Review: Microsoft SkyDrive

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

SkyDrive, the name Microsoft has given to its 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, in online storage. Formally launched last month after a short beta run, the Test Center has taken a look at SkyDrive in the ever-expanding shadow of high-powered NAS, SAN and desktop storage solutions.

Microsoft bills SkyDrive this way: "Sharing with friends, co-workers, or family is easy when you all add and update files in a shared folder." Sharing personal, innocuous files with friends or family might make sense. But the potential of sharing files with co-workers leads to a number of questions.

The conclusion: Not only does the Test Center decline to recommend SkyDrive, it might actually be advisable for VARs to suggest their clients block network access to SkyDrive through content filters.

For now, think of SkyDrive as you would any mass-market, file-sharing service: something that is simply best left at home and kept out of the business.

Here is a breakdown:

Security: For companies with compliance concerns -- 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 that even a small business would seek to keep tabs on sensitive data. Microsoft needs to make a stronger security statement with online applications like SkyDrive (perhaps a free, ready and easy to use encryption function?) before even small businesses can think about warming up to it.

Capacity: At 5 GB of free storage, it's more than most USB thumb drives but much less than higher-capacity USB storage devices sold through the channel by companies like Seagate and Western Digital. And Western Digital's Passport drives, for example, are both mobile and offer encryption support. SkyDrive does have enough capacity to store big PowerPoint presentations or other multi-media files, though 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; that allows for interesting potential in marketing or online publishing solutions.

Interoperability: This is another area where SkyDrive impresses. In the 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: There are no central management capabilities. On an individual basis, users can create folders for specific file types, make those folders private, shared with a limited group or made fully public.

Performance: Eh. During testing, an upload of a 1.25 GB 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 GB 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.

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, though, keep this in mind as free, non-enterprise 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?

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