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Industrial giant Siemens has deployed secure file sharing across its Atos-based enterprise private cloud, powered by EMC and Syncplicity file synchronisation.
Speaking to Computer Weekly at the Gartner Symposium in Barcelona, Frederik Janssen, an IT director responsible for management IT infrastructure service lifecycle management at Siemens, said the company has been on a journey, dubbed SmartStorage, as part of a wider IT transformation.
The IT group supports 350,000 users along with providing a growing number of IT services for business partners.
Siemens, like other large enterprises, is going through a large digitisation initiative, and the programme has focused on how IT can change to cope with the speed of innovation.
Janssen said the digitisation programme has been used to modernise the working environment, take out cost and improve the usability and efficiency of IT.
“Within IT infrastructure, we were responsible for €250m in savings,” he explained.
One of the biggest parts of this modernisation programme is what he described as SmartStorage, where object storage is used to run next-generation, software-defined file services.
“We are using Syncplicity to utilise object storage and produce classical file storage, without the need to invest in additional hardware. It is very cheap, costing a few cents per gigabyte,” said Janssen.
The company operates thousands of file servers around the world. “We can use the storage for applications, which can be integrated virtually,” he said.
The company assessed several file collaboration tools. “We needed something like Dropbox,” added Janssen. “We looked at 15 file collaboration tools, including Box, Citrx ShareFile and Microsoft OneDrive.”
On-premise storage support
Janssen said the company chose Syncplicity because it supported on-premise storage. “We are not ready to put our data in the public cloud,” he added.
In terms of hardware, the company has deployed EMC’s elastic cloud storage, run on a private cloud from Atos.
Janssen said the company took time to prepare the roll-out of Syncplicity so it could be deployed quickly.
“Everyone wanted the change, and in IT, we approached the project in an agile way,” he said. “We did sprints to test everything.”
The company then spent three months putting together a stable, robust migration approach, which involved switching users over at the start of their working day.
“When they came to the office, everything on their home drive was copied into Syncplicity,” said Janssen. “We ended up with 100% adoption on day one, because the data was only accessible through Syncplicity.”
The file synchronisation process began once the user logged in, and took between 10 and 60 minutes to complete.
This preparation and migration process enabled Siemens to deploy Syncplicty to 50,000 users in less than 12 months. The company is now adding affiliate users, with partner companies.
There is a new client application for Windows, and apps for smartphones to give users access to files.
The IT team needed to be clear on the scope of the project, given the new style of continuous development and delivery means modern products are often upgraded with new functionality during a large-scale roll-out.
“Release cycles are so quick that you have to be very clear what you want to achieve,” said Janssen.
Without this level of clarity, scope creep could cause the project to grow uncontrollably. “The scope of the project covered shared drives,” he said. “User access rights were copied into Syncplicity from the company’s Windows Active Directory.”
Security is a trade-off
He admitted that security is a trade-off. While a certain level of security is required, users will use other file sharing products if it is too complex. “Once users bypass IT, you maybe in a worse situation,” said Janssen.
“On mobile devices, for example, you need strong authentications, but they are valid for 90 days,” he said. This means users only need to authenticate onto the Siemens servers from their mobile devices once every three months.
One of the innovative ways Syncplicity has helped Siemens employees has been in device-independent printing. This has often been a challenge for users, due to the need for them to have the right printer device driver installed on their device, but the company is now standardising its printing environment.
By integrating with Syncplicity, Janssen said it would be possible for a user to copy a document into a Syncplicity print folder. They would be able to use any device, such as an iPhone.
“The user would upload the file into the Syncplicity folder, then go to a printer and log in,” he said. Using the Syncplicity application programming interface, the printer accesses all the documents the user has uploaded for printing.