2012 signals the death of the file server? No, it signals the year of data unification

Given the recent press release by Egnyte signalling what that 2012 is the death of the File Server (shock, horror…) I felt we could not let it pass without a few comments.

Firstly the press release itself is a great example of marketing ! Take a topic that is outlines your proposition and make it incendiary or a little controversial to get attention. Touche.

The reality is that for many small businesses and companies the File Server is not going any where soon. There are many reasons for this, from ease of use, entrenched IT, site policies, existing app integration – a whole plethora of reasons why many organisations will either choose or have to keep the box in the corner of the office. And while we are discussing this, lets not forget the very term “File Server” is not limited to one server that servers files, despite what vendors who purport to have a ready made replacement would like you to believe. It also encompasses other Apps that can keep / store files, such as SharePoint for example, or perhaps some project management tool etc.

What’s required is something that can take systems that already exist, augment them, and present them in a way in which company information, including systems that s’erve files’, can be easily searches and managed, ideally from one cohesive interface.

Now lets go back to the press release and some of the interesting stats that exists in there:

“Forrester found that 41 percent of U.S. information workers were using various unapproved online file storage and data services for work purposes.”

That’s interesting and I expect this will not go away and is not easy to restrict, especially with all the ways that Clouds can integrate into App and smartphones these days. If this is the case, and I purport that it is, then why not encourage users to add any personal clouds into a single system that can provide some governance and management around  the problem ?

Lastly, the issue is not limited to file servers as I said earlier but the integration of other SaaS type services into one system that can add some management and governance. For example a company may have a file server in the corner of the office, but they may also use Google Apps as a company and their users may well each get a fairly substantial Google Docs account as part of this. How does this fit into the scheme of things ?  Ideally you want each users Cloud to also be integrated into some sort of ecosystem that can enable audtitng and management.

Here at SMEStorage we believe that a Cloud File Server should do more than just replace a File Server. We believe it needs to unify data services and help companies tame the data sprawl.

Information Manageability, information governance, and promoting information ‘visibility’ within a company is something we  view as a second generation ‘Cloud’ challenge that will need to be addressed by all companies., and which we address with what we refer to as our ‘Data Access Appliance’ and our own definition of a ‘Cloud File Server’.

The first way we deal with this is to enable either public or private Cloud data stores to be connected using our Cloud Appliance. This is a software appliance that can ‘broker’ the connections to different information Clouds ,which can either be used using SaaS with access tools or from in-situ appliance that a company can choose to sit inside their own DMZ.

Once public and private data stores are connected to the Data Access Appliance they can be configured as to which users have access to the different data stores, which subsets of different data elements can be shared amongst users, and what access permissions users have.

No data is moved. It remains in the same place. The Data Access Appliance indexes and ‘mines’ the data and creates a meta-data repository.  This makes cross data searches seamless and easy, and it also makes grouping or tagging data from different data stores simple. Imagine searching across all Email. Skype, SalesForce, BaseCamp, Google Docs and SharePoint for specific project details seamlessly and you can well imagine the power that this brings.

Once configured, end users simply see a single view of all data that they are given permission to see. This is accessible and manageable from  a single ‘Cloud’ file tree from either the web, desktop[1] or mobile[2]. Accessing and moving data from different data stores is as easy as ‘drag’ and ‘drop’.

The Appliance also provides services that supplements the various data and information clouds that have been added as a means to enable greater company productivity. For example every data store that is added to the Appliance can be accessed using the WebDav or FTP protocols independent of whether the data store natively supports these protocols or not. This means for example that companies can enable users to use iWork on iPad with DropBox or Google Docs, or backup their website to Amazon S3 using automated backups with Plesk and FTP. Neither of these would be possible otherwise.

The Appliance can also be used to ensure high availability and backup of local and remote Cloud Data. For example you can configure the Appliance to keep a backup of all files stored on Google Docs to Amazon S3 or all files stored on Office365 to RackSpace, or even files from a local file system to EMC Atmos. This takes away one of the key issues of using Cloud Services for data ie. the ability to access data if the Cloud Service is down, or in worst case if it loses the data.

Governance and auditing are other key aspects of working with public/private Cloud Stores. The Appliance features event auditing for all user access and all file events. This can be controlled at a very granular level. This is a key requirement for industries such as healthcare and legal which need to provide audit tracking of documents stored offsite. It is also best practice for all company data.

The Appliance also features GEO-Location tracking of files. This tracks precisely the location from where files are uploaded and also where they are uploaded and stored. This is useful governance for legislation such as Safe Harbour and the Patriot Act.  The GEO Location governance can also be used to restrict file viewing based on locality. This can be useful for example to comply with country specific legislation , such as restricting user access to personal data from a specific country.

Secure AES-256 military grade encryption is also added as a governed service above all Cloud Stores that are mapped to the Appliance. This uses a public / private key ethos and adds security to file stores that do not offer it and enhances security for data stores that do. If any encrypted files from any of the mapped Cloud Stores are accessed via the web or any of the desktop or mobile clients, then a user is prompted for a password before the file can be viewed or downloaded.  This security can also be integrated with existing security systems such as Ping Identity, OAuth etc.

Just-in-time visibility of data can be a key requirement for many companies. The Appliance can be setup to provide real-time notifications based on file events, including file comments, across data stores. For example, it may be you are part of a project and you have set a watch on a folder, or you have requested to be updated when a specific version of a file is updated.  The built in notifications can be setup not only to deliver an email, but also an SMS directly to your phone when such events occur. For the cost conscious it is even possible to setup Twitter as an SMS backbone so such direct messages over SMS can be sent free.

There are many other features and benefits of what we see is required from a Cloud File Server, and we have touched upon only a few to outline how a second generation Cloud Service can help tame the information sprawl that is only getting worse, not better. The key is data unification and helping companies, manage and get access to the information stores that exist in their business, be they private or public and be they existing applications or new SaaS applications.


[1] Native Mac, Linux Windows clients supported

[2] Native iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone 7, and BlackBerry clients supported

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