Dropbox possible usage and licensing scheme

Let us review the possibility to have Dropbox Advanced licenses for STAR use and how would a scheme work for STAR in this context.

Why Dropbox

Dropbox is the only available distributed storage offering at the moment that is available for all platform. In short, unlike other distributed storage solutions such as Google drive or Windows’ OneDrive that is, works on Linux, Mac and Windows. In 2016, this was thoroughly tested at BNL by quite a few members.

Note: please note that NO global storage solution is accessible from countries such as China (blocking its access along with Google drive and so on ...). However, a squid proxy would likely (TBC) be sufficient to access the Dropbox Web Interface and a VPN usually recommended (by Microsoft itself) to go through the great firewall.

The Advanced offering

In 2016, Dropbox Enterprise was evaluated and the Advanced offering also considered. While the comparison metric between diverse offering is available at this link, let us first review the main key feature of either Advanced or Enterprise over the free or “pro” license. Those advantages include:

  • All plans have a 120 days backup of older versions of files (history and recovery possible for as far back as 4 months), have now Dropbox Paper, MS Office 365 Integration (i.e. edit Office documents and share with Others in real-time), smart sync and so on.
  • Unlike the free version (Basic plan – 2 GB) and the pro offering (limited to 2 TB), Advanced/Enterprise offers “As much space as needed”
  • Device approval is part of the admin controls (that is, a stolen laptop can be removed from accessing the content)
  • Both have Tiered administration features (hierarchy of admins with different roles possible), SSO possibilities, audits.

Now, a reason why we did not find the integration with the Enterprise was adequate is that (a) it tights us up to the BNL Domain account (making it hard to share with people NOT having an account in BNL/ITD domain) and (b) this appeared during evaluation to have show stopper integration issues [jlauret@bnl.gov had to “convert” to MS-Exchange as Email box – not clear why but this too close integration is inconvenient]


Proposed process for granting and Advanced license

Current usage in STAR

  • The electronic group shares a slew of document with all its members – this goes from presentation, design documents, text documents (diverse format), engineer designs, etc … This tends to be a “whole thing or nothing” share. Previously shared via a Microsoft centric product (unfit for Unix/Linux users and not shareable with people outside BNL no matter their countries), migration to a Dropbox like solution has been discussed (started and encouraged).
  • Detector sub-system – the EPD sub-system also shares a slew of documents via Dropbox. This has allowed fast project development, manage and keep everyone up-to-date at all times, share minutes instantly etc ...

Proposed mechanism to grant an Advanced license

Ask each requester for the following information

  • A reason for requesting an Advanced license including a usage description (including a usage category as defined in STAR i.e. hardware, software, physics, management)
  • If for a group, how many licenses are part of the request.
  • A usage expectation (storage in GB, TB or otherwise) and sharing expectations (with the whole of STAR? Selective groups? With members NOT in STAR? How would this be achieved if they do not have the Advanced/infinite storage plan?)
  • To describe what, if not provided, would be the consequence of NOT being granted an Advanced license.

Based on the requests, I suggest a team composed of (Ops manager, PAC, S&C lead and one person from SO for any other categories) sort by priorities as they see and balance through the categories (perhaps re-normalized as needed) and make sure to evaluate if the usage could not be satisfied by a simple a Dropbox basic plan.


Infinite storage, a need for best practices

As much as needed but …

Now, it is to be noted right away that “As much space as needed” needs to be put into the context of how Dropbox works. Dropbox has both a Web interface (and a Web UI / Web service applications may interact with) as well a File System based interface. Now, let us say that you have a 1 TB directory and try to share this with someone who has a “Basic” account, that person will NOT be able to fit that entire directory into its 2 GB storage limit. But, if the directory is not marked as “auto-sync” by default, he/she will be able to access the directory via the Web interface and download only the documents needed to his/her laptop.


This implies that (a) a directory structure is needed to avoid having all users shared an entire directory tree (potentially exceeding heir storage plan) and (b) that directories/files created should not be marked as synchronized by default (if already sync, you can go to “Preferences” → “Account” → Selective sync and uncheck the directory).

Best practices

Dropbox for yourself is one thing (your are responsible for your own directory structure and file naming) but using a global storage like Dropbox and haring with 100ds of people is another and requires some thinking.

  • Avoid sync to your desktop/laptop by default (use selective sync)
  • Think carefully of a directory structure and the sharing granularity
    • Some people may want and should see all files on their Desktop, others may not
  • Do NOT name directories at a given level with generic names – Organize by team, by project or activities
  • Establish a descriptive naming convention
  • Assume by default and from the start (no matter what) that all files will be shared at some point, not kept private. Name them accordingly
  • Advise people to keep their own files in private folders and to share purposefully – as soon as infinite storage appears, temptation will occur (including backup of your files and folders). But do I need to see your last summer’s pictures? Or have access to your backup by default? In short, keep private trees separated.
  • When you perform a backup in a storage system like Dropbox, upload the file, do not sync (several tools use the Dropbox API to do this). Again, remember this should be private … not shared with everyone.

Example of “not so useful” files and directories

  • Since you share the name space with potentially many people, a file named “talk.ppt”, "QM2015.ppt" in a “review” or "conference" folder is likely very inconvenient for the community you share this file with (give it a name that is self-descriptive).
  • Similarly, a sub-directory “pictures” or “4Jerome” in a random area (names that could be used by others to share similar contents) are probably not good ideas.

Workable structure examples

        → Proposal
        → Design documents

with documents within with dates is likely workable. Similarly, structures such as


STAR Users  → jeromel   → (whatever that Jerome
guy wants)
  yezhenyu → (also whatever he sees

would match what we have in AFS in the user area (or under the PWG work area and it is made clear that users are responsible for their own namespace) and be fine as far as we have enough licenses. The issue here is that the suggestion would be that all users can be granted a license (and we may have a limited number of them).

Conferences  → 2005-2010 → ...
  2011-2016 → ...
  2017 → ISMD 2017
    CPOD 2017
    SQM 2017

Separating work areas by year but also flagging each conference with a year is very useful for many reasons.
  1. Not all users will need to sync the older directories to their Laptop/Desktop (they can always browse the web interface and search from there the relevant document). In other words, the sub-directories 2005-2010 and 2011-2016 would act as archive (you may disable auto-sync for those directories)
  2. It will prevent document cluttering by clearly separating areas by year - this trick can be used for many more work areas and help prevent namespace clash.
  3. A year structure allows faster identification of past documents.