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Our company receives work orders in the form of PDFs. Each PDF may contain one or more orders, or one order may include several PDF. In our current workflow, one employee "cleans up" the PDFs, combining or splitting them so that there is exactly one PDF per order. A team of employees then goes through the PDFs and enters the orders into our inventory tracking system, attaching the PDF itself for future reference.

The difficulty is that many of these employees work from home. Currently, we synchronize these files via Google Drive, but the sheer volume of files leads to many sync errors, which I expect would be similar with other sync services such as Dropbox or OneDrive.

  • There is not much benefit to accessing these files online only, instead of syncing them, as the user still has to download them to edit the PDF or upload to our inventory tracking system.
  • We can't move away from using PDFs because some of our clients still like to fax or mail in orders, and it's more important to accommodate their needs.

I think the solution is to do away with synchronization and have all the users work on the files in the same "place", but I'm running into more difficulties.

  • We could set up a server, and have each user remote desktop into the server to do their work, but management is leery about hosting our own server because we don't know anything about server management and security. We had a server several years ago and it kept getting hacked.
  • We could set up a NAS, and have each user VPN into the NAS and mount the shared folder as a network drive, but a NAS that can support VPN is really just a server itself, so we're back to the same problem with being vulnerable to hacking if we're not sure what we're doing.
  • Asana (workflow management) lets you create to-do lists via email, so we could conveniently email the PDFs into Asana, but it doesn't have tools to split/combine the PDFs or upload them to our inventory management system without downloading them first. Similar issues with other workflow management solutions.
  • Something nice Google Drive included was the detailed file history, which made it relatively easy to track down missing or misplaced files
  • Hacks to assign a drive letter to the Google Drive folder are not helpful, as they still require the file to be synced, rather than accessed directly over the network.
  • Google Drive is currently testing placeholders, which sounds promising, but this requires G Suite Business, and we are on G Suite Basic. Upgrading to Business would double our monthly G Suite bill, which is out of budget (we can pay a few hundred a month, but not a few thousand a month).
  • Seafile Drive Client sounds promising, but it is still in beta.
  • Dropbox's Smart Sync/Project Infinite also sounds promising, but it still "syncs" files on demand, rather than editing them on the server.
  • OneDrive has (had?) placeholders in Windows 8, but they are still "forthcoming" in Windows 10.

So, are there any services that offer managed servers or hosted network folders, where they will take care of all the security and server management, and let users access the files and folders via Windows File Explorer as a network drive or folder? I've been trying to Google this for a while but I must be using the wrong terminology because nothing's coming up. The online storage solutions I have found all require that I set up a server to give others access, which is exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

We have a good-sized budget for this, as it would save us hundreds of dollars a month.

Similar (unanswered) question: What cloud storage software should I use for my company?

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I would suggest taking a look at Amazon S3 for your actual storage and Cloud Berry Pro for the user interface.

Amazon S3 storage charges look reasonable to me for the use that you are envisioning especially if you set up life-cycle rules to slide your data down the slope into Glacier.

Cloud Berry provides a FileZilla like user interface to S3 with Free or Pro ($40 per seat one off charge).

  • Thanks, but this isn't any better than accessing Google Drive via the browser (see the first bullet), since local programs wouldn't be able to access the files as part of the file system. The user would have to manually download the file, make edits, and re-upload it. – browly Jul 5 '17 at 15:11
  • Never mind; CloudBerry Drive does let you mount an S3 bucket as a network drive, so it looks like this would work. Thanks! – browly Jul 5 '17 at 18:03

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