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Cambridge University deploys Dropbox for file sync-and-share

Dropbox replaces numerous consumer file share products and bespoke connections as Cambridge audits 6,500 academics to roll out invisible collaboration for hundreds of use cases

The University of Cambridge has made Dropbox available to 6,500 academic staff to allow collaboration and file sharing within the institution and between organisations.

An audit carried out by the university’s IT department discovered 250 discrete use cases for file sync-and-share.

The move consolidated file sharing and collaboration methods onto a single system where researchers previously had used a variety of methods to collaborate.

These ranged from the consumer versions of file sync-and-share products such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive to FTP connections from departments at Cambridge to others around the world.

The disadvantages of this scenario were that researchers used up time setting up and maintaining these connections, and in some cases it would also use up valuable local drive space, said Dr Mark Ferrar, chief architect at Cambridge’s University Information Services.

The first key stage in the process, said Ferrar, was to audit the way researchers were sharing information with colleagues.

“We saw a wide variety of tools, and traffic going in and out of the network,” he said “So, we asked about the ways academics collaborated.”

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Dropbox was one of the consumer products widely used by the Cambridge academic staff, said Ferrar.

“We went out and asked about use cases, and talked to Dropbox. We saw the consumer version was being used widely, so it made sense to integrate things.”

The process of deploying Dropbox entailed integrating it without on-premise identity and access management and making it easy for people to sign up to Dropbox via an internal portal, said Ferrar.

The main benefit to the university is that it makes collaboration easier. “The University of Cambridge values the independent of academic staff,” said Ferrar. “And they will find a way of completing a task one way or another. We want there to be very few barriers to completing work; it’s part of our challenge.”

In addition, it has had some practical benefits in IT terms. “There is reduced administration effort, and we get a better idea of who is collaborating and in what way,” he said. “We also don’t have to worry about disk space used.”

Is there any way to put a figure on the benefits? Ferrar doesn’t think so. “There’s no useful way to put numbers to any kind of saving because the idea has been to reduce friction, to enable more and easier collaboration rather than to save money.”

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