Files in the Cloud
Some things to consider
Chances are you already use, or at least have heard of, Dropbox. As an individual consumer, I think it’s fantastic. It lets me access my personal files on all my computers, easily share them with friends and family, and rest just a little easier knowing that my documents and photos will be safely synced to the cloud should my house burn down. As a business manager, I understand the appeal of bringing those same benefits and more to our operation, but sifting through the many options and ensuring that the cloud doesn’t do more harm than good can be a challenge.
While Dropbox dominates the consumer market, the business market is cluttered with solutions that replace or enhance file servers by syncing files to the cloud. Nearly all of them offer the same core benefits (see sidebar), and obvious potential differences like cost and storage space often are not significant, but a few key differentiators can help narrow down the list.
The first and most important distinguishing feature is centralized management, i.e. the ability to see and control who has access to what from which devices. In my view, the biggest potential drawback of files in the cloud is losing control of your data, and good centralized management is the answer. The lack of centralized management is the main reason that the consumer versions of cloud-file apps are not appropriate for business use. Fortunately, many business-focused cloud file solutions are adequate in this respect and actually give more control over your data than you would have with a traditional file server.
For businesses with many users in one location, with large files, with less than ideal Internet connections, or with applications or processes than use file server mappings, a key differentiator is a hybrid model. A hybrid model combines the cloud file model with the traditional file server model, helping to ensure good performance and limiting the amount of forced change in behavior. Everyone can continue to work just as before, just with the great cloud features added on.
The next feature I look for in most cases is Active Directory integration (or integration with Google authentication if your business runs more on Google than Microsoft). This feature allows employees to use a password they already know to log into the cloud file application, and the last thing anyone needs is one more password to remember.
Other things to look for include two factor authentication (which I believe should be used everywhere possible), full text searching with flexible results filtering, and the ability to rollback a whole set of files, which can be invaluable if you’re ever struck by one of the crypto-locker variants.
Keeping all of these considerations in mind, there is a short list of products that I have settled on in my recommendations. The best at collaboration for Microsoft Office documents is Microsoft’s One Drive for Business. The best hybrid model I have found is eFolder’s Anchor. And the best I have found for flexible, easy searching is Egnyte. Other products I would consider include Google Drive for Work, Citrix ShareFile, Dropbox Business and Box.
But no one product is the best for every situation, so some amount of analysis is necessary to find the right one for your business. Sometimes the decision comes down to a reason specific to you, such as integration with an application you already use or favoring a product with which your employees are already familiar. Sometimes the best answer is to use one product for one set of files and another product for another set.
The one thing you should not do is nothing. The benefits of files in the cloud are compelling, and the demand among employees is usually high. If it’s not appropriate for your business for whatever reason, then that message should be communicated. Otherwise, you may find rogue solutions appearing and leading to a complete loss of control of your data.
Common Benefits of Files in the Cloud
• Easy sharing and collaboration
• Access from anywhere
• Access from any device
• Offsite backup / disaster recovery
• Multiple versions of each file
Steven Ellis has spent the last 16 years working at the intersection of business and technology for Bellwether Technology in New Orleans, where he serves as the company’s vice president.