Not Safe For Work


On Microsoft's SkyDrive, the CRN Test Center isn't holding its breath


With Microsoft Corp.'s aggressive strategy to build out its Software-as-a-Service capability to online storage—even as physical, hardware-based storage remains ubiquitous and competitive—some businesses may find it tempting to allow employees and workgroups to jump into Microsoft's SkyDrive for some limited purpose.

SkyDrive, Microsoft's Office Live storage arm, is a free, Web-based service that is loosely integrated with some Office applications and, because of how it's organized, outflanks its biggest rival, Google Inc., in online storage. The Test Center has taken a look at SkyDrive, formally launched last month after a short beta run, in the ever-expanding shadow of high-powered NAS, SAN and desktop storage solutions.

Microsoft says of SkyDrive, "Sharing with friends, co-workers or family is easy when you all add and update files in a shared folder." Sharing personal files with friends or family might make sense, but doing so with co-workers is questionable.

After extensive review, not only does the CRN Test Center not recommend SkyDrive, but it would also be advisable for VARs to suggest their clients block its access through content filters.

For now, as with any mass-market, file-sharing service, SkyDrive is something that's best left at home and kept out of the business. These are SkyDrive's components:

Security
For companies with compliance concerns—such as HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley or Payment Card Industry—it's difficult to see how SkyDrive could create anything other than a headache. While SkyDrive is SSL- and password-protected (although it allows simultaneous sign-ons with the same ID across multiple systems), it lacks other control features. Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., needs to make a stronger security statement with online applications like SkyDrive before even small businesses can warm up to it.

Capacity
At 5 Gbytes of free storage, SkyDrive has more than most USB thumb drives but much less than higher-capacity USB storage devices sold through the channel by companies like Seagate Technology LLC, Scotts Valley, Calif., and Western Digital Technologies Inc., Lake Forest, Calif. SkyDrive does have enough capacity to store big PowerPoint presentations or other multimedia files, although it's not really big enough to act as a personal file warehouse.

Collaboration
This is one of two areas where SkyDrive is impressive. The service allows creation of shared folders on the fly, which could be a help in a dynamic workgroup scenario. SkyDrive also allows creation of public folders, where content can be shared with everyone on the Internet.

Interoperability
This is the other area where SkyDrive impresses. In the CRN Test Center, a Word 2003 document uploaded to SkyDrive on a Windows Vista-based PC was easily shared, downloaded and viewed in OpenOffice 2.3 Writer on a virtual PC running Ubuntu Linux. It's actually easier to share documents, cross-platform, via SkyDrive than it is via Word in Microsoft's heralded Office Live online service.

Management
SkyDrive has no central management capabilities. On an individual basis, users can create folders for specific file types and make those folders private, shared with a limited group or fully public.

Performance
During testing, an upload of a 1.25-Gbyte movie file took more than a half hour with slightly more than 7 Mbps of bandwidth. (Actually, testing was halted at 30 minutes even before the file had successfully uploaded.) Transferring that same file from the PC's hard drive to a Western Digital Passport, USB-connected drive, with 160 Gbytes of capacity, took one minute and 45 seconds. So even if a content filter isn't deployed to halt the use of SkyDrive in an enterprise, Microsoft's own performance might have the same effect.

Overall, Microsoft does a better job of streamlining and organizing online storage than Google, which makes 6-plus Gbytes of storage available in its Gmail service and Picasa Web-based photo album services, and unlimited text storage in Google Docs, but offers no "storage" app as a standalone.

But Microsoft still falls short of the robust, more secure offering of Box.net, which also provides the capability of integrating third-party applications with its storage and collaboration service.

As a VAR, if you have a client that is going to readily opt for freebie, low-performance, low-security storage like SkyDrive, you probably don't have high hopes for that client.

For now, keep the following in mind as free, nonenterprise online storage proliferates and some begin to think it's a good idea: Is the marginal benefit to even a small business even worth the risk?