We all know what Dropbox is. It’s that handy little blue box icon that conveniently stores all of our files across all of our devices and has made USB drives a distant memory. It’s easy to use, and the interface is both attractive and operationally seamless.
In a previous article, we mentioned Dropbox in our list of the leading file sync and share solutions for business, as it has been the industry leader for quite some time. But is this solution robust enough to actually take the place of your organization’s existing file server?
This is a question we’ve heard from our clients across industries, especially as organizations are becoming more and more comfortable with abandoning their on-site servers in favor of cloud-based solutions. It’s certainly a smart strategy if feasible, so this is a topic where we always welcome open discussion about the possibilities.
Below we’ll walk through whether or not Dropbox can effectively be used in place of a file server, and what our overall recommendation is for server alternatives.
When can Dropbox replace a file server?
If you are a very, very small organization (say, 4 people) that does not deal with sensitive information in any capacity whatsoever, and you don’t have more than 100GB of data, you could get away with using Dropbox to store your files rather than investing in and maintaining a file server.
When can Dropbox not replace a file server?
In basically all other scenarios besides the one listed above, Dropbox simply cannot take the place of a file server. Here’s why:
- Data is stored in aggregate. However much data you have in Dropbox in aggregate will be stored on each and every machine you have. You can try to control what data is stored where, but the task is so complex and exhausting that most people default to having all files duplicate across all devices. This is especially problematic with laptops, as you can quickly max out your storage capacity with other people’s files. (And if there are video files? Forget it.)*
- There’s not enough granularity in its security settings. With file servers, you can set permissions at the file and folder level. Take a hypothetical Accounting folder. You can grant your entire 3-person accounting team access to the umbrella Accounting folder, but only allow your Accounting Manager access to certain sub-folders therein (like payroll). You won’t be able to do this in Dropbox.
- Your data won’t be archived. Raise your hand if you’ve ever accidentally deleted a file. Okay, put your hand down (we’ve all done it). Unless you purchase Dropbox’s “extended version history,” you have a 30-day window to recover any folder or file that you’ve deleted. Outside of that window, your data will be gone.
Ultimately, Dropbox is best used as what it truly is: a consumer file-sharing solution. If you’re looking for a solution that will take the place of your file server, then, you’ll need to turn your attention to a different class of solutions.
If you look, you can easily find other file sync and share solutions that can be set up as a shared drive that doesn’t require storage on your machine’s hard drive. They have significantly more intricate security settings, and often will have a 60-day archive of deleted files. Many outsourced IT providers will offer a proprietary solution with these sorts of features (we do), so be sure to ask your team during your selection process.
So while Dropbox has a lot to offer as far as convenience and functionality goes, chances you won’t be able to trade your file server in for a subscription any time soon.
*UPDATE: As of early 2017, Dropbox implemented Smart Sync to help address this issue for Business account users. Standard Dropbox accounts, however, will still require a good bit of storage space.