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Enterprise file sharing, shadow IT require swift action

File sync-and-share has vexed enterprises, but it's time to fight back and get those files out of the clouds and off employees' personal devices.

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Let's face it -- enterprise file sharing is a shadowy business. At least that's what it's become, as mobile workers dodge data governance rules and use commercial sync-and-share services to keep the files they work with within reach of their smartphones, tablets and other devices. This evasion of corporate propriety is the main culprit in shadow IT -- the use of unsanctioned cloud and mobile apps to share, sync, manipulate -- and just maybe lose -- company data. Dropbox -- about as handy a service as you could find in the cloud -- has become the poster child for shadow IT.

Numerous survey results have been published that show that vast numbers of employees are tapping into file sync-and-share services. And the numbers are growing. Whatever the percentage a particular survey cites, you can be sure it's a big (and scary) number.

The perils are obvious. Without control of corporate information, you'll never know who might get their hands on it. And if an employee leaves the company without returning those files that were stashed in a sync-and-share service, that stuff is simply gone. Few companies are willing to accept such losses and potential damages in any other aspect of their businesses, but somehow the data door was left open and there's no accounting for what and how much may have escaped.

Lock down? Probably not …

So, it's a pretty bleak situation these days, but even given the widespread use of enterprise file sharing services, it's a situation that can be managed if you act now. There's no question that it's a train that has pulled out of the station, but there's still time to catch up.

You could take Draconian measures and lock down company data so tightly that clicking on "copy" would be tantamount to a felony. But that's a cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face measure that would likely backfire if mobile workers lacked access to the info they need. And, besides, even if you nailed their laptops to their desks, users would find a way around the chain-link fences, barbed wire and whatever other impediments IT put in their way and even more data would tiptoe out the door.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

A much better approach is to make a file sync-and-share service part of your own internal infrastructure. If you can provide all the convenience and ubiquity of commercial services, you can lure those users back to the corporate fold.

Even given the widespread use of enterprise file sharing services, it's a situation that can still be managed if you act now.

Just a few years ago, there were few alternatives to Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft's OneDrive and other commercial services. But what was once a handful of enterprise file sync-and-share (EFSS) alternatives has grown considerably. And there are more implementation choices than ever.

As with just about everything in a data center today, EFSS can be deployed and managed in the public cloud, on-premises or in a hybrid arrangement that combines public and private resources. Box, Dropbox and most of the EFSS biggies offer software as a service (SaaS) enterprise versions of their products with sophisticated management features that let you control who uses the service and how it gets used. Your data ends up in the cloud, but you maintain control. You won't lose data when an employee leaves the company -- and you can restrict how much your users can share within and outside the company.

On-prem EFSS

For companies that are still a little nervous about the prospect of having their data stored outside their four walls, there are plenty of in-house EFSS alternatives. Installing an EFSS app internally gives you roughly the same set of controls that the SaaS EFSS products do, with the added assurance that your data will stay home.

Opting for an on-premises system will, of course, mean spending a few bucks and acquiring or redeploying server and storage resources, and you'll need some staff to administer and maintain the system. If those are issues your company is willing to deal with, there are a number of routes you can take.

You can install a standalone system that provides features equal to a commercial cloud syncing service. Or you can go with an EFSS product that integrates with your current systems so that users can access the same data stores that they normally would, reducing the need to duplicate files and track them with versioning controls. For instance, the EFSS app might work with your existing user shares on a NAS box -- you'll still have to maintain the enterprise file sharing services, but it will require far less data management.

However your company decides to grapple with enterprise file sharing, the important thing is the grappling part.

Yet another option for coping with enterprise file sharing is making already copied data available to your EFSS users. Commvault and Druva offer EFSS add-ons that turn backup data into a "live" resource for sync-and-share users. That approach adds value to backup data, and helps ensure that users are tapping into the most recent versions of documents and spreadsheets.

Take control of sync and share

However your company decides to grapple with enterprise file sharing, the important thing is the grappling part -- and taking back control of how the company's data gets used. Whether it's an on-prem or cloud-based choice, be sure that it supports your directory infrastructure -- typically Active Directory or LDAP. And you'll often get a pretty granular toolset with the product that lets you do things like decide if certain users can alter the files they use or just view them.

Whatever route you choose and however you plan to administer the service, the main thing is to do it now -- before the situation gets even more, well, shadowy.

Next Steps

Enterprise file sharing applications to protect your data

Take another look at enterprise file sync-and-share market

Fight shadow IT with strong data protection process

This was last published in November 2015

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