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The availability of cheap, easy-to-use and accessible cloud file-sharing services means users have more freedom and choice than ever before.
Dropbox pioneered simplicity and ease of use, and so quickly picked up users inside the enterprise. Similar services have followed Dropbox's lead and now there are dozens, including well-known ones such as Google Drive, SkyDrive and Ubuntu One.
Valdis Filks, research director at analyst firm Gartner explained the appeal of cloud file-sharing services.
Filks said: “Enterprise employees use Dropbox and Google because they are consumer products that are simple to use, can be purchased without officially requesting new infrastructure or budget expenditure, and can be installed quickly on your own device without the involvement of IT.”
But, IT departments have become concerned about the security of uploaded corporate data, especially as compliance requires knowledge of and control over the data's location. In addition, many consumer-grade services do not provide the kinds of features that enterprises need.
Analyst Greg Schulz of StorageIO said the problem with consumer-grade cloud file sharing services is not the technology per se but their usage: “Generally speaking, at least for the sites with good security, identity access management and other safeguards, it’s not that there is anything wrong with the technology, rather how it might be used or abused.”
Filks said: “Lack of security is the main issue, this includes data protection, ID and password management. Security and FSS [file sync and share] are diametrically opposed; security restricts access whereas FSS provides access to information.”
Filks explained the tension in the enterprise: “Users want something simple to use that does not cost them any money and they do not want to be responsible for any management or security.”
“But, the IT infrastructure people want the system to be secure and highly available, which includes business continuity, a thought-out roadmap of how the present FSS solution can be upgraded to the next and the usual documentation. They want to know if the system is performing correctly, where the bottlenecks are, security audit trails etc.”
Wild Beauty goes for Dropbox cloud file-sharing
Wild Beauty is a distributor for Paul Mitchell hair care and styling products in Germany, Austria and beyond. Its team of around 90 internal staff and educators needed access to information about the latest products while the salesforce needed to be able to take these on the road to show prospective customers.
The company tried USB sticks, email and FTP sites but they all proved too difficult and clunky so the company opted for an online shared storage service.
“We looked at lots of services, but we focused on Dropbox for Business based on its usability and ease of use, plus the cross-platform compatibility with PCs, Macs and mobile devices,” board member Noah Wild said.
“This means we don't need to spend much time teaching people how to use the tools, even older members of the salesforce who have been on the road for 30 or 40 years.”
As well as the self-training that users had already done, another plus point was the number of third-party developers for Dropbox.
“The ecosystem is more advanced than the competitors,” Wild said. “There's a PDF tool we have integrated into Dropbox which is easy to use. And our educators use DropVoice which allows us to share voicemail messages. It was easy to integrate these tools, and it was cheaper too.”
From an enterprise integration perspective, Wild considered integrating Dropbox users with Active Directory (AD) but decided this was not needed, mainly because a significant proportion of the workforce is freelance and so not in the AD system.
“We liked the way that even though we are not a large enterprise, Dropbox listened to us and helped us achieve what we wanted,” Wild said. “It's nice to see them taking notice of us as a mid-sized business.”
Cloud file-sharing product survey
Except where stated, all these services use a single folder as the synchronisation point, and an automatic background sync with the service's servers triggered by changes in the sync folder.
Mainstream cloud file-sharing services
Box offers multi-platform access to its storage as well as access to its APIs, allowing enterprises to add functionality via new apps, develop new workflows, or build a branded interface. It integrates with Active Directory and connects to enterprise applications and general productivity applications. Prices for the business package start at £11 per user monthly for 1TB. The enterprise package is customised and provides multiple roles and permissions, plus logging and reporting.
Dropbox for Business offers multiple permissions, collaboration features, activity reporting, file versioning, at least 1TB of capacity, and both file delta and LAN synchronisation. Files are stored using 256-bit AES encryption and accessed using an SSL-secured tunnel with optional two-step verification. Available for PC, iOS, Kindle, BlackBerry and Android, it costs $795 annually for five users, plus $125 per additional user thereafter.
Hightail offers multi-platform clients and file sharing of up to 2GB per user for the Professional package (£11.99 monthly), and 10GB for the Teams package (£18.99 monthly) which adds administrative features and user management. A custom-priced Enterprise package adds single sign-on via Active Directory, policies for content sharing, analytics, and role-based access controls. Security features include 128-bit SSL and 256-bit AES encryption. Data management includes via file tracking and file expiry dates.
SpiderOak's Blue package includes a management console for provisioning and managing accounts, setting group policies and permissions, and accessing and controlling data. It integrates with Microsoft Active Directory, OpenLDAP and RedHat Directory Server with clients for Mac, Windows, iOS and Android. Reports available include usage, data stored, login statistics, last login, user devices and space used. It costs US$600 annually per TB with a maximum of 100 users per TB. Using in-house storage costs US$5 monthly per user but with a minimum monthly charge of US$5,000.
TeamDrive offers file sharing, automatic version control enabling collaboration, and synchronisation and backups from Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS and Android clients. Four-level permissions include overall admin, as well as groups, group leaders and group members. Access to data and storage, with all files versioned, is secured by 256-bit AES encryption. Storage can be either TeamDrive's Amazon cloud, or a private, self-hosted TeamDrive server. The per-user price is €50.41 annually for 2GB per user.
Thru offers file transfer for enterprises featuring granular controls over data and users. Services include file tracking, encryption, virus checking, file despatch via browser, alerts when files are uploaded, and connectors for applications such as Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes to use Thru when sending large attachments. Geographical control helps companies keep their data within national borders. Deployment options include using the company's cloud, a private cloud or on-premise infrastructure, and costs vary between US$5 and $15 per user, depending on the service selected.
Cloud file-sharing front ends
Egnyte's system is a front end for a range of private and/or public cloud infrastructures including Amazon S3, Azure, and Netapp Storage Grid. It offers file sharing across multiple platforms with permissions control over access by users and groups to files and folders, auditing and LDAP authentication. The Enterprise package with custom pricing includes storage sync and collaboration tools such as the ability to send file links, email attachments or share public folders.
Novell Filr front ends multiple identity stores including Active Directory, so enabling enterprise policies for file permissions and quotas. It uses in-house Windows or Novell Open Enterprise servers, and clients access storage over CIFS using Windows, Mac, iOS, BlackBerry, or Android clients, or a browser. Novell Filr is licensed per user and sold as an annual subscription in 50-user licence packs.
Open source cloud file-sharing
iFolder uses in-house servers to sync, backup and share files. Users can set up multiple sync folders using either a browser or clients for Linux, Mac, or Windows, and manage access rights and privileges to shared, encrypted folders from either client or server. Administrators can provision users using LDAP, set up disk quotas, and limit how many sync folders each user has.
ownCloud Enterprise Edition uses in-house servers and storage, managed by IT and using corporate access and identity systems and policies. It supports LDAP, and features include virus scanning and encryption. Clients are available for Windows, Mac and Linux, while servers can be installed on most Linux distributions, or be downloaded as a virtual appliance.
Sparkleshare is free and uses storage that you can self-host using a Git server, or use public hosts such as Github or Bitbucket. It syncs and tracks files edited by teams, has file versioning allowing reversion to any point in a file's history, and uses optional encryption on both client and server. Clients are available for Windows, Mac and Linux.