Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft's Office 365 Storage Debacle Continues

Did Microsoft's original data storage limits come with the assumption that users wouldn't take advantage of what was offered?

Right now Microsoft is hard at work sending out invitations to some of its customers, entitling them to be able to use Office 365 Personal for free for a year. These invitations are related to Microsoft's announcement late last year that they would be scaling back OneDrive to provide a mere 5GB of free storage, as opposed to the 15GB of free storage that Microsoft had previously provided. After making the announcement, Microsoft announced that it would be providing free Office 365 accounts to some OneDrive users as a concession. According to some accounts, it seems to be those users who are storing more than 5GB of data on OneDrive who have been getting the invitations for free Office 365 access.

Office 365 also includes free OneDrive storage, but that too has been recently scaled back. Microsoft previously included unlimited OneDrive storage with at least some of its Office 365 subscriptions. However, that too is being scaled back. The new limit is 1TB.

Needless to say, Microsoft's decision to reduce OneDrive storage within Office 365 has not exactly been popular with its customers. Microsoft has cited abuse as its reason behind the policy change. According to one blog post, some OneDrive accounts had grown to sizes in excess of 75TB, and OneDrive was being used for multi-system backups, and for storing large collections of video.

Personally, I am fine with Microsoft's decision to scale back OneDrive. Microsoft owns OneDrive and they are free to do with it as they wish, so long as they understand that there may be consequences to unpopular decisions. Although I support Microsoft's right (or any business' right for that matter) to operate as they see fit, Microsoft's OneDrive decision does raise two ethical questions in my mind.

The first question involves how Microsoft knows what types of data are being stored on OneDrive. I am assuming that Microsoft isn't snooping through customer's files. OneDrive is way too massive with far too many users for anyone to manually snoop through OneDrive in an effort to determine who is storing what. Even so, Microsoft does apparently have at least a general knowledge of the types of data that are being stored on OneDrive. I am guessing that Microsoft is probably using a high level reporting tool that provides Microsoft with generalized data regarding the types of data (documents, pictures, backups, videos, etc.) being stored on OneDrive and the amount of space that each data type is consuming. As a show of good faith, I would like to see Microsoft disclose exactly what they know about data stored on OneDrive (if such a document does not already exist).

My second question pertaining to Microsoft's changes to OneDrive is a bit more philosophical in nature. The fact is that at least some Office 365 subscriptions included unlimited OneDrive storage. However, Microsoft considers excessive OneDrive storage to be abuse. So does this mean that the unlimited OneDrive storage wasn't really unlimited after all? Microsoft probably assumed that most people would store less than 1TB of data on OneDrive, but surely it realized that there would be those people who would store far more data than the average person. At what point does the use of unlimited storage become abuse? Would copying my 15TB of data from on-premises storage to OneDrive constitute abuse? 15TB is far less than the 75TB that has been cited, but at what point does one begin to cross the line?

While it is fun to ponder these types of philosophical questions, I do have one very serious question about Microsoft's storage policies. I personally subscribe to Microsoft's Office 365 Enterprise E3 plan. I probably only have about a gigabyte of data stored on OneDrive, but I have a whole lot more data stored in my Exchange Server mailbox. According to Microsoft, my Office 365 subscription includes 50GB of storage in a user's primary mailbox and unlimited storage in the user's in-place archives. I just can't help but wonder if I will get a call from Microsoft one day telling me that my in-place archive is too large. Hopefully that day will never come. In any case however, if Microsoft's unlimited storage is not truly unlimited, then that is something that the company needs to disclose to its customers. Furthermore, the disclosure should be open, clear, and obvious, rather than buried within the fine print of the terms of use.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 16-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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