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Google Drive File Stream: The Best of Both Worlds

By January 16, 2018 No Comments

With the recent release of Google Drive File Stream, folks are wondering what exactly this new utility changes about the way they access their Google Drives, and why they should care. You may have heard this new utility is the “best of both worlds.” To understand what advantages it can bring, you should start by understanding what those two “worlds” are.

The Tradeoff

Most organizations have a wealth of information they need to store and make available to different people in different places, with different levels of access. If this information is fractured across dozens or hundreds of computers, getting the right person in touch with the right data can be an impossible task. If, on the other hand, all that data is stored in a central location that each individual can access from their own computer, folks can get what they need in a timely manner and management can choose exactly what each employee sees. Since the mid-2000s, there have been two main ways to pull this off: A traditional server file share, or a cloud-based file synchronization service.

Server File Share

Going back decades, the traditional and reliable way to keep institutional data stored and organized has been with a physical server, hosting a file share. When you connect to the share, it shows up as a brand new “volume” of data, as if you’ve plugged in an external hard drive or inserted a thumb drive in your USB port. It’s separate from your regular hard drive, where all your local data is stored. This brings several advantages:

  • There is only one copy of your data, taking up space on a server. If you have a file share with 100GB of data, you can share that with 100 people or 1000 people, and it will never take up more than 100GB of space, and no space at all on each of those individual’s computers.
  • Because your server stores the data, and doesn’t duplicate it on each computer that connects, management has ultimate control over who can see what and when. If someone leaves the organization, you don’t need to delete files from their computer to remove their access to them, you just need to remove their ability to log into the server.
  • Since there is only one copy of a given file, and employees access it directly on the server, an edit made by one person is an edit made everywhere. If you change a file, you don’t need to wait while that new file is downloaded from your local storage, then uploaded to the local storage of every other person who can see it – the change is made directly on the server.

Cloud-based Synchronization Service

The newer method of keeping everyone in touch with the files they need is a synchronization service. There are several examples, but the big ones are Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Apple’s iCloud. These come in the form of an application installed on your machine. When you sign into the service, this app creates a folder in your local storage and downloads every file you have access to. When you save a change to a file, the utility sees that new version, uploads the file from your computer back into the service, then downloads the new file to the local storage of every other person who has access. That means:

  • There is a lag between when you make a change, and when everyone else sees it.
  • If you have 100GB of data on your server and you give 100 people access, you’re taking up 100GB on each person’s computer. Altogether, you’re using 10,000GB of storage!
  • Management’s control is compromised. Because data is stored locally, if the application is removed or an employee leaves and their access is pulled, they walk away with a complete copy of all the data, still stored on their local drives!

Despite these issues, cloud-based synchronization services come with their own advantages: 

  • Because you download your files from and send your edits to an Internet-hosted service, you can work anywhere you have internet access. There’re no VPNs, no connecting to a physical server back at your office. The files are available wherever you are, because they’re “in the cloud.”
  • What if you don’t have internet access at all? Since all your files have been downloaded to your local storage, you can work with them anywhere, even if you’re completely cut off from the internet and can’t reach the service. Changes you make won’t show up for anyone else, of course, since you have no way to communicate, but those edits will patiently wait to be uploaded when you reconnect to the internet.

IT departments have been weighing these pros and cons for years, forced to choose between one of these methods or the other.

Google Drive File Stream

Enter Google Drive File Stream. Although Google Drive is a cloud-based synchronization service, their new application shares qualities of both solutions. When you sign into the application, it connects a separate volume of data that operates just like the server file share above. Rather than downloading all your files, the application streams the files to you as you need them. Just like you don’t need to download an entire movie from Netflix before you can start watching it, you don’t need to download an entire database of files just to access a few of them. Now we start to see the advantages of both sides:

  • Although a small cache of data is created in your local storage to allow all this to work, this is a fraction of the data in the service, which you can stream at will. We’re not quite back to using only 100GB of storage for 100GB of files, regardless of the number of connections, but we’re very close.
  • Since the files exist in a separate volume from local storage and only files being actively used are streamed in, we’re back to ultimate management control of what each person sees. When an employee leaves, we don’t need to delete anything from their local storage and they don’t walk away with any company data. All we need to do is remove their access to the service, and the volume containing their files disappears on their machines.
  • Although changes to files do have to travel over the internet, so there is some minimal lag, since each person streams in each file as they access it, they always receive the latest version from the service. That means if someone makes a series of changes, you’re not waiting for each one to sync in before you’re up to date, the changes to a given file will be streamed to you the minute you open it.
  • Since you’re still accessing a cloud-based service over the internet, you can access it anywhere you have internet access. So we don’t need VPNs or to connect to a physical server back at the office. We still have the advantage of the files being “in the cloud.”
  • Finally, what if you’re in that situation again where you have no internet access at all? Although you don’t have a complete local download of all your files, you can set any files or folders you know you’ll need offline to download, and they’ll be accessible when you’re disconnected. Once again, when you reconnect, any edits you made will be sent up to the service, so everyone else can see them.

With no more need to trade off one desired feature for another, we have the best of both worlds.

If this sounds interesting, try it for yourself. Tech Officers provides G Suite licenses to all clients under an active service plan that includes this and many other services that can make the difference at your organization. Interested in switching to Google or taking advantage of this new technology? Contact us for more information.