We have two resources available that allow faculty and staff to share files:
- Google Shared Drive
- J Drive
While both are available and fully supported, we strongly recommend that you use Google Shared Drive for a number of reasons.
Both a Google Shared Drive and the J Drive allow you to access files locally on your computer.
The J Drive requires that you have that drive mounted on both Windows and MacOS computers. This is usually setup for you by ITS staff when your computer is deployed.
If you want to use and maintain files directly on your computer, Google requires that you install Drive File Stream. Because of the technical architecture behind these solutions, files in a Google Shared Drive will perform better than files on the J Drive.
You can also access a Google Shared Drive via your browser (preferably Chrome). This is perfect for maintaining and sharing Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Sheets, etc. You can't do this with the J Drive.
Files shared via Google Shared Drives are easier to get at from anywhere. When using your work laptop with Drive File Stream installed, it doesn't matter where you are in the world (assuming the service hasn't been banned in a particular country). Files are accessed the same way from home, a coffee shop, or your office.
As mentioned above, you can also access your Google Shared Drive via a web browser, which means you can login on any computer in the world, as long as it has internet access. You can't do this with the J Drive.
You can also access your Google Shared Drive files on a mobile device like your smartphone or tablet, using the Google Drive app. You can't do this with the J Drive.
Google Shared Drive also has the ability to work on files offline. When you mark a folder in this manner, all files in that folder will be downloaded and sync'd to your computer automatically. This means that you can edit a spreadsheet on an airplane, for example, with no access to WiFi. Your updates will then be sync'd back the next time you connect to the Internet. You can't do this with the J Drive.
The servers that host the J Drive are located on campus. This means they are supported and maintained 100% by our own staff. When there is any kind of outage, our staff always works well to restore the service, sometimes having to restore files from a backup. This often requires some downtime, including limited or no access to files.
The servers that host Google Drive files are in many locations in the world, fully supported by Google's infrastructure staff. Google is much more equipped to handle outages and server issues, allowing them to provide an experience with less downtime and less of a chance of losing files or updates to those files.
As an example, during a power outage on campus, you can still connect your laptop to a wireless hotspot (or WiFi at a coffee shop or home), allowing you to still access your Google Shared Drive. This is also true via the Google Drive app on your phone or tablet. You can't do this with the J Drive.
Access to J Drive folders is maintained completely by ITS staff. All requests for changes must be submitted to the ITS Service Desk for handling.
Access to Google Shared Drives is maintained completely by the person(s) who owns the folder. For example, you can add each person in your department and indicate each person's level of access, and then you can also change this at any time. Even if you haven't changed access in many months, you can always see the list of people who have access, along with what level of access each has. You can't do this with the J Drive.
On occasion, we hear the question, "Is the J Drive going away?" The short answer to that is "no". But it's not a simple "no". Here's the back story.
When we implemented Google Apps on campus back in 2013, everyone immediately started using Gmail and Google Calendar. Then as we started helping people use Google Drive, some users would say things like, "this looks like it could replace the J Drive". And you may have heard a number of people in ITS say things like, "yes it can". But those comments were mostly in reference to a specific person's use of the J Drive, or that of an entire department. Many departments have indeed switched over to use Google Shared Drives for all the reasons explained in this article.
While there is no definite plan to eliminate the J Drive completely, it's also reasonable to expect that we will indeed need to do that at some point in the future. But the upside is that we have a very viable alternative today in Google Shared Drives. And it's not just a workaround. It's a fully supported product, part of the G Suite apps, that offers much more functionality than what the J Drive can offer.
So, if you haven't switched yet, we strongly encourage you and your department to make the switch. By doing it now, well ahead of any talk of eliminating the J Drive, you'll have the best opportunity for a smooth transition.
If you'd like further assistance, we'd be happy to meet with you (or your department) to talk about how you use your files and answer any questions you have.