The battle for file sharing and storage has been happening for a while, but things started heating up when Microsoft decided to offer OneDrive for Business as a standalone service -- it took a direct hit at Box and Dropbox. The question is, does it really have an advantage?

Microsoft recently announced the storage limit for OneDrive for Business would increase from 25GB to 1TB -- putting it on the same page as Dropbox and Box (both of whom offer “unlimited” storage for enterprise customers). Google doesn’t offer that much (it starts at 30GB per enterprise user), but you have to ask yourself -- who will really use 1TB of storage?

In a blog post that announced the storage increase, Microsoft’s John Case ended with a comment about “breaking down walls between people and information. Not building a new set of islands in the sky.”

Box CEO Aaron Levie responded that this is pretty much what Microsoft is doing -- building an island in the sky for OneDrive, saying:

By keeping Office 365 users on the closed OneDrive 'island,' Microsoft is stranding hundreds of millions of users and customers that have chosen Box, Dropbox, Google Drive and others. And by releasing Office on the iPad without the ability to view or edit documents from any cloud service other than their own, they’re making it harder -- not easier -- for users to get the most out of their software.”

In a sense, Levie is right. Microsoft is limiting tightly integrated file storage and sharing to its own OneDrive for Business solution. But you can argue that there is a very good reason to do exactly this.

'Loosely' Embracing Shadow IT

Shadow IT happens when departments, or even individual employees, use technologies that aren’t sanctioned by IT. This has been very easy to do since cloud-based services arrived. Employees who are avid Internet users try lots of new consumer based apps and have come to expect the same ease of use and accessibility in their work environment that these apps offer in their personal world.

Personal and work have collided in such a big way that employees often expect that one service will support both needs. In a perfect world that would be fine. But this isn’t a perfect world: information gets leaked, gets lost, gets stolen. And it’s this information that is often the differentiator for an organization -- the key to its success. You simply can’t open doors that would let this information get out just to make your employees happy.

So IT shuts off usage of many cloud storage services, unless it is sanctioned by them. Google, Microsoft, Dropbox and Box have all recognized that the personal storage services need to have a business -- or enterprise -- counterpart, hence the creation of all these “enterprise” versions.

It’s these enterprise versions that get sanctioned by IT. But should they sanction all of them? Should each department get to choose its own cloud storage and collaboration solution? Wouldn't it make sense to only support one of these? And wouldn't you want the one you sanction to offer the best security, compliance and governance capabilities?

This is why I say that IT should “loosely” embrace shadow IT. IT needs to recognize that employees require better tools to work, and these tools need to be cloud based because often employees work at home, on the road, in the office and use a variety of devices (desktop, smartphone, tablet, etc.). Give them access to an enterprise version of a cloud storage and sharing tool, but maybe sanction only one.

Which Cloud Storage Service Should IT Sanction?

I’m not foolish enough to say there’s an easy answer here, it really will depend. All four of the services have great collaboration capabilities and most have some level of security and governance capabilities.