Microsoft, Google Up the Ante in Enterprise Cloud Wars

Box, Dropbox and Google Drive customers are wooed by an offer of free OneDrive access for their business in the face of new features from Google.


Microsoft wants your cloud business so badly, it's willing to give you free access to OneDrive to get it. The deal, according to Microsoft's Office blog, is that it will give the free OneDrive to existing business customers of Box, Dropbox or Google Drive for the duration of their contract to make the switch. The deal requires a minimum commitment of 500 users. The businesses can't already be customers of OneDrive or Office 365.

Microsoft is also offering migration and onboarding support through its FastTrack service as part of the deal.

One of the selling points that Microsoft stresses in its offer is that Office 365 is the only service that allows real co-authoring collaboration in Office documents on all of its platform, including mobile devices, PCs and Macs.

Google, however, is doing sort of an end run around Microsoft's selling point. The day after Microsoft made the offer to move its customers to OneDrive, Google announced the ability to mark up Microsoft Office documents in Google Drive. The new collaboration tools allow users to make mark-ups in the Google Drive Preview Mode that will stay with the document when it’s being used on Google Drive, as well as when it’s being used within Microsoft Office.

The way that works is that users can enter comments with Google's commenting tool. Those comments are then exported to Microsoft Office format when the documents are saved so that they appear as normal comments in Office. This works with Word, Excel and PDF files.

The Google commenting tool allows task assignment, interactive comments and supports replies. While it's not as complete as the interactive editing you can do within Office 365 which also supports Microsoft's change tracking as well as comments, it will meet the needs of many organizations.

However, Google has not gone after Microsoft's cloud customers to get them to switch to the G-Suite, which is Google's service that's comparable to Office 365. Microsoft is taking its aggressive action in an effort to build market share for its cloud offerings because Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has determined that the company’s future is in the cloud now that PC sales are dropping off, and now that more and more business software is being offered either for free or on a subscription basis.

To do that, Microsoft needs to grow its customer base beyond the 350,000 organizations the company says now use its cloud offerings. In its offer, Microsoft said that its file storage and sync usage have tripled over the last year. Clearly, the company wants this growth to continue.

But as Microsoft works at growing OneDrive and Office 365 (which includes OneDrive as a major feature), it's not exactly clear where Microsoft's other cloud offerings fit. For business users, Microsoft SharePoint has long been positioned as the collaboration tool they want to use. But business users are also being offered Azure, a cloud service that offers both storage and compute services.

Normally, Microsoft offers OneDrive as a personal storage feature, although it does offer the ability to share files and folders with others. The question for business users is whether they should be thinking about OneDrive for business, or something else? Is there somehow a way to make SharePoint and OneDrive work together? Should there be?

Of course, Google shares a similar division between its cloud offerings with Google Cloud, which competes with Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. All three of those services offer cloud storage as well as access to compute services. But neither Amazon nor Google really compete with SharePoint.

In its current incarnation, Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive, which is part of the suite, are primarily intended for file and document storage, which is also what Google drive and G-Suite are intended to do. However, there’s a lot more to storage than a place to keep documents for collaboration.

This means that the next question for a business contemplating a move to OneDrive has to be what else Microsoft has in mind for this storage service. In addition, the question has to also be what can you use OneDrive (or Google Drive for that matter) for besides document storage.

After all, most enterprises with a few exceptions have a lot that they could keep in the cloud if the proper repository with the right access could be found. If a business could also use OneDrive as a place to keep real-time records such as customer data or engineering drawings, that would make a move to OneDrive more useful.

And of course, Microsoft stresses the storage capabilities of OneDrive as a place for image storage in the personal version, where it will offer to upload copies of your photos automatically. But that isn’t really the same thing as the next phase of storage which is going to require fast, low-latency access at the edge of the network.

Right now, none of these cloud services are offering exactly what your business will need next year as IoT traffic explodes beyond your ability to move it from the edge, and 5G networking compounds the problem. In their current configurations neither OneDrive nor Google Drive will offer a solution. Maybe that's why the push is taking place now, before you find out it's not what you'll need tomorrow.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...