As a growing number of professionals need to access files across a plethora of IT platforms -- ranging from Androids and iPhones to laptops, desktops and a variety of tablets -- many of them are turning to cloud document sharing.
In this expert podcast, Terri McClure, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, and Rachel Kossman, assistant site editor at SearchCloudStorage.com, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of document sharing, or file sharing, in the cloud. The interview provides an overview of the challenges associated with traditional document sharing, especially as the mobile workforce expands. You’ll learn the IT requirements for setting up document sharing in the cloud and discuss the key players in the market, starting with Dropbox, Box.net and YouSendIt. McClure explains how sharing documents in a public cloud is different from cloud archiving, and why large companies and small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) -- whether they’re geographically dispersed or not -- can benefit from cloud document sharing.
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Rachel Kossman: Let’s start off by talking about some of the challenges of traditional document sharing. What might some of those be?
Terri McClure: IT is facing all sorts of new challenges with traditional document sharing. Probably the biggest one is the mobile workforce, and new end point devices they’re demanding to use. Users today are looking to access documents they’d normally be accessing on their laptops via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, iPads and Android devices. That’s presenting new challenges for IT because traditional document sharing is done through some sort of document management system or on a Network File System [NFS] that’s accessed behind a firewall. So IT is finding themselves in a position where they have to get that data out from behind the VPN and accessible on these new types of endpoint devices to support a mobile workforce. The consumerization of IT is driving all these new endpoint devices into businesses.
Kossman: Which of these challenges are problems that cloud document sharing is able to address?
McClure: The cloud is ideally suited to helping IT solve these challenges. We’re really starting to see the emergence of this new market segment, the online file storage and collaboration software market, with companies like Dropbox and Box.net and Ignite. One of the most visible solutions recently is ShareFile because it was recently acquired by Citrix. Companies like this actually store your data in a cloud and synchronize it off your laptop. But not only do they do that, giving you an online backup to the cloud making your data highly available, they all have various endpoint device support options. You can access your files whether you’re logging in from your iPad, Android, smartphone, laptop, PC [or] home PC. You need a password and that’s it, you can get to your data no matter which endpoint device [you use]. So you have document consistency.
The other thing you get is the ability to share these documents amongst your coworkers for collaboration. Most of these solutions allow a user to share a document just by sending someone a link to it. They get access not to the entire file, not to the entire document library, but just to that individual piece of collateral you’re trying to share. What these online cloud services allow is that they enable IT to start supporting all these endpoint devices, and they really enable true collaboration beyond what traditional file sharing and many document management systems allow. Plus, they get the data out from being locked away behind the VPN or on an individual device, say your desktop. There are a lot of things that leveraging a cloud opens up in this market.
Kossman: What technical features do you need to have in place to share documents in the cloud? Is it difficult to set up in a small- and medium-sized business?
McClure: I don’t know that there are a lot of technical features. You need to have a system administrator that’s going to set up everybody; most of these systems now integrate with Active Directory and with a lot of corporate IT applications. From a technical standpoint, they’re really simple to use. There’s a client that’s downloaded or provisioned from IT and once it’s installed it's pretty much plug and play. They’re password protected and most of them are encrypted -- there’s data at rest encryption and some have data in flight encryption. But regardless, you have to have your IT administration policies in place. It's kind of like basic document sharing now; knowing who can read, who can write, who can access specific data sets. It’s more of an administration issue than a technical feature or function issue.
Kossman: Is document sharing something that fits better with a geographically dispersed workforce? Or is it also good for organizations where everybody works at one or two sites?
McClure: You can certainly benefit more with a geographically dispersed workforce; there are a lot of extra benefits you can receive with everyone having a consistent copy of the data set that they might be working with if you’re collaborating. This also helps get information out to everyone very quickly. Some of the features, like endpoint device support, data availability and continuous online backup of your working data, those features could certainly benefit anybody, no matter what size organization they're in.
For the complete podcast, in which Terri McClure answers all of our questions, please click here.
This was first published in November 2011