Microsoft OneDrive for Business is Microsoft’s business-focused cloud storage and file sharing solution and competes with Google Drive Enterprise, Dropbox Business, and other professional-focused solutions. OneDrive for Business begins at $5 per user per month on a yearly plan, includes one terabyte (TB) of storage, the ability to store files of up to 15 GB in size, share files securely inside and outside an organization, and the ability to sync local copies of files or folders for offline viewing. It is an ideal companion for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) already invested in Microsoft solutions like Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Teams, OneDrive for Business is also versatile enough to be used as standalone cloud storage and file sharing solution.
Its ubiquity makes it a viable choice regardless of what operating system (OS) or productivity solutions have been chosen by a business. New features for 2019 include increased collaboration functionality, artificial intelligence (AI) that helps organize files, folders, and projects, and increased security and governance options.
Microsoft OneDrive can be combined with Microsoft Office 365 for highly-integrated productivity, collaboration, and sharing toolset that offers seamless access to the most popular tools on PCs, mobile devices, and on the cloud. It can also be used as a standalone solution.
OneDrive for Business has evolved into a more robust solution that leverages Microsoft’s cloud technology. OneDrive for Business can now view over 270 file types ranging from Microsoft’s own Office files to more complex multi-layer Autodesk CAD or AutoCAD files. For businesses that may not be Microsoft-reliant, or who need a solution that can mix cloud and on-premises storage solutions might do better with our other Editors’ Choice selection Egnyte Business which has a number of apps that tie the storage, sharing, and collaboration chops into the desktop OS by assigning structured folders accessible via the desktop.
Pricing and Tiers
OneDrive for Business starts at $5 per user per month on an annual commitment for the Business Plan 1 tier. Featuring OneDrive without Office apps, one terabyte of storage, the ability to store files of up to 15 GB in size, share files securely inside and outside an organization, and the ability to sync local copies of files or folders for offline viewing. The OneDrive for Business Plan 1 allows a user to create and edit Microsoft Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, and Excel documents from within a browser at Office.com. This means access to most of the features and functionality of Office 365 regardless of what device or operating system is being used.
OneDrive for Business’ superpower is its rock-solid desktop synchronization, which now and includes the built-in search and discovery tools that help users find the most relevant apps, this includes recently opened files, folders and most collaborated-on items, and tagged documents and files.
The OneDrive for Business Plan 2 costs $10 per user per month on an annual commitment. This tier is for OneDrive, still without Office apps, and includes unlimited cloud storage (for qualifying plans of five or more users), it features advanced data-loss prevention to identify, monitor, and protect sensitive information.
The final tier is actually Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium plan and costs $12.50 per user per month for an annual commitment and with a maximum 300 user limit. One license will cover five PCs or Macs, five phones, and five tablets per user. This tier is centered on Microsoft Office 365 as well as the OneDrive for Business Plan 1 options but adds a broad scope of features and functionalities.
Office 365 Business Premium is geared towards SMB’s and has access to desktop and web versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Access (PC Only), Publisher (only on PC). It also integrates services like Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Yammer, and Microsoft Teams. This tier comes with SharePoint intranet, business-class email hosting with a 50 GB mailbox, and custom email domain addresses.
Also included in Office 365 Business Premium are a host of collaborative features including a hub for teamwork with Microsoft Teams, the ability to host unlimited HD video conferencing meetings for up to 250 people (note: this requires HD calling hardware and a broadband connection capable of at least 4 Mbps). Office 365 Business Premium is an attractive Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) for businesses requiring all the additional sharing, productivity, teamwork, and PC and mobile access. But, for SMBs that aren’t anchored to Microsoft solutions, or who don’t require the Office 365, Exchange, and SharePoint might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of included solutions. Microsoft has made Office 365 Business Premium a compelling option because of the range of solutions and services it includes.
Setting Up OneDrive for Business
From within an Office 365 home screen, I was able to access OneDrive for Business from within Microsoft Teams. The OneDrive user interface (UI) is surprisingly spartan, but easy to figure out from the get-go. A blue banner at the very top of the page features access to the app launcher (which invokes the other Microsoft Apps). On the right-hand side of this blue bar, you get a bell icon for notifications, a gear icon for settings, and a question mark for Help. The user’s initials appear on a circular icon which brings up their account information as well as a link to Sign Out of OneDrive.
The left side is populated by a navigation bar that has a conveniently positioned Search Everything search box. Below this are icons for Files, Recent, Shared, and Recycle Bin. Any shared libraries will also appear below this. The center of the screen will change depending on what subsection you have chosen.
Files, which is where most users will spend their time, has a dynamic menu that changes when you click on a folder or a file. This is where you can start a new Folder or create a Word Document, Excel Spreadsheet, PowerPoint presentation, OneNote notebook, Form for Excel, or a website hyperlink. Choosing a new Microsoft Office document fires up the web version of Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, which is populated in a separate browser page or tab.
Other options in this horizontal menu are Upload, Share, Copy Link, Sync, Download, Flow and there are also some toggles on the extreme right for organizing and sorting the files. Microsoft has built-in a colorful illustrated wizard that prompts new users to explore the functionality. I had to Sign in to my account, upload some files and was also given the option to download the mobile OneDrive app, set up OneDrive on my PC or share documents or entire folders.
As a Windows 10 user familiar with Microsoft’s design language and user experience, navigating around OneDrive for Businesses’ UI felt like a natural extension of the OS. Granted, I was working on a browser window and not a folder on my desktop; it was quite seamless to copy various files over by dragging and dropping them into the browser window or using the menu to upload files. One of the best features of OneDrive for Business is how it updates the status of certain files and folders in real-time. At a glance, it is easy to see when the file was last modified and by whom, as well as the file size and whether it is a private or shared file. This helps mitigate any ambiguity as to a file’s status and when it was last accessed or worked on. It may seem like a minor feature, but being able to see the file history and collaboration information at a glance saves you a lot of time.
All the files you upload on to OneDrive for Business are private and secure by default. Right-clicking on a file invokes a menu with various options for sharing the file with internal or external collaborators. There’s also a shortcut for connecting to Microsoft Flow, which is an automation solution that simplifies the creation of workflows between your apps and enables on-the-fly sending of notifications, file synchronizations, and data collection.
Upon signing in for the first time, you’re prompted to sync all of your files into Microsoft OneDrive for Business. If you have many gigabytes of files (and who doesn’t), then you’re encouraged to use the desktop client. You can also upload individual files and folders and invite others to them. To share files and folders, you can either get a public link or input email addresses or names of anyone who has already been invited to your account. Then, you can choose whether to require sign-in and whether or not to send an email invite. This means you can share documents freely with external users. Permissions are limited to view or edit. From this pop-up window, you can also see with whom you’ve already shared a document or folder and stop sharing.
The Known Folder Move (KFM) for OneDrive feature allows a single button to transfer content from the Desktop, Documents, and Pictures folders to OneDrive. Known folders are pointers that let you transfer docs, desktop, and pictures into OneDrive.
Working With Various File Types in the Cloud
One of the big updates to OneDrive for Business is a large number of file formats it can work with right from the cloud. Anyone who has had to download a large file just to view it, or worse, fire up a specific desktop program just to check information, will appreciate what OneDrive for Business can handle right from the get-go.
I uploaded a variety of common and not so common file formats to my OneDrive for a Business folder to see how effective OneDrive was at letting me preview and open files. For native Microsoft file formats like .docx and .xlsx, the files opened up instantaneously, almost as if they were on my desktop. Opening an Adobe PDF file took slightly longer.
OneDrive for Business surprised me by being able to playback various video file formats right from the cloud with no issue. Microsoft says OneDrive for Business will allow the previewing of medical x-rays which is a big feature for healthcare providers, it will also be able to view multi-layer Autodesk and AutoCAD files. Being able to preview or open various file types from within OneDrive for Business is quite a powerful feature in itself. OneDrive adds functionality by sharing files both as attachments or secure cloud links, the capability to leave comments on files (which in turn trigger notifications with collaborators).
Google Drive Enterprise has viewing support for around 60+ file types, not as comprehensive as OneDrive for Business, and most of these files will need to be downloaded and accessed by a desktop app. This gives OneDrive for Business a clear advantage in general interoperability when it comes to working with a variety of file formats.
For businesses that deal with a lot of file types like design and creative studios, OneDrive for Business is unparalleled in its handling and management of various file types in the cloud.
Smart Document Sharing and Collaboration
Though Microsoft OneDrive for Business shares a lot of similarities with Drive Enterprise by Google, Microsoft doesn’t recommend OneDrive for Business as a sharing platform. Instead, it points to team sites, hosted by Microsoft SharePoint Online, which offers a shared dashboard. Still, Microsoft OneDrive for Business can be used much like Google Drive for Work to share, edit, and comment on files with colleagues. You can share folders and files on an ad-hoc basis and use online Microsoft Office programs to collaborate. It’s up to you if you want to use both products together (Office 365 includes one team site) or not.
If you sync your Microsoft OneDrive for Business files with the desktop app, then you can access them even when offline, which is handy for travelers. You can also access your documents by using mobile apps for Chrome OS, Android, and iOS.
Microsoft offers a huge library of help content, including how-to information and troubleshooting. It can sometimes be confusing since there are always multiple versions of the OS and its software, so you have to keep that in mind when you search. There’s also an online community where you can ask questions of other users and moderators. You can also ask questions via a virtual assistant but that simply pulls up search results. If you purchase Microsoft OneDrive for Business as part of Office 365 for Business, then you get 24/7 phone support. You can also create a support ticket or tweet questions to @MicrosoftHelps.
Integration and Security
OneDrive for Business has a good selection of readily available integrations with popular web services. Those are good, but as you’d expect, where OneDrive shines is in its depth of integration with other Microsoft products (notably Office 365), the Office Online series of back-end services including SharePoint Online, as well as the desktop suite of Office 2016 products. As of 2015, there has also been a special OneDrive for Business application programming interface (API). Like most web integration APIs, it’s based on REST and fits very well into any Microsoft-centric business. While the number of existing product integrations is rudimentary now, there is a lot of potential for new development. That should be exciting for companies that have a significant stake in using SharePoint and Microsoft Office products in general, and with Microsoft’s huge partner ecosystem, you can expect to see a growing number of value-add integrations becoming available over time.
Surprisingly, given its massive investment in global data centers with advanced security capabilities, Microsoft does not guarantee that OneDrive for Business is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), though Microsoft indicated this is primarily because there’s no known certification for HIPAA compliance. It does point out that the product has undergone audits to ensure compliance with ISO 27001 and that it will sign a HIPAA Business Associate agreement. But this in no way guarantees HIPAA compliance in your organization—that will be between you and your auditor. On the plus side, all data is encrypted to and from client to server via SSL. Data at rest is encrypted using AES 256-bit encryption keys that are stored in the associated SharePoint Content Database. Because the keys are stored under the control of Microsoft, access to data is possible, but strictly controlled via a lockbox system that allows administrators to gain audited access to the data for a short period for troubleshooting purposes.
One major advantage that OneDrive for Business has is the native integration with Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD) service and this extends to it cloud-based counterpart, Azure Active Directory as well. While AD is the only Single Sign-On (SSO) option right now, that’s not too bad a ding since AD is, by far, the most commonly used business-grade identity management and SSO platform. There is also a native two-step authentication feature that can be enabled or disabled from account settings, so you can add an extra layer of security if that suits you.
Simple File Sharing, Big Storage
Microsoft OneDrive for Business offers a lot of cloud storage per user (1 TB or 5 TB, depending on the plan). But it works best when integrated with Microsoft Office 365, which includes online and desktop versions of Microsoft productivity software as well as Microsoft SharePoint Online, which enables sharing documents and collaborating with a team. For its general versatility, improved handling of various file types, and powerful collaboration, file-tracking, and sharing functionality, Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business earns our Editors’ Choice designation for Business Cloud Storage solution, companies seeking a more robust file sharing and security option should look at Egnyte Business, our second Editors’ Choice pick which features enhanced enterprise-grade security and file-sharing options.