Set up Dropbox as a Service

I love Dropbox. We’ve finally got rid of the file servers in the corner and rely on the Dropbox service for all our internal storage, backup and mirroring to other servers. recently we’ve started building web applications that can be dynamically updated by just copying files into a Dropbox share – and our clients love it! Key to this is getting Dropbox set up as a service on the remote server.

What you need: Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit. Assuming installation was done in default directory.

1. Install Dropbox (I used version 1.2.52)
2. Choose preferences and uncheck “Show desktop notifications” and “Start Dropbox on system startup”
3. Exit Dropbox by clicking exit in the context menu that shows when right clicking icon in task bar
4. Execute at command line prompt:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Resource Kits\Tools>instsrv Dropbox “c:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Resource Kits\Tools\srvany.exe”

If everything went ok, the following will be displayed:

The service was successfuly added!

Make sure that you go into the Control Panel and use
the Services applet to change the Account Name and
Password that this newly installed service will use
for its Security Context.

Next is to change the user for witch the newly added service “Dropbox” runs under. Change this to Administrator.
5. Choose properties on Dropbox service.
6. Click on tab “Log On”
7. Click “This account”, and select Admimistrator. Set appropriate password.
8. Click Apply and OK

If this is the first time you have done this procedure for the administrator user, you will get an notification saying that the “Administrator user has been granted log on as service rights”

Next is to setup some registry settings for the service
9. Start > Run > regedit
10. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dropbox
11. Create a new key “Parameters”
12. Add a new string value “Application”, (type REG_SZ). Set the value to the path to the dropbox.exe binary. Find the location by right clicking on the Dropbox icon on the desktop. Simply copy the path from there.
13. Close Registry Editor
14. Go back to Services, and start the Dropbox service

Now everything should be in place and work correctly.

Addition: It works fine to stop the Dropbox service, then start Dropbox and make changes in preferences etc, save changes and exit Dropbox. Then you can start Dropbox service again without problems. Work very neat actually. Running now on Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 64-bit. On Windows Server 2008 you can just copy instsrv.exe and srvany.exe to a folder under Program Files and create the Dropbox service from there.

Could Dropbox replace the Small Office Server?

It started as many IT Consultancy visits do – a “quick visit” to sort out a minor problem with sending an email at a small business (9 members of staff with a PC each), and then, out of nowhere comes the question that we dread when on a tight time-scale with the next month already booked up in advance… “we need an server to share files for all of us – could you set that up for us… we need it next week, will it cost much?” In default “IT Consultant Mode” I started explaining the costs of the physical hardware, the Windows Server licence, how long it would take to order, install and configure on each PC, and then, just as I was explaining the electricity cost, I stopped.. Thinking back I wonder if my customer thought I had lost it completely, as I stopped open-mouthed and went “AAAHHH” far too loud, and then I asked a question I have never uttered before..

“There might be a better way – have you heard of DropBox?”

She replied that she hadn’t, and enquired as to what it was. It was then that it struck me, on every previous occasion, what was it that always got added on the end of the shared files question… “can I access them at home?” and I started my explanation with a question: “Would you like to be able to access and update the shared documents from home?”. To say that the customer was shocked was an understatement as she struggled to contain her enthusiasm “you mean I could actually do that???” So I proceeded to explain over the course of about 10 minutes the two possible routes – the traditional route with the server, the new router, the VPN, the approximate cost of £2400 all in, and the new route – the brand new option – Dropbox, which is free for up to 2Gb of storage. I asked what was being stored in the file store, and emphasised the importance of not storing personal information in the new dropbox folder if we were to use it, and the answer “no, its just for a few policies and procedures” meant it was a perfect fit. So, 30 minutes after arriving on-site to fix email, all staff have dropbox installed on their PC with a nice DropBox shortcut on their desktop to the folder, the owner has had the dropbox guided tour and actually understands it all (and added Dropbox on her iPhone there an then), and wow – it works (and is still working) perfectly. One very, very happy customer, with a solution that when coupled in the near future with Office 365 will result in not needing any server for the office at all. Dropbox I salute you – a wonderful new technology that can be applied to revolutionise business file sharing.

The perils of dropbox when its not understood

It all started with a very panicked phone call, one of our customers was exceptionally worried – she had been deleting files from her computer and then realised that they were no longer available on her iPhone…. And it took me a while to register that last part… On her phone..? Oohhh and then it hit me – the company in question were using DropBox!

So, rewind several weeks, and a local company who have no IT experts amongst their staff needed a way to share their standard corporate documents with a new office in Belfast, budget was a real issue, and a VPN was out of the question, so I had recommended  that Dropbox would be a good solution. It was diligently installed on their server and done so well, that none of the staff noticed any changes (something that would turn out not to be a good thing) – they still accessed their documents through the mapped drive to “Shared staff documents” on their computers.

But things did not end there – unknown to us the company director and one member of staff didn’t quite understand the concept (fault of not explaining it properly entirely mine) and after I had left the site, they downloaded dropbox and put it on their own machines…. Which don’t have sufficient hard disk space to store the 30Gb+ of documents that were then synchronised across the network to their pcs. The first signs of concern was an email saying that the network was running very slowly, but a different local it person visited the site and rebooted the server, and suddenly all was well… (as it turns out, really not well – the dropbox service hadn’t started, so it appeared to have worked, but the moment anyone logged on to the server it started the service again…)

To resolve the mounting issue of lack of disk space the staff with locally installed started deleting documents from the new local dropbox folder…. And that is when the disaster started taking hold…. Nearly 3Gb of documents permanently deleted in moments… Everywhere, in every office… Gone.

Thankfully the panicked phone call stopped all that, and order is now restored (and all documents recovered – a wonderful dropbox feature!) with a big bit of learning – training, training, training – absolutely essential!