Microsoft tests a sweet service: Direct-shipping data for uploading to the cloud

The company is testing a program where enterprises send encrypted drives for direct upload to OneDrive accounts. Consumers wouldn't mind this service, either.


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One of the challenges of shifting to a new cloud storage provider is a very practical one: Uploading a lifetime’s worth of data takes forever. Microsoft’s Office 365 Import Service allows enterprises to take a shortcut: mail encrypted drives directly to Microsoft to load directly into OneDrive.

Right now, the program is someone limited: Enterprises can ship a drive to one of Microsoft’s datacenters to be uploaded into SharePoint, or just send a specific set of Outlook .PST files to Microsoft to seed an Office 365 account. During this preview of the program, the service is free.

As you might expect, though, enterprises aren’t the only ones who need to move massive amounts of data. Consumers can get locked into a cloud service for the simple reason that once data is uploaded, moving to another service involves downloading stuff locally and then reuploading it to the new service. Even if someone were willing to take the time, major ISPs like Comcast often implement so-called 'data caps'—hard limits on the amount of data users could download and upload each month—which could thwart any big data-transfer project.

Many ISPs have temporarily suspended those caps, as competition from streaming services like Netflix, online marketplaces like Steam, and perpetual updates on Windows 10 become the new reality. But Comcast wants to reinstate data caps, and is testing fees to bypass them—which are sort of the same thing. 

Shipping a drive—known as “seeding”—to a Microsoft or a Google could certainly lower the barrier to switching from one provider to another, especially if the provider itself ate the costs. Note that Microsoft requires you to encrypt the drive, so if it is lost in transit your data is theoretically safe.

Why this matters: The concept of “seeding” a backup isn’t new. Code42’s CrashPlan service used to offer the option of shipping an encrypted drive for them to load data into the cloud. (We haven’t been able to confirm if that option is still available, however.) Quick Backup, an Australian service, also offers a seeding option. Microsoft hasn’t said it will follow suit with a consumer seeding option for OneDrive. Neither has Google, for Google Drive. But for those cloud services that want to grow their business, drive seeding might be an option worth offering.

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