There are a number of cloud-based storage systems around. Dropbox is one of the better known, followed by Google Drive and Microsoft’s unimaginatively named OneDrive. One common issue, especially if you have a large amount of data in your cloud storage, is managing access to the data you actually need on your computer’s hard drive. We’ve had clients who bought more storage on Dropbox, then filled up the hard drive on every device they own simply by signing into their accounts.

A few years ago, Thinker made the decision to migrate its shared drive to Google Drive. One issue at the time was that an individual would have to control a root-level folder and control which of their colleagues could have access. This means that the root user had the entire shared area in their My Drive folder. When you install Google Drive Sync, a little utility that synchronizes your data from Google Drive to your PC, it starts by downloading everything in My Drive.

In our case, that was upwards of 700GB, or more than the SSD in most computers.

Selectively syncing was the answer, but you would have to go through the laborious task of selecting which folders in My Drive you are actively working on at the time. Every edit to your list of synchronized folders would result in a flurry of activity from Google Drive Sync, which would remove and add folders to your PC.  

We had a few cases in which people used their file manager instead of the web interface to move large amounts of data from one folder to another. Google Drive Sync would then sit there and delete all the files from one folder and re-upload them to the second folder, a process that could take many hours if carried out on large items, such as movie files.

Enter Google Drive File Stream.

This utility has been running in beta for the past few months and will be released to all Google G-Suite customers at the end of September. Google Drive Sync is going away. Consumers will be steered toward Google’s new Backup and Sync app, which is outside the scope of this article.

Once installed and authenticated, File Stream differs from Drive Sync in that it intelligently works out which files you’re working with and automatically downloads and synchronizes them, removing them from your PC when you’re finished. This means that the complex work of deciding which folders you actually want to sync is handled for you; small files are almost instantly available, but larger ones can take a minute or so to appear, depending on your internet speed.

Our experience is that it’s way more intuitive than before – although sometimes it can get confused if two people are working on the same file at the same time. We have found that using Google Drive as our main storage has enabled us to have automatic backups of all our files. A Photoshop crash destroyed a large and complex image but, because the file was on Drive, we were able to revert easily to a previous version and carry on.  

We have had issues with very large Photoshop files where each revision, no matter how small, means the whole multi-gigabyte file is copied back to the drive over and over again. Our workaround is to copy the file to local storage so we can work on it, then copy it back when completed. There is a sweet spot in terms of file size, which we haven’t quite pinned down, but it almost certainly depends on how fast your internet connection is.

Google File Stream still won’t fix the issue of moving files with file manager – users should understand what is happening beneath the surface – and you should primarily use the web interface when moving, renaming or otherwise administering your space.

Google Drive File Stream will be available September 26. Paired with Team Drives, this will make using cloud storage as your main network storage much more efficient, but your users having an understanding of what is happening underneath the hood will enable them to make useful workaround decisions if problems arise.

More information can be found here: “Drive File Stream Launching to all G Suite Customers.”