Why Enterprise File Sync and Share is Broken

It seems like every CIO has enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) on their project whiteboard. The problem is that it is stuck there and the alternative, users doing their own thing, seems sort of acceptable. Most EFSS solutions are too disruptive and require a big commitment to the cloud which many organizations are still uncomfortable with. Combine these issues with an apparent lack of urgency and it’s no wonder EFFS never moves from the to do list to the done list.

What is Enterprise File Sync and Share?

File sync and share is a service where data is stored or synced to a server that can be accessed over the Internet. It has been made popular by companies like DropBox, Box, Google, OneDrive and Apple who generate massive amounts of revenue through its sales. Originally the technology started as a means to make sure that all of a user’s devices had the same data on it. Sharing was added to these services later, enabling users to provide access to their files to their colleagues instead of having to email files back and forth.

The important thing to realize with file sync and share services like Dropbox and Google Drive is that the server is not owned and under that user’s control and certainly not the organizations. It is owned and under the control of a third party (ie. Dropbox or Google).

EFSS is the corporate implementation of the FSS service. It generally means the organization will provide a similar FSS capability as the consumer solutions but, do so with IT oversight. Typical features control what data users can share, who they can share it with, how long the user can share specific files and provide the ability to revoke access to the files if the employee leaves the company or one of their devices gets stolen. It is important to note here that if the EFSS service is not hosted on-premise the organization is putting corporate data on a server that is owned and under the control of the EFSS provider.

IT Must Provide EFSS

Workers are more mobile today and use multiple devices. They start a task on one device, but work and finish tasks over multiple devices and often involve multiple people. According to a study commissioned by Facebook, 40% of all online adults start an activity on one device and finish it on another.¹ Today we expect to access our files from any of our devices no matter where we are. Data is not centric to my device, there needs to be data continuity between all my devices.

¹ Multi-Device Usage Study by GfK Nov-Dec 2013. Study commissioned by Facebook. Survey of 2,018 UK online adults and 2,004 US online adults

The same is true for working alone vs working in collaboration with others. Data is not centric to a single person, there needs to be continuity with others. A file sync and share service is simply the tool that workers turn to for data continuity, device continuity and user continuity. They need it so they can be more productive. According to a study commissioned by Intel, when employees have access to the content they need on their devices of choice, productivity increases. In a study from 2010 to 2012, Intel estimated that they gained more than 7 million hours of productivity because of their ability to use BYO devices that have access to the content they need.²

² 2012-2013 Intel IT Performance Report, Deploying an Enterprise-Ready Content Sync-and-Share Solution

If an organization does not provide users with EFSS, those employees are forced to get it on their own via a free or inexpensive consumer-grade public FSS solution like Google Drive. When employees open accounts with consumer file sync solutions, they introduce security, and regulatory and content leakage risks to their companies. In their efforts to improve productivity and collaboration these employees inadvertently put the enterprise at risk. Additionally, when employees who have such accounts leave the company they — and any others who have the links — can still access the business content stored there, posing an indefinite legal and security risk to the company. Even when employees simply abandon their accounts, the company has no way to remove the business content.

With consumer grade file sync solutions, monitoring is virtually impossible, there is no audit trail and the corporation faces compliance issues, either self-imposed or regulatory. When corporate data is on consumer FSS, it is impossible to control or even know who has accessed it, who has copies and who it has been shared with. The moment that duplication to an FSS service occurs there is no audit trail of where the data went, violating all the security safeguards created by Active Directory. Ignoring file sync and share puts the organization at massive risk and makes it more vulnerable.

The Problems with EFSS

The case for EFSS is compelling – but there are some real problems that, based on the current technology and legislation, will be hard to overcome. EFSS should provide the same capabilities as FSS but keep organizational data more secure and reduce costs. For the most part, many EFSS solutions do an admirable job of addressing issues of IT oversight and control.

EFSS, though, introduces its own challenges. First, most solutions introduce data duplication. Files are being copied or synced from the source computer to the specialized server that allows internet access. Duplication of data introduces a duplication of security concerns, administration, complexity, resources and cost. Further, when data is duplicated to the server of the EFSS provider it also creates issues of content ownership, third party inspection, jurisdiction, data residency, and legalized secret access by law enforcement. When Amazon recently acquired Whole Foods and became a brick and mortar merchant, Walmart quickly prohibited its vendors from using Amazon cloud services due to their concerns about the legal third party access rights that Amazon has to examine the confidential information about Walmart that its vendors may have stored on Amazon’s servers.

Second, because most EFSS services are a duplication of data to a specialized server, they by definition can only address a subset of an organization’s files. This means that often critical content that needs to be remotely accessed is inaccessible.

Another issue is availability and breaches. For example, all of the major consumer solutions suffered an outage in the last year. In fact, the number of and frequency of outages appears to be on the rise.

Moving to either an on-premises or public-based cloud also creates an economic challenge. Remember most of this data is not net new. It exists already and it is stored on something. In other words, the organization has already invested in storage and probably has plenty of available capacity to continue to store new data. This means that unless they are ready to refresh storage, the organization must re-buy something it already has just to get file sync and share! This is an expensive option.

Even if the organization rationalizes the purchase of additional storage, then the data needs to move either to the cloud or to another storage system on-premises. Data Migration is a constant source of heartburn for IT professionals. The process is complicated, time consuming and wrought with potential for error. Introducing another migration project when it is not even needed will not be well received by IT administrators.

Another shortcoming is that most of these solutions don’t acknowledge that most organizations started down the consumer file sync and share path long before they realized the risk and vulnerabilities those solutions introduce. In other words, there is data in those services that needs to be accessed, controlled and eventually consolidated.

When you add up issues associated with EFSS you realize why it is a compromise that IT will switch from if presented a viable alternative. According to Wilson Research Group, 33% of IT decision makers in companies of more than 1000 employees plan to implement a new EFSS solution in the next year and 21% plan to replace their existing EFSS solution. IT prefers on-premise solutions to off-site EFSS by a ratio of 7:1.³

³ Computer Technology Review “New Research Sheds Light on How to Effectively Manage your File, Sync and Share (FSS) Strategy”

Next Generation EFSS

What’s needed is a better way to implement EFSS. Obviously, the next generation of EFSS solutions need to build on what current solutions do well; provide oversight and control. Beyond that though a next generation solution needs to apply to all storage, not just a subset and it needs to address issues of duplication, security, ownership, third-party access and inspection, jurisdiction, data residency, legalized secret access by law enforcement, cost, data migration and IT administrative burden. It should support, but not require, a cloud-based component, and ideally provide the connectivity to existing services. It should also be able to add capabilities to existing storage and not require organizations to re-buy storage or require IT to perform a lengthy migration job.

StorageSwiss Take

Organizations need to provide employees with EFSS. The modern worker is too mobile (BYOD is here to stay) and organizations are too interconnected to operate without it. Monitoring and control are table stakes. To accelerate adoption, organizations need a next generation EFSS solution that addresses the shortcomings and compromises of today’s solutions and operates in place, behind the firewall, removing concerns over the cloud, security, data movement and data residency while lowering costs.

Sponsored by Qnext

About Qnext

Qnext Corp. is a global developer of disruptive apps and private cloud technologies committed to simplifying and protecting your digital life through innovation, imagination and state-of-the-art software.

Their solution, FileFlex was created in response to users need for accessible data but is better than the traditional enterprise file sync and share solution. It virtualizes file access to ALL the company’s disparate storage infrastructure and devices. This enables any server, notebook, desktop, SAN, NAS, public, private or virtual private cloud to be available anytime, anywhere through a secure and private network and single dashboard. The file access virtualization technology behind FileFlex essentially takes the company owned infrastructure and turns it, in its entirety, into a private cloud.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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