Why one college chose Dropbox over Box, Google Drive, and OneDrive

Davidson College logo

When Davidson College was looking for a collaboration platform to replace its legacy server, it put aside guesswork and checklists. Instead, the IT team pit Dropbox against three competitors in a series of tests designed to find the best tool for the job. In the end, Dropbox for Education was selected as Davidson’s choice for its faculty, staff, and students.

A private liberal arts school located in North Carolina, Davidson College counts 23 Rhodes Scholars, NBA star Stephen Curry, and NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn among its alumni. Davidson is known for innovative programs like its elimination of loans in financial aid packages—a first for a liberal arts college.

When Davidson’s Director of Systems & Networks Rob Smith was looking to replace their twenty-year-old Windows server, he channeled this same sense of innovation. His objective? Enable better collaboration for students and staff at a lower, more predictable price point.

Sync or swim

For Davidson, the path to their server replacement meant putting contenders through their paces. So Smith’s team did an extensive comparison of Dropbox, Box for Higher Education, Google Drive for Education, and Microsoft OneDrive. Consider the “sync or swim” test aimed at assessing sync speed: Smith uploaded a 112 GB file set to each service—this included 13 folders containing over 70,000 files of varying sizes—in order to see which would complete the fastest upload on Mac and Windows.

Box, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive did not complete the upload on either platform, and the sync was cancelled after 5 days’ time. Using the exact same set of files, Dropbox finished in hours.

“This sync test told me everything that I needed to know about the available solutions for cloud-based file storage. It was the point I realized that we could justify paying for a solution that definitely works versus going with a free or lower-cost solution.”
Rob Smith, Director of Systems & Networks, Davidson College

Rapid adoption, improved economics

Since the initial deployment of Dropbox for Education to faculty and staff in March 2015, Smith and the Davidson IT team have seen fantastic results. Invitations to join Davidson’s Dropbox for Education network were accepted at a rate of 70% in just a few weeks, and users were excited about the change. The speed and rate of adoption weren’t exactly a surprise: before deployment, over 1,700 students, faculty, and staff had individual Dropbox accounts using Davidson e-mail addresses.

On the IT side, the move to Dropbox has allowed Davidson to began exploring ways to extend innovation to its systems and infrastructure at a lower cost.

“As we evaluate our on-premises services, especially storage, we think we’ve bought our last Storage Area Network (SAN). When we consider that our last SAN cost in the $500,000 range, we can dramatically change the economics of the game by replacing it with a combination of Dropbox for Education and VMware-optimized solid state storage. Between the two we’re looking at half the previous spend.”
Rob Smith, Director of Systems & Networks, Davidson College

Expanding the deployment for enhanced collaboration

Starting in the fall of 2016, all 2,500 faculty, staff, and students at Davidson will have access to Dropbox. Smith anticipates this will drive even greater collaboration on and off campus, helping everyone in the network at Davidson to stay connected and work smarter and faster, together.

As for the future? With increasingly mobile students and faculty, Dropbox and other modern tools will play an even bigger role at Davidson. Whether they’re facilitating access to information, or enabling secure collaboration with off-campus partners, these new technologies will be an important part of Davidson’s IT infrastructure. And their Dropbox for Education deployment is leading the way.