Cloud, on-premise or both.

Drop The Box: Is Synchronisation The Solution?

The use of cloud services is rising continuously for both private and public companies. In fact, analysts predict a growth in the enterprise cloud market from $18.3 billion in 2012 to $31.9 billion in 2017.

This rise of cloud services is due to the increase in the use of smartphones and tablets. These devices usually only have a limited storage capacity, but are often used as PC replacements when on the go, both privately and professionally, which is why mobile users like to store their data in the cloud and access it conveniently via the internet.

With the cloud, all relevant documents can be accessed in just a few clicks, and can be shared quickly with friends, relatives or colleagues. But many companies are still undecided about the cloud. The biggest obstacle is the significant concern over data security. Yet in many companies, employees are already storing data unnoticed in unsecure cloud services.

Many providers compete for users’ attention, promising easy setup and access from anywhere. But with companies like Dropbox, SugarSync and Box, confidential information is moving to self-provisioned cloud services and out of a company’s control faster than ever. Companies have two ways of handling this situation: Either ignore this behaviour, and allow their employees to continue in an unchecked and unsecure environment, or support their employee’s wishes by introducing a truly secure solution.

The second option has companies calling for a “Dropbox for enterprise” type solution, however, the services most frequently used by employees were designed for private individual users who normally use less than 7GB of storage. When it comes to teamwork, in particular in the corporate context, there is a need for completely different benchmarks where many users work with data volumes in the terabyte range. Accordingly, the upload and download speed, for example, must offer fast, convenient access to files even with larger data volumes.

The core of any cloud storage space for team use is convenient file sharing that gives employees the opportunity to improve collaboration. It is important that these files can be exchanged quickly and easily. Shared file access for corporate users must offer more than the conventional bi-directional synchronization path, which is provided by many solutions. The needs of an individual user sometimes results in confusion when applied to entire teams, and soon ends in chaos.

When using Dropbox and almost all other solutions, bi-directional synchronisation means that files worked upon can be overwritten accidentally or centrally stored templates changed by employees. With some providers, parallel document access by several employees can also result in errors. The entirety of the data is compromised and is no longer guaranteed.

Bi-directional synchronisation can also result in being spammed if users are informed about every single change via a push message. Furthermore, there is the continuous and time-consuming reloading and updating of folders, which significantly increases bandwidth requirements.

Even a separate sync directory does not result in more efficient workflows. Employees simply wish to work with the file that they need then and there, and be able to access current information, so continuous synchronisation of all users and devices is unfeasible for corporate use.

Uni-directional synchronisation

The answer is a uni-directional synchronisation process where changes are not automatically reflected on the corporate server. Here, the user himself can determine which directories are saved on the server and shared with colleagues. If changes are made to documents, the user must be offered the possibility of saving the file under a different name on the corporate server, without overwriting the original document.

A very important challenge in the company-wide implementation of a file sharing service lies in mastering security requirements. Corporate data must be fully protected at all times and the security of the data in the cloud, on the device and during transmission must be guaranteed.

As the encryption key is generated and stored by the provider in this case, it does not increase the security of the uploaded documents. In addition, none of the secure standard protocols are used during transmission. Group-oriented encryption is completely missing and even the user management of the different providers is not always clear and intuitive. In terms of sharing, it is not abundantly apparent which files are shared with whom. Thus, documents can be found via search engines unnoticed.

One way to solve this problem is with an on-site solution, which is installed directly into the corporate network, where external cloud providers are not required, creating a truly secure solution. In addition, this offers the possibility to use existing Active Directory rights – an ideal solution offering a dynamic way to avoid maintenance of two separate systems.

In using on-site solutions, control remains with the company and security guidelines can be implemented easily. Employees can then be offered a company-provided, functional and secure alternative to unsecure cloud solutions and the use of an online storage solution can optimize the use of mobile devices, whether private or financed by the employee.

The cloud can be used as a storage location for all relevant company files and as a starting point for improved employee collaboration. Today, there many cloud services that have not been designed for private users, but specifically for companies.

But before deciding on a provider, a company should do a considered analysis of the options available. A comparison of file sharing providers will reveal significant differences, both in relation to the functions offered, and with regard to security standards. Lastly, when making such an important decision, companies should always take into account their criteria and own requirements regarding data protection.

While Dropbox and the like have done a great job offering consumer-level file sharing features, they lack the on-premise, secure and fully integrated features that enterprises want, and are imperative for corporate success. A file sharing solution should:

  • Be 100% on-premise and fully installed in the corporate network, in order to use the existing IT-infrastructure, while ensuring that the company always has control of its own data
  • Offer complete Active Directory integration and not use any external cloud services
  • Support smartphones and tablets and offer extensive management possibilities for profiles, guidelines, user rights as well as certificates
  • Be manageable by administrators anytime and anywhere via a modern web management console and allow administrators to manage and automatise processes with Windows PowerShell
  • Secure data within a corporate network as well as during data transmission, and on the mobile device itself
  • Enable a selective or full remote wipe of local corporate data on smartphones and tablets, without deleting private data at the same time
  • Allow blocking users/devices or apps and support file sharing via email attachments
  • Offer monitoring and reporting functions as well as protect data by requesting a password even for offline access
  • Not be dependent on a specific synchronisation directory, while enabling access to corporate data anytime and anywhere for all employees
  • Guarantee cross-platform support (iOS, Android, BlackBerry, PC & Mac)
  • Offer editing functions like creating PDF documents or printing and a data optimised preview for documents
  • Reduce mobile data volume due to an intelligent compressing algorithm and execute a variety of functions on the server
  • Support uni-directional synchronisation, to reduce the amount of transmitted data and to protect files from accidental overwriting
  • Minimise locally stored data and have an integrated search function to find files faster.
Russell Crawford

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