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Files, Collaboration and Sharing – Oh My!

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by James Keating III, Business Technology Architect, Evolving Solutions

Working with cloud solutions and being in the Midwest, I hear lots of the cloud urban legends.  The anecdotal stories about a guy and a company that did X with the cloud and were befallen by some horrible outcome.  These stories are a lot like the ones I was told as a child about a giant lumberjack and his enormous yet friendly blue oxen, in they all seem to be the same, yet no one has personal experience in them, just a story they were told or heard about somehow.  Further every time I hear the stories, the ox is more blue, or larger and the cloud calamity more pronounced.  This is part of the cloud landscape in 2015 in the Midwest, however the one portion of all of these stories that seems to remain consistent is the portion that always has a sentence like this in it:

    “And then the data ended up on Dropbox…..”

Yes, it seems the pitfalls of Dropbox real or imagined are now the unifying thread of the cloud legends of 2015.  So, knowing this I started to look into the issues that lead to the above sentence being real, why does data end up on Dropbox?  The answer is file sharing and collaboration services in most cases are burdensome, designed for a 20Th century workplace, not the workplace of today.  Further, the complications are not only to end users but to the administrators of the systems (storage, servers, security etc).  All of this burden is why when time is critical and something needs to get to someone now, Dropbox like it or not is there.  Why?  From an end user perspective it works, simply and without all the hassles of traditional IT driven file sharing services.  When under the pressures of time or money, often convenience wins out over security or data protection.

To understand this better, one needs to define what is the desired outcome of file sharing or collaboration services within IT.  The following list is my simple list for this, noting it may not be 100% complete for all companies, but it is what I would call “File Sharing 101″ in terms of requirements:

  • Ability to provide end users a place to securely store files
  • Ability to provide users the ability to share and collaborate with these files (both internal and external)
  • Role based access control to the files
  • Versioning and revision tracking of files
  • Auditable and traceable reports of access to files.
  • Multiple methods of access (computer, tablet, phone, etc.)
  • Prevention of loss of the above data

What this looks like in practice even in small companies is a mix of shared storage,  SharePoint repositories and local storage on each user’s desktop or laptop.  The problem is the practice doesn’t meet all the needs of the above list in a simple to use manner.  Some files are on SharePoint so they have revision control, the shared storage (home drives, department shares) may be secure and backed up, but are not easily accessible by outside sources when required.  The local storage may or may not be backed up and who knows what level of revision control is happening there.  Take this up to the enterprise level and this often involves a complex web of expensive Network Attached Storage (NAS), local storage and Active Directory controls all connected to replicated or backup storage and tapes.  What all of this complex jumble leads to is data ending up on Dropbox at some point.

So, what if  a business could eliminate all of the complexity, uncertainty and meet the above requirements list without investing in expensive software and storage arrays?  Would it be worth $7 to $15 per user per month to avoid the entire scenario above and more importantly keep company data under control and be able to audit and know when, who and how users access the data.  Complete version and revision control, ability to get to the data on multiple devices, but also the ability to control access based upon the role of a user?

If you would like to learn more about the solution I am writing about, it is a good time to call Evolving Solutions.  We can go through file/collaboration services that are designed for the 21st century and remove all of the cumbersome storage and server administration from the equation and allows your users to do what they should be doing, getting work done.