Storage

How to move files from an on-site server to Google Drive

Move files and folders to Team Drive or My Drive locations, then access them from Windows or macOS with Google Drive File Stream.

Illustration of file server (left) with four small documents — above a red arrow — flying toward a Google Drive logo (right)
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Two organizations I work with still store files to an on-site server, mostly out of habit. People work with files stored in shared folders on-site. They save a copy of a file when they need to work with it off-site. And if they don't know which folder a file sits inside, search is slow. Both organizations have used G Suite for more than two years.

Both organizations now plan to move their files from an on-site server to Google Drive, thanks to two features Google launched in 2017: Team Drives and Google Drive File Stream.

Team Drives, which launched in March 2017, simplifies document ownership and access. A Team Drive "owns" the files, instead of an individual. As group membership changes, access to the files also changes. Before Team Drives, every Google Drive file or folder was owned by an individual account — and that's still true for files and folders stored on an individual's "My Drive." And now every member of a Team Drive can work with every file stored on that Team Drive.

SEE "How to set up Google Team Drives" (TechRepublic)

Google Drive File Stream, which launched in September 2017, gives your local filesystem access to Google Drive. You can view, open, save, and work with files on Google Drive within File Explorer (on Windows) or the Finder (on macOS). For example, in Windows, you can access Google Drive as a mapped drive, then right-click a file (or folder) to select items to work with offline.

SEE "Google Killing Drive for Mac and PC, replacing with Drive File Stream" (TechRepublic)

The launch of Team Drives and Google Drive File Stream lets people continue to work with shared files in a familiar manner. If you're ready to make the move, here's how to move files from a local server to Google Drive. For the following to work, make sure that both Team Drives and Google Drive File Stream are enabled in the G Suite Admin console.

Screenshot of mapped network drive (G:) and Team Drive and My Drive files in Windows

Access Google Drive files — including Team Drives and My Drive — from your native file system in Windows or macOS, with the Google Drive File Stream app.

1. Move shared files and folders

I recommend a G Suite administrator handle the initial configuration and file move, since a G Suite administrator can create any folders and manage permissions, as needed.

As much as possible, I suggest that you attempt to replicate the existing folder and file structure of your existing on-site server on Google Drive. Upload files and folders that everyone can access and edit to a similarly named folder — that everyone can access and edit — on a Team Drive. Upload files that only specific team members can access to a similarly named folder — that only those specific team members can access — on a different Team Drive. Remember, the upload speed of your internet connection will limit how quickly your data can transfer.

2. Move private files and folders

Work with each user to move any private files — files currently stored in a "private" folder on the server or on an individual's computer — to a similar folder on the user's "My Drive" on Google Drive. By default, files on "My Drive" are private, unless shared by the user.

Illustration: network folder on left with arrow to Team Drives; private folder on left with arrow to My Drive

I suggest you move shared folders (and files) to Team Drives, and private folders (and files) to each person's respective "My Drive".

Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

3. Deploy apps

Make sure every person has both Chrome and the Google Drive File Stream app installed. In the case of the two organizations I work with, everyone already uses Chrome, so we just need to deploy the Google Drive File Stream app. Install these apps with your standard app deployment methods. (If you don't use a tool to manage apps deployments, just install these apps on each system.)

Each person will also need to login to the Google Drive File Stream app with a G Suite account. This connects their filesystem to Google Drive and allows access to all items on Google Drive that they have permission to access.

Screenshot of Google Drive File Stream sync status in Windows 10

See the status of the Google Drive File Stream app, shown here in the Windows 10 system tray.

4. Review app links

Next, verify that files open in the appropriate app. For example, open the Google Drive File Stream mapped drive, then double-click on a Google Docs file. Chrome should open to allow you to edit the file. Similarly, if you have Microsoft Word installed, when you double-click on a Word file in the Google Drive File Stream mapped drive, Word should open to allow you to edit the file.

You can change the default app associated with files. For example, if you change the default file association from Word to Google Drive File Stream for .doc files, Word documents will open within Google Docs in Chrome, instead of the installed Microsoft Word app. (Here's how to change the default program file associations on Windows or on macOS.)

5. Optional: set offline access

You can also choose specific files and folders for offline access. Select the folder, then right-click (Windows) or control-click (macOS), and choose "Available offline." This works well if you edit documents with installed software, such as Microsoft Office documents. To work with Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides while offline, enable offline access in Chrome.

On Windows: screenshot of menus that display when you right-click on a file within your file system stored on Google Drive, then choose Google Drive File Stream options.

With Google Drive File Stream, set files or folders to be available offline. In the example shown: right-click on a file stored on Google Drive from within Windows file explorer, then choose Google Drive File Stream to select offline access options.

The move from an on-site server to Google Drive — with Team Drives and Google Drive File Stream — lets people continue to work with files much like they have in the past. But now, files are easier to find and people can work with files anywhere.

What's your experience?

Did the launch of Team Drives and/or the Google Drive File Stream app prompt you to switch from an on-site server to Google Drive? What has your experience been with these two apps? Has this eliminated your need for an on-site file server entirely? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).

Also see

About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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