Campus in the cloud: IS&T offers Dropbox for Business to the MIT community

Enterprise version of the cloud-based file storage, syncing, and sharing service offers many features beyond those offered for personal accounts.


Dropbox is synonymous with cloud-based file storage, syncing, and sharing. At MIT, the Dropbox name has special cloud(t): the service was co-founded by MIT alumni Arash Ferdowsi '08 and Drew Houston '05; Houston later returned to campus to give the commencement address in 2013. In fact, the concept behind Dropbox was inspired by MIT’s use of the Andrew File System (AFS) as part of Athena.

Now the Dropbox-MIT partnership is moving to a higher level with the August 21 launch of Dropbox for Business at MIT. It’s not just about offering the community a more robust way to store and share files. According to Garry Zacheiss, senior IT manager of server & system administration in Information Systems and Technology (IS&T), “Dropbox has been eager to work with MIT, to get the community’s feedback on new features before they go public.”

From IS&T’s perspective, the rollout is not just of Dropbox as a service but as an evolved storage platform – in line with the platform vision articulated by John Charles, vice president for Information Systems and Technology. Dropbox for Business has a well-integrated, documented application programming interface (API), which means other applications can be built on top of it.  

The Basics

Dropbox provides a seamless way to back up and sync files between your devices, from desktops and laptops to tablets and smartphones. Files can include documents, photos, and videos, as well as files in other formats. Dropbox also enables file-sharing with others, even those without a Dropbox account.

Dropbox for Business adds features beyond those offered for personal accounts:

  • Unlimited storage. (Zacheiss points out that there is a practical limit – the capacity of your devices – since Dropbox syncs with the files on those devices.)
  • Unlimited recovery of deleted files.
  • Integration with Touchstone (at MIT). This feature provides additional security and saves you from keeping track of a separate Dropbox password.

Pilot Flies High, Lands Safely

At the start their partnership, MIT and Dropbox determined that there were more than 10,000 existing Dropbox accounts associated with @mit.edu email addresses, and even more when domains such as alum.mit.edu, csail.mit.edu, and media.mit.edu were included. These numbers helped make the case: Offering Dropbox for Business at MIT would enhance support for a tool already in wide use.

IS&T has been working closely with Dropbox for several months to pilot the service internally, integrate it with the campus infrastructure, and do an initial rollout to early adopters.

The pilot began in the Operations and Infrastructure group in IS&T, then expanded to cover all of IS&T and other early adopters, including staff in the Office of the Executive Vice President, the Department of Facilities, the MIT Libraries, the Media Lab, and the Division of Student Life. Select research labs also participated, including Professor Timothy Lu's Synthetic Biology Group and others in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.

Based on positive feedback from the pilot, IS&T is now officially making Dropbox for Business available to the community. Any MIT faculty member, staff member or student can sign up for an account.

An important note: If you have a personal account with Dropbox based on your MIT email address and register to set up a Dropbox for MIT account, your personal files will be moved to the Dropbox for MIT account. To keep your MIT and personal Dropbox accounts separate, you’ll need to set up a new personal account at a different email address (for example, @gmail.com or @yahoo.com). For instructions, see the IS&T Knowledge Base article, MIT Dropbox for Business Initial Set Up.

How It Works

In the Institute’s instance of Dropbox, all of MIT is one “team” (a Dropbox term). There is no integration with MIT groups or mailing lists at this time. If you want to give four people access to one of your shared folders, you have to give each of them access individually, as opposed to inviting a group. In the not-too-distant future, Dropbox aims to provide group functionality and the ability for enterprises to integrate their group data.

When deciding where to store your files, think about how you parse your work and personal email and treat your MIT and personal Dropbox accounts in the same way. Zacheiss suggests using Dropbox for Business for files that you want to share with colleagues or for work files you want to access from multiple machines.

He does not recommend that you put everything on Dropbox for Business (like your movie collection, photos from Little League, or files you plan to access from only one machine). Dropbox is also not a good place to store sensitive data (see the Knowledge Base article, Q: What sort of things should I not store in Dropbox?).

Before students graduate or employees leave MIT, they should make copies of whatever data they want to keep. Dropbox at MIT accounts are retired using the same deactivation process used for MIT email and AFS accounts. For details, see the Knowledge Base article, Q: What happens to my Dropbox for Business account when I leave MIT?

The Sky’s the Limit

MIT and Dropbox have their heads in the cloud. MIT has been testing Dropbox for Business features that are still in beta or have only been made public recently:

Right now, IS&T is working informally with faculty in one department to build an application on top of the Dropbox API for use in one of their courses. Over time, IS&T plans to integrate Dropbox for Business with more of its existing services. It hopes the community will also find innovative ways to make the most of Dropbox at MIT.

Resources

Several resources are available to help you learn more about Dropbox:

Support is also available through the IS&T Help Desk or Distributed IT Resources (DITR), as appropriate.

If you have feedback about Dropbox for Business at MIT, send mail to dropbox-support@mit.edu.


Topics: Technology licensing, Campus services, Information Systems and Technology

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