Options for storage and sharing of files and folders

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Comparison of Network Drives (H: and i:), Sharepoint and Strathcloud

As a user at Strathclyde, you have a number of options, when it comes to deciding where to store your files, including :

Here, we compare these three systems, to help you select the best tool for your needs.  You may prefer to choose just one system, and then keep all your data in one place.  Or, you may prefer to spread your data across more than one system, depending on the type of data being used.

(Note, the information here is mainly targetted at staff and PGR's, and is mainly targetted at files which you are working on, or may want to change in the future.  If you are an undergrad or taught-postgrad, you may prefer to store your files on OneDrive, which comes as part of the Office 365 service.  If you are a researcher looking to archive/publish post-project data which will not change, then Pure may be the right option for you.)

All three options (Network Drives, Sharepoint, Strathcloud) store their data on the University’s centrally-managed storage.

Note : it is always difficult to accurately present the capabilities of a system, when summarising in tabular form, and some important detail will inevitably get lost.  Please, therefore, also take a few minutes to read the explanatory notes which follow this table.

 

Network drives

Sharepoint

Strathcloud

On-site storage

Yes

Yes

Yes

Replicated between two buildings

Yes

Yes

Yes

Backed up to tape

Yes

Yes

Yes

Supported client platforms

Windows, Unix, Mac

Windows, Unix, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows phone

Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows phone.  (Unix users can use web client only).

Accessible off-site

Yes

Yes

Yes

Sync with local machine

Possible (Windows only)

No

Yes (all platforms except Unix)

Suitable for individual data (i.e. not shared)

Yes

Yes (MySites)

Yes

Suitable for group data (shared with defined members of a group)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Possible to share with external collaborators

Yes

Yes

Yes

Possible to share data “anonymously”

No

No

Yes

Scalability (i.e. how much data can I put on it)

Very large

Small

Medium (see here)

User interface

Basic/simple

Very rich

Rich

Self-service restores

Yes (Windows only)

Yes

Yes

“Checkout” of documents

No

Yes

Yes

Need input from local/departmental IT staff to get started?

No (H: drive)

Yes (i: drive)

Yes

No (individual data, or short-term shared data)

Yes (long-term shared  data)

Main target audience

All users

Staff/PGRs

Staff/PGRs

Product maturity

Mature/established

Mature/established

Recent/developing

Performance (speed of upload/download)

Very fast (see here)

Medium

Medium (see here)

 

Explanatory notes

On-site storage : The University is not in favour of the use of cloud/external storage, for any data of value to the University (e.g. all research data) - due to concerns around security/privacy/legal compliance, etc.  The University has therefore made a large investment in on-site storage, and all the systems discussed here use that on-site storage.

Replicated between two buildings : Data is replicated between buildings, so that if an entire datacentre or building is lost (e.g. due to fire), then the copy in the other building can be brought online.  In the unlikely event of this happening, a maximum of 15 minutes-worth of the most recent changes may be lost, but all other data will be intact.

Backed up to tape : Data is backed up to tape by ISD automatically, in a third/fourth building.  Therefore, users do not need to perform their own backups.

Supported client platforms : Network drives are automatically mapped on Windows PCs in the DS domain, and can be manually mapped from Windows machines outside DS.  They are also accessible from Unix, Macs and mobile devices, see here for details on all the different ways to connect.

Sharepoint uses a web interface, so is accessible from anywhere.

Strathcloud has a both a web interface (available on all platforms) and a local client (all platforms except Unix).  Normally, users interact with the local client, though there are a few functions which must be carried out through the web interface.  The local client handles sync between the local machine and server, so note that the lack of a Unix client means that Unix/Linux users cannot sync data to their local machine.

Accessible off-site : Network drives can be accessed off-site through VPN, Webdrive, Pegasus and Strathcloud connectors.

Sharepoint and Strathcloud are accessible off-site, using the same interfaces as on-site.

Sync with local machine : Although all services can be accessed over the Internet from anywhere in the world, some users may also want to have an up-to-date copy on their local machine - either for working offline, or for better performance.

Network drives offer limited support for this, on Windows only, using the “offline files” feature.  We advise you to check with your faculty/departmental IT support before enabling this, as some departments use offline files, while others recommend against it.  “Offline files” syncs data both ways, but will only work if your client machine is on-campus.  If you go off-campus, you will still have a local copy of your data, but it will not sync with the server again until you come back on campus.

Sharepoint does not support sync with the local machine.

Strathcloud fully supports it, on and off campus, on all platforms except Unix.

Suitable for individual data / group data : Network drives facilitate both individual data (through the H: drive), and shared/group data (through the i: drive).  Sharepoint is mainly targeted at shared/group data, but individual data is also catered for, through “MySites”.  Strathcloud has areas for both individual and shared/group data.  On all three systems, the users you’re sharing with can be given either read/write permissions, or read-only permissions.

Possible to share with external collaborators : All systems support sharing with external collaborators.  In all cases, the external users should first be registered with a “limited access account” in the University’s active directory.  Please contact your local/departmental IT support in the first instance, if you require accounts to be created for external collaborators.

Possible to share data “anonymously” : This refers to the ability for a Strathclyde user to log in, select a file, and allow someone external to the institution to see that file, without the external user needing to register for an account, or login.  This cannot be achieved on Network Drives or Sharepoint, as all access to these systems requires a login.  On Strathcloud, however, users will be able to email external users a (complex) URL for a file, which allows that external user to access the file (read-only) without logging in.  Note, this option should not be used for sensitive/confidential data.

Scalability (i.e. how much data can I put on it): Users should think carefully about the amount of data they have, when choosing a system.  H: drive quotas start at 50GB for staff and PGRs, 2GB for under-grads, and can easily be increased on request.  i: drive quotas vary enormously, and several departments/groups have quotas of tens/hundreds of terabytes, again these can easily be increased on request.  Network Drives are therefore the best option for very large amounts of data.

Sharepoint is suitable for small amounts of data, e.g. Word documents, spreadsheets, etc – a common scenario is for a researcher to place large data-sets on Network Drives, and the smaller collaborative documents which describe that data onto Sharepoint.

Strathcloud falls somewhere between the above two options, in terms of scalability.  Lots of storage will be potentially available to Strathcloud, but users may need to consider the potential performance problems in syncing/uploading large amounts of data between clients and the server.

User interface : Interacting with Network Drives is practically identical to interacting with files/folders on your local machine.  For some purposes, this has an appealing simplicity - for other purposes, the lack of ability to annotate, link, and present the data is a limitation.  By contrast, Sharepoint has a rich interface, which is almost infinitely customisable, if you have the requisite knowledge – training may be advisable, if you want to use Sharepoint to its full potential.  Strathcloud sits between the two, with a user-friendly interface similar to Dropbox, OneDrive, etc, which most users will master fairly quickly.

Self-service restores/versioning : If you delete a file, or want to revert to an earlier version, you can do this on all three systems.  Sharepoint and Strathcloud provide this through the web interface, so it can be done on all platforms.  Network Drives provide this through the Windows client, through the “Previous versions” feature.

“Checkout” of documents : This can be a useful feature when you're working from a shared folder, and you want to avoid clashes, from two people editing a file at the same time.  Supported on Sharepoint and Strathcloud.

Need input from local/departmental IT staff to get started? : For individual data, you can get started straight away, using either your Network Drives (H: drive), or your personal space in Strathcloud, these will be set up for you in advance.

For shared data, you need someone in local/departmental IT support to initially set you up with a shared folder/area, or to grant you permissions on an existing shared folder/area, on all three systems.

Note that, on both Network Drives and on Strathcloud, while it is technically possible to share folders from within your own personal area, this is not advisable in most cases!  The problem is that, if you (or whoever it was who shared the data) leave the University, then the account gets deleted, along with all the data associated with it.  Therefore, if you’re sharing data on any sort of on-going basis, then it’s much better to take a few minutes to go and talk to your local/departmental IT support, and get it setup properly.  Setting up a share yourself, within your own personal space, may be appropriate for “quick-and-dirty” file-sharing on a one-off basis, but that is all it’s good for!

Main target audience : Network drives have been available for many years, and H: drives are used by all types of user, including undergrad, postgrad and staff.  i: drive has tended to be used mainly by staff, but there is nothing to stop local/departmental IT from setting up shared folders for students, or for a mixture of staff and students, too.

For Sharepoint, again there is no technical reason why this can’t be used by all categories of user – though perhaps the greater complexities in initial setup have steered it more towards staff/PGRs.

In Strathcloud, the full functionality (including personal space) is available to staff and PGRs only, by default, due to the way it is licensed.  Undergrads and PGTs have a reduced access, which allows them use data only if they have been specifically granted access to an existing shared-folder, or if a special request has been made to upgrade their status.  Limited-access accounts (such as external collaborators) also have reduced access by default, but can be upgraded to full access on request.

Product maturity : While we go to great lengths to test and evaluate all our systems, there will inevitably be teething troubles and the occasional bug in new products.  Network Drives and Sharepoint have been in use at the University for several years, and have therefore had time to “settle down” and mature – Strathcloud, on the other hand, is a new product (to us), and a relatively recent product altogether, in a market which is itself relatively immature - so users should understand that the potential for problems/bugs is greater.  On the plus side, Strathcloud is being developed by the supplier at a very fast rate, so we have high hopes that this product will mature and add further functionality over time.