White Flag

Enterprise Cloud Filesharing: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

White FlagThe problem of rogue clouds is getting more and more attention. Organizations are realizing that employees and others are storing files in the cloud — and typically that means in the same file hosting and synchronization service they use for their personal data, whether it be Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, SkyDrive, SugarSync or one of a dozen others.

It’s the BYOC (Bring Your Own Cloud) phenomenon I mentioned a few weeks back. The reasons for its popularity are not hard to see: cloud-based file storage services are designed to be user-friendly and to integrate cleanly with a PC or smartphone. They are also easy to sign up for, and they give a useful amount of storage for free. Plus, there’s no USB sticks to lose or have to smuggle through security.

It is a classic example of the consumerization of technology, where consumer markets come to drive IT innovation. Such technology is developed to be easy to use and stylish, rather than secure and manageable, yet businesses then find themselves having to somehow assimilate it.

However, as with BYOD and the smartphone — and, if we go back far enough, the IBM PC, too — it is very hard for the IT department to simply say “No” to public file hosting, because if you do, your users will simply route around you. Sure, you can implement content and Web filters to block off sites you don’t like, but there are back-channels — and there will probably be too many influential execs using this stuff already.

So what to do? Increasingly, organizations need to be looking to anticipate these demands, satisfying them properly with equally usable yet secure and controllable versions, before the insecure and uncontrollable ones become too deeply embedded.

It shouldn’t be too surprising that some of the cloud storage companies are already doing much the same thing, anticipating corporate demand by developing managed and team-oriented versions of their services, and, in several cases, adding APIs so that third-party apps can link in to use the cloud storage.

The idea is simple — if people want file sharing in the cloud then give it to them, but on your terms, not theirs. That means strong permission and version controls, plus encryption, tracking, and reporting, as well as two-step verification.

It also means making use of the cloud within the business, whether that’s to replace file sharing via email or FTP — with all the size, security and versioning problems associated with those methods — or as shared storage for collaboration tools.

Leading the ‘enterprise content sharing’ pack is probably Box (formerly Box.net), although TeamDrive is also a strong contender — assisted by its 2048-bit RSA encryption — and Dropbox has a business offering which shares 1TB of storage across a team.

For example, voicemail transcription service HulloMail picked Box for content management, while mobile office suite developer SmartOffice linked up with TeamDrive to offer a secure document sharing and editing service.

As well as all the usual cloud benefits such as faster and simpler implementation, jumping aboard the consumerization wagon also means that many or most of your people will already know how to use these tools, so that’s less time needed for training and admin.

The caveat, as ever, is connectivity. Performance for cloud storage is likely to be lower than local storage, depending how much WAN bandwidth is available. WAN optimization can help here of course, as can technologies such as Dropbox’s LANsync, which, as the name implies allows local devices to sync over the LAN where possible.

In essence, embracing cloud filesharing means swimming with the tide, not against it — or perhaps taking the steering wheel of the runaway truck, rather than trying to stop it with a wall.