What is OneDrive for Business and what does it do?

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If the geeks are confused, imagine everyone else. Even with a rebranding of this feature from SkyDrive Pro to OneDrive for Business, there are still many that aren’t sure what it is, or what it does.

Ignore what you know, it has nothing to do with OneDrive

OneDrive for Business

This is why so many are still unsure as to what it actually does. As you may already know, Microsoft has a public offering called OneDrive. This is a personal online storage service, easily comparable to one you may already know, Dropbox. You store files in your OneDrive and access them from anywhere, or you can even send links to people so they can see it, based on the permissions given. This service is often included if you have an outlook.com account, or even a Windows Phone – large email attachments and phone pictures will automatically be uploaded to your personal online storage, OneDrive.

Essentially the concept of OneDrive is simple: upload your files, and access them from anywhere. You have about 7GB of personal storage, or more depending on things like whether you have a Windows Phone associated to the account, or if you spend more to get more. Making simple collaboration possible.

You already know OneDrive? Good. Now forget everything, because it has nothing to do with OneDrive for Business.

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A Short History Lesson on OneDrive for Business

OneDrive for Business

Essentially, OneDrive for Business is nothing more than the evolution of a tool named Groove, first seen with Office 2007. The idea behind the very unsuccessful Groove tool was to collaborate, and work, on files with our team members, without necessarily having a server. Its key feature was synchronizing the files offline on other devices, back then the home computer, to continue working with our teammates. You could say it was SharePoint for the very small business, without the server and the cool features. However, it just never took off.


SharePoint Workspace

was the new name it was given with the Office 2010 package and with it, repurposing. Groove was now a SharePoint tool that allowed end users to Synchronize both lists and libraries offline. This was to help companies using the now very popular SharePoint platform with people on the road or without Internet connections to still access important documents. SharePoint Workspace wasn’t bad, though it had many limitations when you started using it. It just didn’t meet the success Microsoft was hoping to see. Of course, by this time, Dropbox was becoming a popular service to store documents online, synchronize them offline seamlessly on your computer and share using links. Where SharePoint was the big solution platform, the rise of the cloud and subscription based offerings started to hurt Microsoft as not everyone always needed the big SharePoint platform.


When SharePoint 2013 was released, with it a new version of Groove and SharePoint Workspace, it was called SkyDrive Pro. And it created a lot of confusion since Microsoft had invested a lot in the marketing of SkyDrive, a public offering to compete with services like Dropbox. But once again, all it did was Synchronize SharePoint Document Libraries offline through a desktop installation that came with Office 2013. See my article on “What is SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint 2013” for more details.

Due to a lawsuit, Microsoft had to rename the service from SkyDrive Pro to OneDrive for Business…

OneDrive for Business is first a synchronization tool

Understand that today, the brand for the service of OneDrive for Business does and enables a lot more, however at the core it was just a sync tool. Either by installing Office 2013 on your computer or through a standalone installer, you would install OneDrive for Business.

OneDrive for Business

Once installed on your computer, whenever you click on the button to Sync on a document library, it then launches the tool installed and starts synchronizing.

Technically, that’s all OneDrive for Business is. It’s a tool that evolved from Groove and allows you to synchronize offline the files you need to work with.


Synchronizing the main OneDrive for Business Library

OneDrive for Business

Synchronizing any SharePoint Document Library

OneDrive for Business


However, through the evolution of the SharePoint brand and the continuing efforts made by Microsoft to compete on the cloud market, OneDrive for Business is becoming a whole lot more. I recently talked about it with “SharePoint Brand is being carved for parts” and if you are familiar with SharePoint, I invite you to check it out.

A new name for SharePoint My Sites

For those of us that came from the SharePoint world, we saw another feature come time and time again but never be quite successful, My Sites. The idea that every SharePoint user has his/her personal site to store documents, something I often saw as a replacement to the popular “My Documents” for the new age of web.

With SharePoint 2013, they removed the name My Site for this feature and branded it with the name of the synchronization tool itself, OneDrive for Business. Now, in the Suite Bar at the top where we used to have My Site, we have OneDrive.

OneDrive for Business

I know… completely confusing for the actual people using it that are not tech-savvy. The personal storage service they have at home with their personal email address suddenly shows up at work, very scary. However, it has nothing to do with it as we mentioned above, it’s a link to a SharePoint My Site, their personal site with a Document Library specially built for OneDrive for Business.

I invite you to read some of the limitations of OneDrive for Business, the one that many hang on to is the 20,000 sync limit.

Every document library in SharePoint can hold up to 30,000,000 documents. And I think it’s important I start with that because I often get questions or comments on how little the limit of 20,000 documents is for OneDrive for Business. 20,000 is the number of documents from your “My Site” or OneDrive for Business document library you are able to synchronize offline. I don’t see any good reason to want to synchronize more than that on your computer from the 30 million documents you can have. This doesn’t stop you either from creating regular Document Libraries and using OneDrive for Business to synchronize them offline, though they will have a 5,000 documents sync limit.

Don’t confuse the synchronization limits with document limits.

OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online

I want to make it clear again, I do not believe SharePoint is going away, not even for a second. But the competition out there for Microsoft is fierce. A great strategy for them is to have people using the OneDrive as the public offering at home or as a student to look for the next level of features for work. A great way to do that is to advertise SharePoint Online as a business version of the public offering. Today, your team or business can even subscribe to OneDrive for Business as a standalone subscription.
As a brand, I am seeing OneDrive for Business grow into collaboration and sharing of documents. Is there a difference between the two? Well technically, of course. SharePoint is this great platform that enables us to do so much based on our business needs and technically OneDrive for Business is just a sync tool. Or is it My Sites with collaboration and sharing? Or is document libraries? I think it’s important for us, who are used to SharePoint and have been for many years now, to forget what the My Site was and see what it is becoming.

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