Designing An Enterprise Class File Sync and Share Solution

When it comes to file sharing services, end-users have literally taken matters into their own hands. The proliferation of tablets and mobile devices has empowered end-users to consume public cloud services on-demand from any location globally. As a result, more business data is being stored and shared though public cloud storage services than ever before. The challenge is, IT organizations typically have no control over the reliability or quality of service of these platforms, nor do they have any insight into the business data assets residing within these cloud storage repositories.

Time For A Change

In order to mitigate business risk IT planners need to implement enterprise class file synch and share technology that safeguards sensitive business data. At the same time, it needs to provide end-users with a highly available service that enhances their day-to-day collaborative workflow activities. In addition, to comply with corporate data center consolidation and cost reduction initiatives, IT decision makers need to consider cost-effective solutions that don’t create new silos of hardware infrastructure in already over crowded data centers.

Sourcing-In or Sourcing-Out?

Many organizations are considering implementing an “in-house” file synch and share solution by leveraging existing storage assets. This may seem like a sound approach, particularly when there is a surplus of storage that can be immediately utilized to store and protect end-user documents. This enables IT to directly manage and secure this information to help ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. It also helps them to ensure that corporate data governance policies are being closely adhered to.

File Sharing on The Cheap?

In order to keep costs in check, however, data center managers will often look to lower cost storage resources, like NAS systems with high-density disk drives or even internal server disk capacity, to store end-user file synch and share documents. While this may initially meet end-user storage requirements, over time it is not uncommon for these platforms to become overburdened and saturated with data. It also inevitably leads to the deployment of yet another NAS device or file server – contributing to data center “sprawl” and operational management complexity.

Can You See Your Shadow-IT?

The fact is, if IT doesn’t provide a service that is at least equivalent in performance and functionality to what is available in the cloud, end-users will simply do an “end-around” and go back to using public cloud services. The dilemma, however, is that higher cost storage resources typically don’t align with IT budgetary objectives for deploying end-user file synch and share services. This creates something of a “catch-22” for organizations that are attempting to affordably lock-down and secure business data while meeting end-user needs.

Silo Envy

Another challenge with implementing an internal file synch and share service is that it creates another infrastructure application silo in the data center that adds to the support burden on data center administrators. Once the application is installed, configured and deployed across the enterprise, it has to be managed, occasionally tuned for performance and backed up nightly for data protection. Moreover, additional storage capacity has to be periodically provisioned to keep up with user data growth. This is often at odds with corporate mandates to reduce costs and consolidate data center infrastructure.

Cloud Data Control

Given the fact that end-users are highly mobile and frequently use file synch and share services from remote locations across wide geographies, a cloud based file synch and share service could make sense for many organizations. But as file synch and share is increasingly becoming a critical business application, this service would need to be enterprise class and give IT administrators full management control over the service and the data stored in the cloud. In order to be deemed enterprise class, the service would need to be highly reliable (99.999% of availability) and be backed by documented service level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee excellent quality-of-service (QoS).

Protection From Data Invaders

From a data security perspective, multi-phase authentication technology combined with the close supervision of file access permissions by IT administrators, will help ensure that unauthorized users will not gain access to sensitive business data. Multi-phase authentication requires users to provide a PIN code that is randomly generated by the file synch and share application whenever an unknown device or IP address tries to gain access to a user account. This helps to thwart would be data thieves from penetrating user accounts and gaining access to sensitive business documents. Controlling data access also enables IT management to ensure that corporate data governance policies are being observed.

It is also critically important for the file synch and share application to allow end users and administrators to remotely “wipe” or delete data off mobile devices that have been lost or stolen. This further protects business information from being breached by unauthorized users and data thieves.

Segmented Data Sharing

From an end-user standpoint, the file synch and share service should provide file sharing capabilities that go beyond similar cloud service offerings. Granular file sharing that allows users to share data at a sub-folder level would be useful for projects where team members have a very narrow scope. For example, sharing sales proposals and contracts with business partners and/or clients. To prevent these users from seeing data in other project folders, data access can be setup whereby temporary passwords are assigned and the designated user(s) only has access to a single folder or a limited set of folders. Once the project concludes, the password can then be revoked or expired.

Workflow Visibility

Another useful feature would allow users to gain visibility into whether or not their colleagues have downloaded or accessed a shared file. This would allow project team members to see at-a-glance where their counterparts are at from a workflow perspective without necessitating multiple emails and/or phone calls. This cuts down on non-productive activities so that users can be more productive and projects can be completed in a more timely fashion.

Consolidated Collaboration

Lastly, if the file synch and share service could tightly integrate with unified communications (UC) technology like instant messaging (IM), voice-over-IP (VoIP) and desktop video conferencing applications, it would make for a more seamless, collaborative workflow experience.

Users could for instance, see in real-time that a team member has downloaded an urgent project document. The project team lead could then IM the other members from the team and instantaneously transform that IM session into a group video conference call. The most recent version of the document could then be displayed to all the people on the call via desktop sharing so that the final touches could be applied to the document.

This could help dramatically shorten the time it takes to complete projects as there would be a vast reduction in the need for tedious, back-and-forth communications amongst team members. This is especially an issue when busy people, on different schedules and/or in separate time zones, are continually trying to synch up with each other on project “next steps”.

Conclusion

File synch and share is now a business critical service since so many end users depend on these services to do their jobs. With business data increasingly being deposited into cloud storage repositories, it is imperative for IT organizations to regain control of sensitive business data by providing their end-users with a file synch and share service that exceeds their expectations.

By adopting an enterprise-class file synch and share and integrated UC platform, like the SmartBox offering from PanTerra, organizations can secure their business data while helping their end users be even more productive. Moreover, businesses can enjoy all the cost benefits associated with a consolidated cloud infrastructure service that relieves them of the burden of spinning up yet another application silo in the data center.

PanTerra is a client of Storage Switzerland

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As a 22 year IT veteran, Colm has worked in a variety of capacities ranging from technical support of critical OLTP environments to consultative sales and marketing for system integrators and manufacturers. His focus in the enterprise storage, backup and disaster recovery solutions space extends from mainframe and distributed computing environments across a wide range of industries.

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