OneDrive's 1TB cloud storage: The important details

OneDrive's 1TB cloud storage: The important details

Summary: I don't think the branding for Office 365 and OneDrive is confusing, but it's worth understanding the complexities of how the storage offering works.

TOPICS: Storage, Cloud, Microsoft
Microsoft has increased the amount of free storage you get with OneDrive. Image: Microsoft

This week Microsoft increased the amount of free storage you get with OneDrive, its consumer cloud service.

Everyone gets 15GB free, plus any bonus storage you've got by buying Surface 2, being an early adopter, getting a gift card at a conference or through Bing rewards, or by buying extra storage. And if you have one of the consumer Office 365 subscriptions — Home, Personal or University — you get 1TB free.

When you do the sums, that means you can pay about $10 a month to get 1TB on Google Docs, or to get 1TB plus the desktop version of Office everyone is familiar with, plus Skype credits. This also diminishes the appeal of unlimited photo storage on the Amazon Fire phone.

What gets confusing is when Microsoft says that "all Office 365 subscriptions" get 1TB of OneDrive. Before business subscribers get excited — and before IT admins get concerned about employees being encouraged to put work documents on a consumer cloud storage account the business can't audit — that's not what's happening.

Only consumer Office 365 subscribers — the people who are buying the consumer Office client with a bundle of consumer services — get any free OneDrive storage. If you have a business Office 365 subscription — either the popular enterprise plans which include both the business Office clients and the Office servers in the cloud, or even the business Office 365 plans that only include the cloud servers such as Exchange online but not the desktop Office clients such as Word — the free user storage you get is OneDrive for Business.

Yes, you get 1TB per user (eventually — although it was announced in March and you could buy the separate OneDrive for Business service with 1TB per user as of early April, the 1TB deal for existing Office 365 subscribers is still rolling out and many businesses don't yet have it).

But OneDrive for Business is different from OneDrive, in lots of ways. It's built on SharePoint and the old Groove client for sync, which is why you can still only sync on desktop Windows, and why sync is clunky and sometimes fails.

A Mac sync client is promised, as is one for Windows RT, but they're not even in beta; the OneDrive sync client is built on to Windows 8.1 and Windows RT and had been working flawlessly on our test machines since the Windows 8 launch. Windows Phone automatically syncs its photos to OneDrive and you can have iPhones do the same; that doesn't work with OneDrive for Business.

The OneDrive website has photo features such as albums and Facebook posting. The OneDrive for Business site is a prettied-up SharePoint interface. OneDrive for Business even has different limitations of what characters you can use in file names. About the only thing they have in common is being cloud storage; you might as well say Dropbox and Box are the same.

Saying OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are the same is like saying USB thumb drives and SSD drives are the same because they both use flash memory. Are the 1TB hard drive and the 16 64GB USB sticks that add up to the same disk space the same thing? The difference is how you use them and what you can do with them.

It's not difficult to tell the different Office 365 accounts apart — the consumer ones give you consumer Office with consumer services (OneDrive, Skype and, the business ones give you the Office servers in the cloud, including OneDrive for Business, with or without the Office clients. And if you get the Office clients in your subscription, that includes clients for Windows, Mac and iPad. It's not hard to tell OneDrive and OneDrive for Business apart: they have different backends, different sync clients and different features.

But the potential for confusion is high — lots of people have been telling me on Twitter that enterprise Office 365 already has 1TB of storage without appearing to know the difference between OneDrive and OneDrive for Business. If Microsoft is going to have such similar names and matching offers for different services, it needs to make sure its own announcements get the difference right.

Further reading

Topics: Storage, Cloud, Microsoft

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • office rumor

    After yesterday Microsoft will rename it's cloud email service to Office 364.
    • oh i heard it was Office 24/7

      But you might not always use "/" so sometimes its 24.7
  • When will I be able to have my One Drive storage increase to 1TB, Mary?

    I subscribe to Office 365. I also purchased a Surface RT and a Surface Pro. When I view my One Drive online storage account, it reports that I only have a max total of:

    20 GB (Office 365)
    3 GB (Camera Roll bonus)
    7 GB (Free)

    Just curious.
  • Knew This Was Gonna Happen

    After Apple's iCloud announcements at WWDC I knew MS would answer back. They always do, and typical MS, always 1 step behind Apple.
    • really?

      Apart from the Apple II, iTunes and the iPod I'm having a hard time thinking of a single thing that Apple has done before MS.

      Smartphones - nope.
      Flat UI design - nope.
      Cloud based service with auto-syncing of photos etc - nope.
      Messaging and Video calling service - nope.
      And the list goes on of things MS had done first (not saying best, or even popular, just first).
      • No real comparson

        There's really no real comparison between Apple and Microsoft. Apple is completed targeted to consumers toys while Microsoft is mostly B2B although they have a few toy products too.
        Buster Friendly
        • Microsoft is "mostly B2B"? Then, what about the 1.5 billion installed

          user base of Windows PCs?

          That's at least 10 times bigger than the installed base of iPads, or iPhones.

          Sure, MS makes most of their money with the corporate environment, but, when it comes to regular consumers, they still have the largest number of consumers with Windows and a lot of their other software. Apple is very far behind.
    • Not sure what you're talking about...

      The 1TB OneDrive was announced at TechEd 2014 that happened before WWDC. And BTW, iCloud runs on Azure.

      Apple makes great hardware but their cloud services are rather weak. That's fine, its not their core business but your comments are pointless.
      Rann Xeroxx
  • groove

    Good point about groove - I actually noticed the exe running in task manager after I had installed the Onedrive for Business sync client (which also thankfully has a different colored icon otherwise I might get confused between it and the personal Onedrive).

    Good article in general raising the point to be careful about the names used and the potential for confusion over the names.
  • Great article

    and again: one of the best articles on this topic. good research, very informative.
    Great job, Mary :)
  • How do i get the storage space????

    This is confusing, on it indicates personal users get 20gb of cloud space not 1tb.

    All OneDrive users receive 7 GB of storage with OneDrive for free. Additional storage can be purchased if needed. Customers with an active Office 365 Personal subscription also receive an additional 20 GB OneDrive storage, for a total of 27 GB of storage. This additional storage is not available during trial periods.

    This additional 20 GB of OneDrive storage is applied to the OneDrive account that is linked to the Microsoft account used to create the Office 365 Personal account.

    This article is very misleading.
  • Copy

    Guys, check out the cloud storage Copy. I use both OneDrive and Copy currently, but Copy offers you more space for free. Both are good and both come with the desktop client to sync your files to their cloud servers. Check it out and use this link to sign up for Copy to get 20GB free instead of the regular 15GB