, as well as a very robust email security system in place, then I would say Microsoft is doing a better job than you at securing data.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your part. You should always use strong passwords that you’re not using with other accounts, enable two-factor authentication on your Microsoft account, and also take all other precautionary measures on your system as you would normally do. That means having a good antivirus installed, not clicking on suspicious links within your emails, and password-protecting your computer.
What Microsoft is doing to secure your data is making sure it is encrypted both when at rest as well as in transit, with a 256-bit key. They also have malware and ransomware protection implemented. File version history is also enabled by default on all accounts and file types, which means that even if your data would be affected by ransom, you may still be able to restore it. That all depends on the type of ransomware though, as some can encrypt all previous versions of your files.
Access From Any Device
You can connect OneDrive to Windows systems, Apple mac devices, Android phones, iPhones, iPads, and even Chromebooks. Remember I was saying it is cross-platform friendly? And since you can connect any device to OneDrive, that means OneDrive can upload that device’s data to the cloud, and any of those devices signed into OneDrive can access it.
One major benefit when it comes to mobile devices is OneDrive’s ability to automatically upload any photos or videos from your phone. Not only can you upload all those phone photos and videos to the cloud making them available from your laptop or iMac, but OneDrive can also automatically free up space when your mobile device fills up by automatically deleting data that had been already uploaded.
Easy Set Up
On Windows systems, you will find the OneDrive icon in the lower right corner, by the clock. You may have to click the upwards pointing arrow to unhide it. Right-click on it and click ‘Sign in’. Enter your Microsoft 365 credentials, under which you bought a 365 subscription, and follow the short wizard which will help you automatically start backing up and syncing your libraries.
On mobile devices like phones or iPads, you will need to head over to the Play Store, or App Store and download the OneDrive App. Once downloaded, sign in with your Microsoft credentials and allow access to your files. Optionally, enable camera upload so that OneDrive can upload all your photos and videos. Once your device runs out of storage, OneDrive will notify you and ask for permission to remove photos and videos that had been already uploaded to the cloud from your device.
Local Storage Management with Selective Sync and Files On-Demand
There’s an increasing number of devices with very limited storage on the market due to the high cost of a newer and faster storage technology called nVME. Due to that, a laptop with only 256 GB of disk space will fill up very quickly. OneDrive can aid in overcoming this storage issue with ‘Files On-Demand’ and ‘Selective Sync’.
Selective Sync comes in handy when you have specific folders in OneDrive that you don’t want on your computer at all. These folders typically represent data that the user doesn’t need access to on a regular basis, but rather just wants it preserved on the cloud. ‘Files On-Demand’ is a feature that is enabled by default and is imperative to understand how it operates.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I would like to focus on the syncing part of OneDrive. Let’s consider this common scenario. You own a laptop with 256GB of storage connected to OneDrive, and a phone that you constantly take pictures and videos with, which are also uploaded to OneDrive. Since OneDrive is a backup and syncing service it will collect this data but also want to ‘push’ it back to both of your devices so they stay in sync. This would cause your laptop to run out of storage pretty quickly, if ‘Files On-Demand’ feature would not be there to save the day.
Files On-Demand can automatically remove specific files and folders from your device in order to free up space. Unlike ‘Selective Sync’ it will leave a ‘shortcut’ or ‘placeholder’ of the folder on your computer, so you can still easily access it when connected to the internet. Files On-Demand kicks in automatically when disk space issues occur, but can also be controlled by the user with options like ‘Free up space’ and ‘Always keep on this device’.
Controlling which data you want to keep locally at all times and which one is ok for OneDrive to remove from your device and leave only on the cloud is easy. If you’d like to save up space, simply right-click a folder with a green tick or solid green next to it and select ‘Free up space’. OneDrive will only leave a shortcut to it on your device and that data will be available to you only when connected to the internet. On the other hand, if you know you’ll be away, without an internet connection and that you’ll need specific folders access, select those folders with a cloud icon or green tick next to them, right-click and select ‘Always keep on this device’.
I place a lot of emphasis on understanding the ‘status’ icon for files and folders in OneDrive since it impacts the way sync will operate. Cloud icon means the data resides on the cloud only and that you’ll only have access to it if connected to the internet. Solid green with a checkmark means Files On-Demand automated sync will never remove it from your device unless you explicitly ask for it by performing a ‘Free up space’ action. A green tick means that data is available even when offline, however, it may get automatically removed from your system, if disk pressure is encountered or if ‘Storage Sense’ on Windows is turned on.
Above, I have described a process that very few articles on the internet explain. A lot of people are still confused about the difference between solid green and green tick and it can cause a lot of issues if not properly understood. To put it simply, solid green means no matter how long you’ll be offline, that data will not get removed from your system, but a tick green can be controlled by Microsoft and eventually automatically be removed from the device only if disk space is needed.
What Are the Disadvantages of OneDrive?
There are a few disadvantages to using OneDrive as well. It requires a slight learning curve, a decent internet connection and a monthly subscription. It can also raise privacy issues, but the worst is, when not properly used or configured, it could lead to data not being backed up at all.
You can sign into OneDrive and forget about it as it will do most of the work on its own. However, not understanding how it works can eventually lead to frustrations over the decisions OneDrive makes when you’re not controlling it. As seen above, a folder with a cloud icon next to it may lead an uneducated user to believe it exists on their system, when in fact it only resides on the cloud and can only be accessed if connected to the internet.
That can cause data access issues for this user when going away for a month to a remote area without an internet connection. To avoid this, they can simply right-click on the desired folder(s) and select ‘Always keep on this device’ prior to disconnecting from the internet. This action can always be reverted to ‘Free up space’ after their return if needed.
User error happens. And a good example is deleting data. You may delete a folder on your computer thinking it will stay on the cloud since it was ‘backed up’ to OneDrive. But let’s not forget OneDrive is also a ‘syncing’ service. So when you delete a folder from within OneDrive on your computer, it will also be removed from OneDrive on the cloud as well as from all other devices that are connected and syncing with OneDrive.
If you deleted OneDrive data, you can still recover it within 30 days from deletion, by accessing OneDrive recycle bin on the cloud. Open up a browser like Chrome or Edge, type in office365.com and login with your Microsoft account. Click the nine-dotted icon and select OneDrive. Once in OneDrive on the cloud, go to ‘Recycle bin’ on the left pane, and you should see all data that had been removed in the past 30 days. Simply select the data that you want to be recovered and click ‘Restore’.
Mistaken For a Backup
A backup is not a backup unless data resides in more than one location. Making a copy of your data to a different location and subsequently removing it from the initial location, is simply moving data in two steps and not actually backing it up. This happens often and sometimes even without the user’s knowledge. In OneDrive’s case, ‘Files On-Demand’ may remove data from the local device, leaving it eventually only on the cloud, unless it was previously synced to a secondary device with more available storage.
To avoid this scenario, you need to either completely disable the ‘Files On-Demand’ option on your system, or diligently use the ‘Always keep on this device’ feature that is part of ‘Files On-Demand’ mechanism.
OneDrive doesn’t come alone, it comes as a bundle in the form of a Microsoft 365 subscription. Within this subscription, you get access to the Office suite products, like Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook, as well as cloud storage. There are two flavours available for home users, Microsoft 365 Personal and Microsoft 365 Family.
Microsoft 365 Personal costs $79 CAD per year with 1TB of storage available for one person with up to 5 devices, and $109 CAD for Microsoft 365 Family, which gives access to Office suite to 6 members and 30 devices, with 1TB of storage available per family member.
With the evolution of the internet and the number of security threats out there, skepticism can be at its highest for a customer debating if they should keep their data on the cloud. We can’t make that decision for you, but we can summarize the actions Microsoft is taking to secure your data from others, as well as inform you of their policies when it comes to them accessing your data.
Microsoft implements ransomware detection and suspicious activity monitoring for OneDrive data. Your data is also encrypted at all times. When at rest, each file is encrypted with a unique AES256 key and all these unique keys are in turn encrypted with a set of master security keys. When in transit from the client to Microsoft or between Microsoft’s data centers, it is encrypted using transport layer security (TLS).
With these security measures in place, theoretically, no one should have access to your data. But since all these keys we mentioned above are stored on Microsoft servers, you may wonder what stops Microsoft itself from accessing your data. Well, Microsoft 365 is compliant with The Canadian Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Data Processing Agreements Federal Information Security Management Act and ISO 270001. These standards stop them from accessing your data, except for when a search warrant under the Criminal Code of Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service act is issued.
However, 85% of data breaches happen due to user error. So as we stated before, your data on the cloud is just as secure as you make it. Remember to use a strong password that you don’t use with other accounts, enable dual-factor authentication, use proper security protection on your system and be careful who you share your data with.
Should You Choose OneDrive Over Its Competitors?
Truth be told, it really depends on what types of devices you use in your household, the amount of storage needed and whether or not you need access to the Microsoft Office suite. If you’re using all Apple, iCloud would be a better option for you. If you use mainly Windows and Android, or even a mix of Windows and Apple, then One Drive plays better in a cross-platform environment than iCloud. If you need only up to 200 GB of storage and cost is your biggest concern, then maybe Google One would suit you better.
Overall, OneDrive is a great way to backup and sync your data while also ensuring access to it from anywhere in the world, as long as you’re connected to the internet. It also facilitates and simplifies data sharing with others, making it easy to collaborate with people on personal as well as work data.
While OneDrive can be a set-and-forget type of service, having a deeper understanding of how it works and integrates with the rest of Microsoft 365 products is important in order to avoid frustration down the road.
EezIT’s computer technicians have helped hundreds of customers set up Microsoft 365, and could surely help you properly set it up the first time around and provide guidance on its usage and functionality. Contact us for more information or to book an appointment today.