Key Points For Managing data in a Hybrid Cloud Environment

Secure Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid Cloud has struck a chord with many companies that work with both on-premise and off-premise data. Given this we thought it would be useful for us to hilight the key points that we see when companies are managing data in a hybrid cloud environment:

Go Virtual:

Many companies will try and sell a hardware appliance for dealing with hybrid data but virtualisation delivers compelling cost savings compared to the hardware alternative. It is key however to have a backup  /snapshot strategy for the virtualized deployments. The Storage Made Easy Enterprise File Share and Sync Fabric solution can be deployed on Hyper-V, XEN, KVM, VMWare (ESXi), OpenStack Compute, or alternatively anything that supports the interoperable OVF standard.

Be Highly Available:

Ensure the hybrid service you are deploying can be deployed in a highly available topology if needed. Even if this is not needed immediately ensure product choices have HA capabilities.

The Storage Made Easy service can easily be deployed in an n-tier highly available manner – see the HA white paper for more details.

Understand Data:

It is important to understand the different types of data that lives within a business or enterprise, where that data resides, and what archive and backup strategies are in place. Also, understanding (and perhaps creating) data classifications is critical to understanding how and where data is placed.

Document and understand data, storage, and Application services that are used internally and that may be used on cloud and categorize who has access to access / store information and what types of information may be stored.

Storage Made Easy enables data to be classified and be accessed and managed from a single file manager and dashboard effectively providing a ‘single pane of glass’ for company data, whether on-cloud or on-premise.

Understand Policy:

Policy and Governance of data is becoming more important to business, particularly in the light of recent security breaches. Policy should be set that encompasses all data, not just silo’d data and controls and policies should be put in place that enable companies to be confident of this.

Any policy implemented should not be to complex and be as transparent as possible to the users or you will find they will not use it and may actively seek to go around it.

The Storage Made Easy solution has built in policy controls (including BYOD) to enable companies to set not only governance controls but also file sharing controls with regards to time expiry and encryption of data on remote data clouds. You can read more about this in our white paper on Cloud Sprawl and Corporate Governance.

Understand Security:

There is little doubt that storing and accessing business data across on-premise and geographically dispersed cloud computing environments are likely to present control challenges, and ever-increasingly, regulatory challenges.

It stands to reason therefore that implanting a defined security strategy is a necessary process for any business that has both both physical and digital records, that span on-premise and cloud environments. This should include,  identity management in place for each service and whether these can be integrated into corporate identity management systems which would include access controls, permissions, roles etc. Administrators should also ensure they have  ability to use audit information, set audit watches on sensitive data, have the ability to implement GEO locking and IP restrictions, as well as other controls to track and protect data.

Companies should also document exactly which data services are used within the organisation both public and private and grade each service with regards to security and access.

Summary:

These are just some of the requirements that companies should assess when implementing a hybrid cloud strategy. Storage Made Easy can help in the process so please feel free to contact us. In the meantime if you would like to read more about Hybrid Cloud check out our white paper on Enterprise File Share and Sync for Hybrid Cloud Control.

 

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Storage Made Easy Improves Its Unified Web Cloud File Manager

Today we have upgraded the Storage Made Easy Web Cloud File Manager.

The Storage Made Easy Web File Manager is different to a lot of file managers that you see today as it is hierarchical in nature and resembles a true file tree (akin to windows explorer). It’s hierarchical nature enables it to easily work with and manoeuvre around large data sets.

Over the years we have had a lot of feedback from companies and users about how they would like to see the File Manager work and what features they would like and we’ve used this feedback to make improvements, which are outlined below:

Large Layout in inline Mode

The File Manager layout is now larger in inline mode taking more advantage of the screen space.

SME Cloud FIle Manager

 

The File Manager has been optimised for iPad / Tablet

A number of optimizations where done for working with the desktop Cloud File Manager on a tablet. The first is that it opens in full screen mode when being used on such devices. The second is that there are optimizations that make it easier to use such as being easily to widen / constrict the view on each pane. Also interactions have been optimized to work with touch events. The selection of files has also been made easier with checkbox selection options (these selection options are also available when using the FM from a PC).

Cloud File Manager iPad

 

Easier File Selection

A lot of feedback has been made to us about making file selection easier. To that end we have made it easier to select files by using a checkbox paradigm. Check boxes appear so that a file can be selected when the mouse is placed at the left hand side of a file.

Select Cloud Files

 

Image Previews

Image thumbnails can now be previewed as the File Manager is browsed.

Image Previews

 

Help Inline

The File Manager now contains help guides showing how to action the most common functions such as copy/paste:

Cloud How To Guide

 

 

Default PDF Viewer is now native

The default PDF viewer is now a native viewer rather than Google Viewer (although Google Viewer can still be used and be setup to be the default). This means the viewer sandboxes any data viewed in this way just to the SME service.

Cloud PDF Viewer

 

New Themes / Custom Themes

There are two new large themes for the File Manager a blue theme and a normal theme. The existing themes have been rename to “tiny”. Also now, for Appliance users, custom themes can be created. This will be available in the next Appliance version.

File Manager themes

 

The File timestamp to be used can now be selected

As SME is an abstraction between the remote cloud it works with more than one timestamp. Firstly it has its own concept of time, based on UTC, as to when a timestamp was modified through the SME service. Next it handles what the timestamp shows on the remote cloud service, and lastly it can show the local file time of a file uploaded to a remote service via SME (this may be different to the remote cloud time as some cloud services ignore the local file time and simply timestamp the file at the time it was uploaded to their service). Although all three are handled the user can now set which they want shown by default.

Cloud Timestamp

 

Edit on Hover

When hovering on a file, certain options are displayed for easy access. This has been enhanced so that files that can be edited, such as documents, text files etc can be edited by clicking the edit icon on hover.

Edit on Hover

 

Comments view is now collaborative / real time

When working in full file / comments view, if another user is also reviewing the same file and making comments then the comments will appear in real-time like an instant message

Cloud Collaboration

Search inline

The File Manager now features an inline folder search (rather than having to move out to the tabbed search). This is a quick search mechanism to search for files in folders and sub folders.

Cloud Search

 Favourites and Quick Upload placed at top of file tree

Favourites and Quick uploads have been placed at the top of the file tree for easy access. These can also be configured to be hidden.

Cloud Favourites

 

New way to copy / move files

Copy and Move can still be done by selecting files and drag and drop but now there are buttons and a wizard to make copy and moving files between folders or cloud services even easier.

Cloud Copy Move

There are also other numerous small changes and bug fixes but this post highlights the main functional changes.

 

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In a post PRISM world why your Company needs joined up File Sharing and Governance

The recent controversy with regards to Prism and data snooping has brought the security of corporate data to the fore however the biggest threat to corporate data lies not with the corporate nemesis that is Prism but with the number of data leaks that occur every day in companies.

These include new phenomena such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Bring your Own Cloud (BYOC) as well as the thorny issue of what files are shared over email.

Data is any companies biggest asset and not controlling how corporate data is disseminated is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode in your company. Why? Take your pick, Legislative reasons, fraudulent reason, competitive reasons. There are many reasons why not controlling data dissemination could trip your company up.

Companies need to consider how to build an Effective data governance serves ACROSS their enterprise data silos. Doing so will define a cohesive set of parameters for data management, data usage, as well as the ability to create governance processes for a companies internal use, and for their supply chain, which ultimately leads to information assets that are well managed.

SME Data Governance framework

In the world of Cloud it is key that Data Governance and data policies work not only with data behind the corporate firewall but also cloud data and cloud services.

So what should you consider as a company to manage your data assets ?

1. Understand what information is sensitive across all data silos, have a federate access control mechanism that works with your user across this private and cloud data silos. Storage Made Easy provides such a federate mechanism to assign and control user permissions and access at a very granular level that overlays one or more data stores.

SME federate permissions

2. Set policies for data access and enforce them through common tools. For employee sharing of data through tools such as email, make it easy but also set policies that can define expiry time and password protection. Storage Made Easy has plug in’s for Microsoft Outlook and Mac Mail that enables productive file sharing across all cloud / private data but which has built in support for policy enforcement.

Mac Mail large file sharing

These policies should also ripple through to the mobile Applications used in a company:

iOS secure file sharing

3. Use Cloud Encryption for sensitive data and ensure that you control the private key. See our previous post on encryption and securing data for further information.

Cloud File Encryption

4. Audit all your company data. Irrespective of the policies set you should get in the habit of auditing your company data. SME enables the setup of an automated email to a specified user of the previous day file events such as sharing, files updated etc.

Cloud Storage Audit Log

5. Set BYOD policies and device access policies that work like your company works. For example, have a contract firm that you gave access to a specific folder ? Then designate that they can only access the folder using a web browser and only from a specific IP address.

BYOD GEO Restrictions

Summary

Companies need to connect disconnected information to enable corporate governance.

Cloud Corporate Governance

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Why must all Team Storage Accounts charge monthly ? – Meet the SME Lifetime Option

Storage Made Easy Lifetime Pricing

Most cloud storage plans that offer team pricing do so on a monthly basis using the typical SaaS pricing model where the simple calculation is:



No of Users * Monthly Price

Storage Made Easy also offers this plan but we realised when talking with customer that many companies would prefer to have the option of an alternative of what they term “perpetual” licensing.

This is the “old” software model in which licenses were procured on a one-time pricing “capex” basis and the only recurring costs was a monthly recurring “open” support and maintenance cost.

After numerous requests for such pricing for our online hosted team service we thought why not ? We can surely construct a model that works for companies who want a pricing model where the majority of the costs is up front in capex and the longer you use the service the more money you save.

Support enables access to SME support and Maintenance enables access to future product versions and this payment is mandatory for continued use of the service.

Support and maintenance is 22% of the initial purchase in year 2 and then year 3 and the thereon.

So how do we calculate this ? The algorithm used to calculate this yearly pricing for business team users is simply:

No users * $5 (monthly Price) * 12 (industry average customer churn)

This results in companies who use the service for longer than 12 months effectively using it for free thereafter other than the one time recurring annual 20% payment for support & maintenance.

Now lets look at some practical examples

Company with 15 users:

SaaS Cumulative Spend

12 Months 24 Months 36 months
      $900         $1800          $2700

Initial Payment (15*$5) = $75
Monthly Payment thereafter $75

Lifetime Cumulative Spend

12 Months 24 Months 36 months
      $900         $1098          $1296

Initial Payment (15*$5*12) = $900
Monthly Payment thereafter $0
Yearly Payment thereafter $198

Savings over 3 Year period

1 Year savings = 0
2 Year savings = $702
3 Year Savings = $1404

Savings go up the longer the time period and the more users deployed !

Are there any differences between the accounts ?

There is only one difference.

In the SaaS service each users gets access to 10GB storage per user (hosted on Amazon S3)

In the Lifetime service each user gets access to 5Gb storage per user (hosted on Amazon S3)

In each case the cumulative storage for all users can be used as a ‘pool’ and spread between users as per the Administrator quota policy.

Also each Company can add additional storage or services from any of the 40+ clouds that SME supports.

Features also included for The team service also includes in both lifetime and SaaS pricing options:

    – Encrypt sensitive data stored on remote cloud services with a private key
    – Integration with Active Directory (optional)
    – Full Audit and event history of all files
    – Access via FTP, WebDav or the S3 protocol to any cloud or service added
    – File versioning and locking
    – Folder permissions and ACL
    – Joined up collaboration
    – Secure file sharing

More details on features can be found on the SME features page.

All pricing information is on the SME Pricing page.

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How to encrypt, secure and access sensitive cloud storage data

The recent PRISM Data snooping controversies have heightened almost every companies awareness of the potential vulnerabilities of data stored off-premise in the Cloud. Many Cloud Storage companies talk about encrypting data ‘at rest’ but the real issue is that the storage companies control the encryption rather than the company whose data is stored controlling the private key.

Amongst many other, one of the services that the Storage Made Easy Cloud service provides is an encryption service that can encrypt data uploaded to remote Cloud Storage. As SME supports around 45 cloud storage vendors this means that all of these are able to take advantage of private key encryption for some or all data. This private key is not stored by Storage Made Easy. If you lose it, or forget it, you cannot get access to your data.

SME uses AES-256 encryption using the Rijndael cipher, with Cipher Block Chaining (CBC) where the block size is 16 bytes. The cipher Rijndael consists of:

– an initial Round Key addition
– Nr-1Rounds
– a final round.

The chaining variable goes into the “input” and the message block goes into the “Cipher Key. The likelihood of recovering a file that has been encrypted using our encryption is fairly remote. The most efficient key-recovery attack for Rijndael is exhaustive key search. The expected effort of exhaustive key search depends on the length of the Cipher Key and for a 16-byte key, 2127 applications of Rijndael.

Once files are encrypted in this manner they can be accessed by an of the comprehensive SME desktop (Mac, Windows, Linux) or mobile tools (Windows Phone, iOS, Android, BlackBerry). When an encrypted file is accessed the user is prompted to provide the private key phrase before the file can be opened.

Any AES-256 decryption tool that supports the Rijndael cipher with 16 byte blocksizes can be used to un-encrypt files. For example the popular freeware file manager Total Commander has a free plugin to handle such decryption.

Standalone desktop decryption tools are also provided by Storage Made EAsy in the event encrypted files are downloaded direct from remote clouds rather than via the SME service. These tools enable the desktop decryption of files using the private key that was set on upload. These Apps are available for Mac, Windows and Linux Operating Systems from the SME Cloud Tools page.

What we have outlined so far is with regards to the Storage Made Easy SaaS hosted service but SME also provides this service as an on-premise Cloud Control service that can reside behind the corporate firewall. It enables the ability to keep very sensitive data behind the corporate firewall but still enable secure file sharing and at the same time offers the ability to encrypt data that is stored on remote cloud storage and other SaaS services.

The Storage Made Easy Cloud Encryption service is available to all SME users inclusive of free, Personal Cloud, Business Cloud and Enterprise Cloud

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Storage Made Easy: Reflections on 2012 and looking forward through 2013

Now that 2012 has drawn to a close and we are in mid January we thought it would be useful to reflect on what we have seen through our own business as trends and pointers, look at some of the things we have done over the course of the last year and finish by looking at what Storage Made Easy brings into 2013.

Key Trends:

A key trend for our business was a switch from online personal and SMB clients to more direct channel and corporate clients using our hybrid Appliance. The work we are doing with Huddle on the channel side and Xtime and Finser on the direct side are great examples of this trend. From July our business moved from a model of online Personal / SMB SaaS to Direct Corporate / Channel sales utilising our hybrid on-premise cloud appliance. Pre July the revenue split was 90:10 online SaaS and today the model is 10:90 weighted towards the direct business/channel revenue stream. We see this as a key indication that :

a. Larger companies want to ‘own’ their own data and are focused on making their storage integrate with what they already have such as their existing identity management systems (in many case Active Directory) and existing structured data systems.

b. Companies want to stop staff using un-authorised services and have come to the conclusion that they need to put structures in place to not only prevent this but to offer an alternative.

b. Companies are focused on the data legislation and governance of structured data so that they can track all file events, a mandatory requirement for certain verticals, such as government and healthcare for example.

c. The ability to search across disparate data sets easily and also on the move is becoming more and more important for companies as they try to make productive use of their core corporate asset, their data !

Our Focus for 2013:

Our Focus for 2013 is going to be as follows:

1. Simplifying our pricing proposition. The result of this will be visible over the next few weeks. We have tried to be as flexible as possible with what we provide to users but we find that this can result in users being paralysed by the paradox of choice so we will be making these much easier to understand.

2. Concentrating on formally launching our on-premise cloud Appliance. Having done a limited release launch in 2012, we will be shortly making available the ability to download the Appliance direct from our site.We have spent a fair bit of time re-designing the installation procedure with regards to networking, https keys etc,  to make it easy to install and get going. Below is an overview of the Architecture of the SME Appliance.

3. Enabling easy IaaS deployments so that users and companies can easily deploy their own personal or company cloud onto IaaS infrastructures. We already do this for Linode  but we will be expanding this to Amazon EC2 (and maybe one other provider we cannot discuss yet) and making the whole process an easier click through process.

We had a great growth year in 2012 and we look forward to continuing that in 2013.

 

 

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