Remote and mobile users may be found in any part of the globe at any time of night or day. Sharing files between their devices and with other users is important to them, but securing the shared data seems like the impossible dream to corporate IT.
Many mobile users own their own devices. In search of free file-sharing services for work and business, they turn to freemium products like consumer-level Dropbox—emphasis on "consumer level." Many Dropbox users are company employees using the service to share corporate files and the service without IT management or governance, even though these services store corporate data.
Enterprise file synchronization and sharing (EFSS or ESS) solutions seek to solve this big problem. At its most basic, ESS relieves mobile user data pains, enabling file-sharing among user devices and with other users. It is not constrained to this use case; many ESS products also come with collaboration, data protection and/or compliance/eDiscovery support.
Where to Begin
Adopting ESS that IT and end-users will actually use is a big project. Where do you start?
- Admit that the problem exists. The unrestrained growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) only spurs consumer solutions for file-sharing. Small blame to the user: the fact is that they need file sharing, and if the company does not offer it then users will go elsewhere.
- Don't replace simple with hard. Users will go back to absurdly simple Dropbox if a corporate file-sharing option is too hard to use. There are a number of file-sharing options out there for businesses, but if the user interface is complicated, then most of them will not bother with it. Simplicity is also important on the IT side. Certainly IT pros can handle more complex technical interactions, but a hard-to-manage ESS interface will add to complexity and IT overhead.
- Arm yourself with user cases. Your mobile users aren't rebels without a clue; they’re just trying to get their work done in the best way they know how. They are likely using file-sharing on their personal devices and have an understandable interest in controlling their own property (even if the data on that device is the company's, not theirs). IT needs to understand why users want file sharing in the first place and why they hang on to consumer file-sharing in the teeth of corporate disapproval. Make sure that the file-sharing application you choose supports those use cases and does it very simply on the user side.
- Don't forget your own side of the table. IT also needs ESS applications that do more than simple file-sharing. For example, integrating edge backup protection and compliance/eDiscovery with file sharing helps to manage all data living on the edge.
- Once you've got the data back, secure it. Now that IT has control over remote data, subject it to corporate security requirements. By capturing and sharing data from ESS-controlled storage, IT can manage data for security as well as data protection and compliance.
What to Look For
ESS offerings are clearly not created equal. They will all have file sharing, user access control and file synchronization. Beyond that, they may be heavy on data protection, compliance, eDiscovery, mobile security and/or collaboration depending on their technology and emphasis.
Broad mobility support should include laptops and desktops, a variety of different smartphone manufacturers and versions, and multiple browsers. Users also need a variety of connectors to application servers like SharePoint, central storage repositories, and cloud locations.
Security is standard for any central repository but can be tricky on users' personal devices. They will be very, very unhappy should IT do a remote wipe on a personal device that has some work files and the rest are family pictures that they haven't uploaded yet. Look for ESS applications that offer remote wipe and encryption without destroying or closing access to personal files. Encryption, key management and access tracking, such as integration with Active Directory (AD), are universally important.
Location also matters. Different ESS vendors will offer different sites for shared data. The cloud is a very common offering although there are big differences in the type of cloud infrastructure. One common offering is using a customer site on the public cloud for shared files. This approach may be managed or self-directed, which gives IT the option to hand over administration to a trusted third party. It is also simple to allow external access to the public cloud without having to admit outside users behind the firewall.
A hybrid cloud environment places management, files and security in different places, For example, a central ESS repository could exist on-site for security and governance reasons, while the application runs from the ESS vendor cloud. It would also work the other way around. IT could also deploy ESS entirely in their own data center, essentially treating the ESS domain as a private cloud.
Business-level ESS vendors are numerous, and many freemium offerings have a paid business model. Not all of them are enterprise-level. There are strong entrants into the mid-level/workgroup range such as Acronis or OwnCloud. EMC Syncplicity is a solid ESS entrant, but EMC recently sold the business to an equity investor, leaving its future uncertain (although the idea is that Skyview will put more resources into marketing Syncplicity than EMC did).
Other examples of enterprise-level leaders include CommVault, Egnyte and Citrix.
- Commvault Endpoint Data Protection Solution Set has a name that is a mouthful, but it is fully integrated with Sympana and secures file sharing across users and devices. A central repository enables IT management and control, and is subject to corporate compliance and eDiscovery procedures
- Egnyte deploys on Egnyte Cloud File Server and Egnyte Local Cloud. Egnyte Cloud File Server (CFS) as a service layer that enables file-sharing and versioning. File syncing is bi-directional between the Local Cloud and the Cloud File Server, and locally stored data remains accessible if the Internet connection should fail. Remote device users may access files directly from their devices.
- Citrix ShareFile is a mature offering with a wide integration with other Citrix segments, especially VDI. They are particularly strong in highly regulated markets. It’s a hybrid architecture that integrates on-premise storage with cloud storage, including choices between Amazon S3 and Citrix-managed clouds.
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