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Cloud file sharing services are becoming a common part of the consumer technology landscape. It is a crowded field, with dozens of companies vying for mindshare and customers. Much of the attention is focused on the market leaders Dropbox and Box, both of which are heading, perhaps haltingly, toward Initial Public Offerings. Both have been expanding their product offerings, trying to build an ecosystem around their core platforms, and expand their base of large customers. Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business are also vying for the attention of consumers by connecting their cloud storage to useful applications that everyone needs, both at home and at work.
IT Reacts to the Presence of Consumer Cloud File Sharing Services
Large enterprises have also adopted these cloud file sharing applications. In many cases, though, individual end-users or small teams have introduced consumer or SMB products without IT involvement. The most common reaction from IT organizations has been to block their use from within corporate networks. Some IT organizations choose to ignore their presence, acting as if end-users use good judgment and only put “safe” documents on these services. Both are futile attempts at controlling services that are easily accessed from a browser or mobile device.
While this is a natural reaction, it only removes IT from the conversation about file sharing. Forward-thinking IT organizations instead deliver this same capability in a form that is more appropriate to the large corporate environment. Not only is this a focus of the well-known cloud file sharing companies, but also of a host of other vendors that have sprung up specifically to meet the needs of larger corporations.
Enterprise Cloud File Sharing
Demand from end-users for convenient, anywhere, anytime access to files and the ability to share files to support collaboration has led to the development of enterprise versions of cloud file sharing products from Microsoft, Dropbox, and Box. In addition, a host of other companies, such as Egnyte, Huddle, Intralinks, and SpringCM, have entered the space. They compete by providing features that large enterprises absolutely must have – especially administrative controls and security – while keeping the convenience and user experience of consumer browser and mobile apps.
Cloud file sharing began life as a way of storing files where they were accessible from any computer, but quickly morphed into a method of sharing files with others. Even now, the heart of these services is file sync and share. Local files are uploaded to the cloud storage or synchronized to a desktop folder and automatically made available to other computers and mobile devices. Once in the cloud, these files can also be shared with others. Most vendors in this space are moving beyond this simple model and providing enhanced security, document sharing, and management features.
Rules based synchronization.
File synchronization is the most common way of ensuring that files are in the cloud and accessible from anywhere. Synchronizing all files automatically, while convenient, can also be burdensome on network resources, and is inherently insecure. Rules-based synchronization attempts to find a middle ground by allowing system admins to determine upfront which files should be synchronized based on size, type, group affiliation, or other permissions. For example, SpringCM and Egnyte allow customers to set server-based rules to decide which files should be included or excluded from synchronization. This helps to keep files safe, optimizes local and cloud storage, and can help manage file transfers depending on network characteristics, file size, and location.
Hybrid cloud and on premise storage.
Recognizing that some files are better kept in on-premises storage, vendors such as Egnyte are melding the on-premises and cloud storage worlds together. This provides a single interface for both cloud and on-premises file storage.
Management of local copies of documents.
Most of the vendors in this space, including Box, Huddle, Egnyte, SpringCM, and Intralinks, have features for managing local copies of files. Dropbox, Box, Huddle, and SpringCM try to avoid local copies altogether by viewing, editing, and annotating files in the browser or mobile application. Egnyte has a similar method, allowing for files to be viewed and edited within their mobile application without being physically downloaded. Intralinks does this as well plus places a DRM wrapper around files to ensure that security rules are imposed on downloaded files.
Sharing and access controls mature.
Access and sharing permissions have evolved as cloud file services have adapted to more dynamic collaborative and mobile environments. All vendors allow permissions to be set at every level, from a single file up to groups of folders by an admin. Consumer-type cloud file sharing services usually allow sharing permissions to be set when the file is shared. This can lead to serious access mistakes. By allowing admins to set permissions with a fine level of granularity, there are fewer opportunities for data breaches due to poor sharing habits.
Safe sharing outside the company network
While all vendors provide a rich environment for sharing within a company, some recognize that there are reasons to share files safely with people on the outside. Vendors such as Dropbox and Intralinks make it possible to securely share files with partners, contractors, and customers. The DRM capabilities of Intralinks VIA is especially noteworthy as a method of maintaining control over documents shared outside the company.
The simple sync and share model that allows individuals to keep and share their files in the cloud doesn’t scale to large enterprises. The basic idea of synchronizing desktop files to a cloud service where they can be accessed anywhere and shared with friends or co-workers is still at the heart of the enterprise cloud file sharing services. This basic core functionality is why end-users want cloud file sharing services in the first palace.
Around this core, however, vendors have layered on enhanced access and sharing permission models, ways to ensure the safety of downloaded documents, and advanced synchronization that optimizes the upload and download process for security, file size, location, and network characteristics. These features allow for the safe use of cloud file sharing services while maintaining the superior user experience of the consumer and SMB products.
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