SkyDrive Pro Demystified!

I was trying to consider SkyDrive Pro as part of a post migration solution on a SharePoint Online project lately. Thought of writing down my findings on it to help the ones who would be working on the same line…

The release of SkyDrive Pro with SharePoint 2013 brought along some confusion for many; and the confusion was with SkyDrive. Let’s first deal with it and then we will have a deep dive into SkyDrive Pro. SkyDrive was already there before SkyDrive Pro was released. Anyone can avail SkyDrive for free through their Hotmail, Outlook.com or any live account. SkyDrive is the free cloud service from Microsoft where you can save your files and share with others. It is primarily used as personal space in the cloud. On the contrary, SkyDrive Pro is for business users for storing and organizing the work documents. While it is still a personal space for a business user, but is a part of the corporate intranet in the context of your organization. It can be managed and controlled centrally by the organization up to some extent.

Well, like any other products, SkyDrive Pro has got some nice features as well as limitations with it. One has to carefully consider all of it before taking a decision on it.

When MySite feature is activated in SharePoint 2013/online, it allows the users to create their personal site collections. The document library in this site collection is nothing but the SkyDrive Pro! The ‘SkyDrive’ tab at the right top of the Site is actually the document library in this MySite. SkyDrive Pro Demystified_1

If you take a look at the screenshot however, the obvious question which might pop up in your mind is- “If SkyDrive Pro is the same old personal document library, then what makes it so special?” Please note that though this SkyDrive Pro Document library is a part of your SharePoint infrastructure, each Office 365 “E, P license” user receives 25GB of default storage space from Microsoft at no additional cost. This space is not from the organization pool of storage space purchased from Microsoft through the Office 365 subscription. However, if a user needs more than 25GB of storage, then that can be raised to 50GB or 100GB by the admin, but this additional space will have to be from the pool of storage space purchased.

SkyDrive Pro with this additional 25GB of free storage space from Microsoft does not justify so much of a hype yet; but hold on, there is more! SkyDrive Pro is actually incomplete without its better half, which is “SkyDrive Pro Sync Client”. This Sync client runs the Document Synchronization Service so you could have a local copy of your files which are there in the SkyDrive Pro Doc Library, on your system. SkyDrive Pro Sync client comes bundled with Office 2013, and is also available as a free downloadable from Microsoft. Let’s see how to use it:

If you notice the Screenshot below, there is a ‘Sync’ option available on the right top corner of the site.
SkyDrive Pro Demystified_2

If you click on it, it will launch the Sync client service installed on your system which will allow you to choose a location to save the files or continue with the default location and then it will start Syncing. It will automatically create a ‘SkyDrive @ ’ folder in the location specified and save the files there. SkyDrive Pro Demystified_3

No matter which location you would choose to save the files on your file system, a shortcut to get to that place will also appear under “favorites” menu in My Computer.

Note: The Sync option in SharePoint Online will only be available when you are in a document library page. Using SkyDrive Pro you can only sync at document library level. You cannot sync complete site or a single folder in a document library.

The SkyDrive Pro Sync is not just limited to the personal library. It can be used to sync any document library in the SharePoint site. From any document library, if you click on ‘Sync’, it will launch the Sync client in the same way as shown below: SkyDrive Pro Demystified_4

This time it will not let you choose a different location in your local system. The reason is, the service is already running to sync the previously chosen doc library. If you want to choose a different location any way, then you will have to stop the service and then sync again to see the ‘Change’ option under the file path section. Even if you continue with the same location without changing it, it will create a separate folder called “SharePoint” to store the content from any document library other than personal document library. You could see a shortcut under ‘favorites’ to get to this place. SkyDrive Pro Demystified_5

Under ‘SharePoint’ folder, different folders will be created with the names of the document libraries you would be syncing.

Note: If you do not wish to let the users sync a particular document library through SkyDrive Pro Sync client, you could do so through the ‘Advance Settings’ of that library. SkyDrive Pro Demystified_6

Once you select “No”, the ‘Sync’ option will no longer show up on the site for that particular library.

So far we explored the ‘Sync’ option in the site itself. We can do pretty much the same using the Sync client installed on the local computer. Let us explore some of the options available with it. Since many options are self-explanatory, we will discuss the ones which require little bit of explanation.
SkyDrive Pro Demystified_7

Through the “Sync a new library” option, you can explicitly feed the URL of the document library that you would like to Sync to the local system. If you click on this option, it will open a new window as shown below:

SkyDrive Pro Demystified_8

By default the Sync service runs every 10 minutes approximately, but is also dependent on the server status. However, you can explicitly start syncing using the “Sync now” option or pause Syncing using the “Pause syncing” option.

Using the “Stop syncing a folder” option, you can stop syncing the folder which actually represents a document library. Here it is important to note that even after you stop it, the local copies of the files will still be available on the system.

Some interesting facts on SkyDrive Pro:

  • If the file types are office 2013 documents like Word, Excel, or PowerPoint etc., the SkyDrive Pro Windows Sync client performs a differential synchronization, which means synchronization of only the changes that were made to the document. So, syncing is faster for the office 2013 documents.
  • For all other file types, the SkyDrive Pro Windows Sync client synchronizes the whole file, and not just the changes. This could be time consuming if the files are bulky! Ref: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn167720.aspx
  • SkyDrive Pro Sync can be used to Sync the personal space of 25 GB where one can save the daily work related documents. This way they can always have a local copy on the computer system and at the same time, its available online which is accessible from anywhere and through any computing device.
  • You can simply place the files on the Synced folder on your local system and it will upload them to the SharePoint Site through the background Sync. This is the most preferred way.
  • Now through SharePoint online and SkyDrive Pro, the executables are also supported files. So, .exe and .dll files are all supported.

Limitations of SkyDrive Pro:

  • One can sync 5000 items from a single SharePoint doc library.
  • One can sync 20,000 items from a SkyDrive Pro personal library.
  • Maximum file size allowed to download/upload is 2GB.
  • With SkyDrive Pro Sync Client, there is no possibility to Sync a partial subset of a document library. By design the entire doc library gets synced and we get local copies of all the files and folders under it.
  • When a User attempts to sync a sub folder within a Library, the sync tool always picks the parent Library as the Sync point and syncs everything under it. Users are forced to sync the document library as a whole.
  • I recommend syncing only the personal SkyDrive Pro document library space or any other SharePoint library which only you have access to, as the coauthoring does not work well while accessing the file from the Synced folders on the local system. On the other hand, while multiple users are co-authoring an Office 2013 document directly on the online site, co-authoring works well and we can find them through the icon shown on the document below:
    SkyDrive Pro Demystified_9
    If more than one users are trying to edit the same portion of the document, then it will prompt to resolve the conflict before saving the document to the SharePoint Site.
  • While uploading the files from the Synced folder, their metadata (Author, Last Modified By, Created-time, Last Modified-time etc.) will be lost.
  • When you open a bulkier document from the Synced folder (Say an Excel file), edit it and then press CTRL+S to save it, the save action will perform two sub actions. First the changes will be saved to the local file system and then if you are online- it will sync to the SharePoint Online site immediately. At this point, a user cannot close the file unless it syncs completely; at best, they can minimize the file.
  • When a document is opened from the Synced folder, and at the same time another user opens the document from a different system’s Synced folder, that second user will see a notification as “FILE IN USE, This file is locked for editing by another user”. However, it will not let you know who that other user is.
    SkyDrive Pro Demystified_10
    You could imagine how frustrating it would be; you cannot edit that document until the other user closes that file.
  • On the above scenario, even if you edit the document and try saving it, it will not save or upload. But the interesting part however is- The document will now show you the person who has got this file locked as shown below:
    SkyDrive Pro Demystified_11
  • This means that every time a document is opened from the Synced folder, it contacts the SharePoint Doc library to get the status on that document. Here is a scenario: If a user opens the document (Say an Excel File) from the synced folder, edits it, saves it and then closes it. Just after that, another user opens that document from his own synced folder for editing. At this time, there is no message showing “the file is locked” as the lock is just released by the previous user, but the Sync service on the local system has not started yet either. This means that, the file that this second person has opened from the local synced folder is actually not the updated one. If the user waits for some time after the Excel file is opened, a message is displayed stating that “A newer version of the file is available on the server”. Which is good! But, at times it takes a bit longer and at times the user might not receive the notification at all. So, if the user does not wait till the file syncs with the server and just edits and saves, or as the user does not receive the notification, so edits and saves. On both the cases, upon the Save command, Excel will try syncing to the SharePoint Doc library and will keep the user waited for some time and throw an error, stating that the file on the server was updated by someone else and would give you two options: “Keep My Version” and “Keep Server Version”. Either way, you lose data.
    SkyDrive Pro Demystified_12

I hope the above points are convincing enough to justify the point that SkyDrive Pro Sync client should be used with the personal document library or any other library which will be accessed by you alone. If multiple users will not be syncing the same document library, then the above scenarios will not arise and you will get better user experience.

All said, you will have to analyze the facts and make sure is understood beforehand before you take a decision on it.

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