Dropbox is the poster child for Shadow IT, and for good reason. The solution is easy to use and, because it operates transparently, it’s just another folder. But Dropbox was originally designed to be a consumer tool, not a business tool, and when users start to deploy it in the office, problems will arise. The moment a business’s data starts being stored in the cloud is the moment that IT needs to take charge. Connected Data has recently released business versions of its popular private cloud solution, Transporter, and for the last month Storage Switzerland has been testing the Transporter 15 (T15).
The SMB File Sharing Problem
At Storage Switzerland we’ve tried more file, sync and share solutions than we can count, ranging from consumer class products to enterprise grade solutions. While a few of the enterprise class solutions proved to be very usable they were overkill for a business our size and we always ended up defaulting back to either Google Drive or Dropbox.
Even for a business of our size, there are problems associated with using the consumer cloud to provide sync and share. These problems include control over what is being shared with whom and at what cost. While the consumer cloud solutions are often free at the start, most get expensive when the capacity is sized to meet the needs of an organization and then multiplied over several years of use. As a result, we have constantly been on the look out for a viable alternative to Google Drive/Dropbox.
Connected Data briefed us on their upcoming Transporter 15 and 30 SMB private cloud appliances back in February. These systems are turnkey appliances similar to Network Attached Storage (NAS), but with tightly integrated file sync and share features. For users in the office where the appliance sits, they can access it at local network speeds. For remote users, they can sync data to their computers or they can access it over the Internet. When Connected Data offered to send us a unit to test, we decided to give it a shot.
More than a Test Drive
To really test the unit we had to do more than just an evaluation or a test drive, we decided to drop it right into production and stop using our other services as quickly as possible. We are a decentralized organization with three employees at our main office and three employees remote. Sharing between the main office and our remote employees is critical. In addition, half of our team is on the road almost every week. This means access from any type of connection is critical. It also means supporting a variety of devices. Most of our team has at least two full time computers, a smartphone, and a tablet. While most of the content we create are text files that become word documents, we also create a large number of audio and video files that consume a lot of capacity. We also need to be able to share these files with our clients, but maintain control over who has access to the files and for how long. Finally, we use file tagging extensively for version control and content search.
In short, we need all aspects of a file sync and share solution. We need to sync between a variety of devices and we need to share with internal employees and external clients.
The Cost of Cloud Storage Adds Up
At Storage Switzerland we have capacity demands that exceed the “free” versions of most consumer, file sync and share solutions. If we consolidated all of our data onto a single system, which is one of our goals, we would need an 8TB system. To purchase 10TBs on Google Drive as an example is $100 per month, that’s $1,440 per year or $4,320 over the three year minimum which we’d expect a storage system to last. The list price on the 8TB T15 that we are using is $2,499, a savings of almost $2,000; plus it is private.
The T15 in Production
We deployed the T15 right around the time the products were announced in late February. Initial set up was very simple; plug it into the wall and connect it to the network.
We had to create users and shared folders, which was easily done via the web management interface. For larger companies, Connected Data includes a Transporter Directory Connector tool for importing users and groups directly from an Active Directory domain.
Just like Dropbox and other cloud services, users do need to install Transporter apps on computers and mobile devices in order to access and share files stored on Transporter and to synchronize selected folders. We’ve installed the Mac OS X and Windows versions of the software and both work well.
The Transporter desktop software has two areas that you can store data. The first is the Transporter folder itself. Any files or folders that you store to this area are automatically synchronized to any system running the desktop software. Essentially, it is just like Dropbox except the data is stored on Transporter(s) in your offices instead of in the public cloud.
The other area, and a favorite for me, is what Connected Data calls the Transporter “Library” folder. Data stored in this folder is NOT synchronized to your devices, but is accessible from any device with a network connection. This is ideal for Storage Switzerland as we have TBs of raw audio and video files that we specifically do not want clogging up our employees’ laptops, but they do occasionally need to access. The access to the files, if you’re not in our main office, is 100% through an Internet connection so you have to balance between using the library and using the synchronized folders.
For us, we put old data and large data (media files) in the Library folder and small, current data in the Transporter folder. As a result the capacity demands on our laptops has dropped substantially. We can easily get away with a 128GB SSD in a laptop now. As it fills up we just copy the older data to the Transporter Library. It’s off of the users system, but still available to me just in case. Considering what manufacturers charge for 128GB laptop vs a 256GB this can be a measurable cost savings.
Living with Connected Data
When we first installed the T15 there were a few hiccups that were due to users’ home-networking issues and pre-release software. Other than a few configuration issues that first week, the system has worked 100% of the time. However, you do need to follow some data center best practices. For example, we have the unit, network router and cable modem all on a UPS. We also leverage both of the T15’s network connections in case there is a cable break. And we make sure the system is backed up several times a day.
We’ve also found that the T15 supports Mac OS X tagging, which we use extensively to organize the thousands of documents that we create each year. Tags correctly sync across systems.
So far the project is a success and we have not stored any data in a public cloud service since March 1st. We’ve shared audio and video files with clients with no problems at all. We are now in the process of moving old assets from various NAS devices and out of the cloud. Our goal is to be 100% consolidated and out of the cloud by the end of May. We’ll update you on our progress in a few weeks, but for now if you are a small to medium sized business looking to solve the Dropbox problem, Connected Data’s Transporter 15 and 30 deserve a hard look.