As part of your organization’s journey to the cloud / digital transformation, document storage is key. OneDrive for Business (OD4B) replaces the traditional local “Documents” folder and opens up access to work documents from anywhere, on any device, along with many other capabilities.
This article will look at what OneDrive for Business is, how it compares with personal OneDrive, how to use OD4B, protecting your files and sharing them with others securely and some tips for Microsoft 365 administrators managing OD4B for a business. If you’d like an overview on how to use OneDrive for Business I’ve made the video below which accompanies this article:
The Basics of OneDrive for Business
OD4B is SharePoint based cloud storage that you license as part of Office / Microsoft 365 that gives each user 1 TB of storage for their documents. You can access these documents from any Windows (the client is built into Windows 10, 1709, or later, but also available for earlier versions) or Mac computer, as well as through apps for Android and iOS. You can also access OD4B in any web browser, one easy way to get there is to log in at www.office.com and clicking on the OneDrive icon.
OD4B in Office.com
Alternatively, you can right-click on the folder in Windows Explorer on your desktop and select View online.
Right-click on OD4B in Windows Explorer
Either way, you end up in the web interface where you can create new Office documents, upload files or folders, sync the content between your machine and the cloud storage (see below) as well as create automation flows through Power Automate.
OD4B web interface
Note that if you click on an Office file in the web interface, it’ll open in the web-based version of Word, giving you the option of working on any device where you have access to a browser.
For most people, 1 TB of storage is sufficient but many modern devices don’t come with that amount of internal storage so you may need to choose what to sync to the local device. There are two approaches, you can right-click on a folder or file and select Always keep on this device which will do exactly that (and take up space on your local PC), or Free up space which will delete the local copy but keep the files in the cloud. You can tell the different states with the filled green tick (always on this device) icon, or the white cloud (space freed up). The automatic way is to simply double-click on a file that you need to work on, and the file will be downloaded (green tick on white background), called Available locally, this feature is called Files on demand.
In Windows, there’s also a handy “pop up” menu to see the status of OD4B, see which files have been recently synced, and also lets you pause syncing temporarily.
Pop up menu from OD4B client
If you’re working in Word, Excel, PowerPoint in both Windows and Mac on a file stored in OD4B (and OneDrive personal / SharePoint Online) it’ll AutoSave your changes without you having to save manually. OD4B will also become the default save location in Word, Excel, etc.
And the “secret” is that OD4B is a just a personal document library in SharePoint Online, managed by the OD4B service.
Choosing syncing options for folders
OneDrive versus OneDrive for Business
If you sign up for a free Microsoft account, you get the personal flavor of OneDrive which provides 5GB of storage. You can augment this with a Microsoft 365 personal (1 person) or Home (up to 6 users) subscription providing up to 1TB of storage per user, as well as Office for your PC or Mac.
From an end-user point of view the services are very similar but the business version adds identity federation, administrative control, Data Loss Prevention (DLP), and eDiscovery.
OD4B provides quite a few advanced features that the casual user might not know about. For instance, when you’re attaching a document to an email, you’ll have the option to attach a link to the document in your OD4B instead of a copy of it. If you’re emailing the document to someone internally in your business or someone externally that you collaborate with, this is a better option as you’ll both still be working on the one file (potentially at the same time, see below) rather than having multiple copies attached to different emails and ending up having to manually reconcile the edits at the end.
Known Folder Move is another feature that you can enable as an administrator. This will redirect the Desktop, Documents, Pictures, Screenshots and Camera Roll folders from a user’s local device to OD4B. This has two benefits; firstly, if a user loses their device or it’s broken, their files will still be there when they log in on a new device, secondly, they can use their local Documents, Pictures, etc. folders as they always have.
There’s also versioning built into OD4B which keeps track of each version as it’s saved, you can access this either in the web interface or by right-clicking on a file in Windows Explorer.
OD4B document versions
The Recycle bin in the web UI for OD4B has saved many an IT Pro’s career when the CEO has deleted (“by mistake” – but they swear they never hit delete) an important file. Simply click on the Recycle bin and restore files that were deleted up to 93 days ago (up to 30 days for OneDrive personal). A related feature is OneDrive Restore that lets you recover an entire (or parts of) OD4B, perhaps after all the files have been encrypted by a ransomware attack. It also shows a histogram of versions for each file, making it easy to spot the version you want to restore.
Using AI, OD4B (and SharePoint) will automatically extract text from photos that you store so that you can use it when searching for files, it’ll also automatically provide a transcript for any audio or video file you store. File insights let you see who has viewed and edited a shared file (see below) and get statistics.
If you’re using the app on your smartphone you can scan the physical world (a whiteboard, a document, business card, or photo) with the camera and it’ll use AI to transcribe the capture.
Scanning in the Android app
Recently, Microsoft added a new feature called Add to OneDrive that lets you add a shortcut in OD4B to folders that others have shared with you or that are shared with you in Teams or SharePoint. Speaking of Teams – sharing files in there will now use the same sharing links functionality that OD4B uses (see below). Even more useful will be the forthcoming ability to move a folder and keep the sharing permissions you have configured for it, and some files (CAD drawings anyone?) the increase of the maximum file size from 15 GB to 100 GB is welcome. And, like all the other cool kids, OD4B (and OneDrive personal) on the web will add a dark theme option.
Collaboration and OneDrive for Business
One of the powerful features of OD4B is the ability to share documents (and folders) with internal and external users. As you might expect, administrators have full control over sharing options (see below) but assuming it’s not turned off or restricted you can right-click on a file or folder and click the blue cloud icon Share option, or click the Share option in the web interface. This lets you share a link to the file or folder with internal and external users, grant access to specific people, make it read-only or allow editing and block the ability to download the document (they have to edit the online, shared copy).
Sharing a file
It’s a good idea to turn on external sharing notifications via email.
Once a document is shared you can also use Co-authoring to work on the document simultaneously, both in the web-based versions of Word and Excel as well as the desktop versions of the Office apps. You can see which parts of a document another user is working on.
If you’re the administrator for your Office 365 deployment you can access the SharePoint admin center (from the main Microsoft 365 Admin center) and control sharing for both OneDrive and SharePoint. There is also a link to the OneDrive admin center where you have control over other aspects of OD4B as well as the same sharing settings.
Sharing Settings in OD4B Admin Center
The main settings for you to consider here are who your users can share content with. The most permissive setting allows them to share links to documents with anyone, no authentication required (not recommended). The next level up allows your users to invite external users to the organization but they have to sign in (using the same email address that the sharing link was sent to), creating an external user in your Azure Active Directory and thus giving you some control, including the ability to apply Conditional Access to their access. If you only allow sharing with existing external users, you must have another process in place for how to invite external users. And the most restrictive is to only allow sharing with internal users, blocking external sharing. Don’t be fooled by these sliders however, if you set this too restrictive and users need to share documents externally, they will do so using personal email, other cloud storage solutions, etc. They will just not be using OD4B sharing links which at least allows you visibility in audit logs and reports, along with some control.
Under the advanced settings for the links you can configure link expiry in days, prohibiting links that last “forever”. You can also limit links to be view only. The advanced settings for sharing let you black or whitelist particular domains for sharing, preventing further sharing (an external user sharing with another external user) and letting owners see who is viewing their files.
Under Sync you can limit syncing to domain-joined computers and block specific file types. Storage lets you limit the storage quota and set the number of days that OD4B content is kept after a user account is deleted. Device access lets you limit access based on IP address as well as set some restrictions for the mobile apps, whereas the Compliance blade has links to DLP, Retention, eDiscovery, Alerts, and Auditing, all of which are generic Office 365 features. The next blade, Notifications, controls email notifications for sharing and the last blade, while Data migration is a link to an article with tools for migrating to OD4B from on-premises storage.
If you’re considering OD4B, there are handy deployment and administration guides for administrators, both for Enterprises and Small businesses. If, on the other hand, your business is definite about keeping “stuff” on-premises you can use OneDrive with SharePoint server, including 2019.
Note that a recent announcement means that the OD4B admin center functionality will move into the SharePoint Online admin center, but the above functionality will stay intact, just not in a separate portal.
There’s no doubt that cloud storage is a cornerstone of successful digital transformation and if you’re already using Office 365, OneDrive for Business is definitely the best option.
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Author: Paul Schnackenburg