Can You Share Files Without File Sync and Share?

Enterprise IT departments have struggled with file sharing for some time. The traditional solutions were deemed by many users to be passé and not in keeping with modern workflows. This caused many users to resort to consumer-grade solutions, leading to “shadow IT,” which creates many problems. Storage vendors and IT departments responded with products modeled after the consumer file sharing products. The problem is that those enterprise file sync and share solutions created as many problems as they solved. IT needs another way to solve this problem.

Those Pesky Users

For too many years, IT-developed solutions around what made sense for IT and not what made sense for their users. Centralized file servers solve a lot of problems for IT, but they can’t match the performance and convenience of a local hard drive. In addition, disk space that was once hard to find at the edge was suddenly available in spades. And, thanks to SSD-based laptops, high performance is at the edge as well. Users wanted to use this local, seemingly unlimited, high performance storage.

Although users wanted to use their local storage, they also wanted to share their files with other people. Enter consumer-grade file sync and share products such as Dropbox. Users could easily share files with each other without involving IT or being forced to move their files to a file server. If they didn’t have very many files to share, they didn’t even have to pay for it. Users going beyond the free service didn’t mind paying a few dollars a month for this functionality.

The dearth of these consumer-grade products represented a number of challenges for IT, and the answer seemed obvious. If users wanted a file sync and share service (the general term for products like Dropbox), the answer was an enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) service. The user experience was roughly the same as the consumer grade product, and IT could put some fences around it and support it.

EFSS Creates New Problems

As mentioned in other blog entries, EFSS services create about as many problems as they solve. The reliance of most of them on a public cloud service creates jurisdiction issues, data residency issues, and law enforcement issues. In addition to the legal concerns surrounding the EFSS way to access your data, having the central copy of your data stored on a public cloud server also raises significant cyber-security concerns. If the datastore is compromised, a significant amount of your company’s intellectual property could end up in the wrong hands. Apart from the well documented Target breach – many other security breaches substantiate the reality that the more content is shared/duplicated across networks, the risk of security breaches increases.

It is true that some of these services can sync to a private cloud and address many of these concerns, but it then creates a new requirement of a high availability service that will act as the central repository. And no matter where the repository is, the constant synchronization of files back and forth to multiple locations creates a significant amount of network traffic that cannot be ignored.

Another previous blog covered the fact that the very concept of file sync and share also is in opposition to one of the primary goals of IT, to reduce duplication of data. EFSS systems create duplicates of shared files in multiple places. Every duplicate of a file takes up extra space and consumes resources. Every duplicate also gives hackers an additional possible point of entry into your company’s data.

Was EFSS the Right Response?

Users needed to share files, and they did not want to put those files on a centralized file server. IT didn’t want users using a consumer-grade file sync and share (FSS) product. EFSS products seemed the natural solution. But EFSS products were essentially enterprise versions of the consumer-grade products that had very different design requirements than what IT would have. If you started from scratch with the need to share files without putting them on a centralized file server, would you end up with an FSS product?

FSS services like DropboxTM were designed with the assumption that users sharing files didn’t have direct access to each other’s computers. It was one person on their computer in their house sharing files with another user on another computer in another house with two NAT routers between them. There was no way to directly connect two computers; the natural solution was a centralized cloud storage system that they could both access.

But that doesn’t describe the typical use pattern of corporate IT. What if the solution facilitated direct network access to each other’s computers? A centralized pool of storage would not be required. This would remove the security and legal concerns mentioned above, as well as removing the need for all of the duplicates that an EFSS system would create.

FileFlex by Qnext

FileFlex is a secure, file sharing solution that allows users to access, share, stream and collaborate data with each other without using a centralized repository. Instead remote users access files directly from their original locations. This allows files to stay behind. the corporate firewall, and doesn’t open them up to the security concerns of storing files in the public cloud.

Even though the file remains in its original location, it is still accessible anywhere in the world to users that are authenticated against the system. Authenticated users can access files from any Windows, Mac or Linux computer, as well as any Android, iOS, BlackBerry or Windows tablet or smartphone. Users accessing shared files on their computer access them as if they were local files. Computers sharing files appear as folders, under which you will find any folders or files shared from those computers. Not only can users access any file under this hierarchy, they can copy and paste files between any folders – even copying files between computers.

Although the files appear local, they are indeed not local – which is the whole point. Unlike EFSS systems, remote users do not have to set aside disk space for synchronization. There are also no file size limitations that some EFSS systems have. Also, unlike some remote access solutions, files are accessed in their native form, without any degradation such as compression. If any of the shared files are media files, remote users can stream them directly to their device, without having to download or synchronize the file.

In addition to allowing remote users to access file inside the network, it can also automatically bring their remote data into the network. Photos or videos they take on their smartphones or tablets can be automatically copied to the appropriate place inside your firewall.

IT administrators also have control over the system. They control who is allowed to share, what they are allowed to share, and who they can share it with. It’s easy to deploy and does not require a VPN connection. All data will stay exactly where it is and does not need to be synced anywhere to share it. Administrators can allow users to create their own shared repositories or they can add file servers to the system, allowing FileFlex users to access those file servers from anywhere. There is a distinct audit trail that logs user activities and an advanced dashboard for IT to manage the system. Finally, choosing FileFlex does not mean new purchases of hardware as no new storage locations are needed. It is also easy to integrate FileFlex into an authentication system, as it supports LDAP, Active Directory, and Single Sign-on.

StorageSwiss Take

Allowing users to directly access files from their original locations meets the same user requirements as an EFSS system without suffering the drawbacks of those systems. Users don’t have to make room on their computers for synchronized folders and those folders won’t create security risks by propagating duplicates. Add the enterprise administration and control features and you have a strong solution for your file sharing needs.

W. Curtis Preston (aka Mr. Backup) is an expert in backup & recovery systems; a space he has been working in since 1993. He has written three books on the subject, Backup & Recovery, Using SANs and NAS, and Unix Backup & Recovery. Mr. Preston is a writer and has spoken at hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world. Preston’s mission is to arm today’s IT managers with truly unbiased information about today’s storage industry and its products.

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