The Top 5 things to Consider for Business File Sharing

20130309-165632.jpgFile Sharing is a key part of a companies ability to collaborate and share corporate data, which increasingly can be stored in many disparate services. The purpose of this post is to offer suggestion businesses should consider for their corporate file sharing strategy:

Many business just let employees share files with no control and no checks. This needs a policy. This is the businesses core asset and it needs to be protected and secure. Also, compliance and legislation of data is increasingly becoming important. The business needs to ensure it does not get caught in a compliance trap.

Point 1: Implement a control mechanism for your users. For example Storage Made Easy enables users to share files using links that can be password protected and in which the link can be set to expire. This protects against the user forwarding file. The file link can be set to expire on first download for example or set to download after 24 hours (or any other specified time period). If the file is password protected, even if the file is forwarded by the recipient then the file cannot be accessed unless the password is provided. A control mechanism promotes best practice security management of files and reduces operational risk.

Point 2: Point Solution or not ? Consider whether your strategy should be a point solution or whether it works with your existing data sets. Many vendors may purport to promote managed secure file sharing but often you find you have to move your data to their Cloud to have the solution work for you. Storage Made Easy works with private on-premise data, public cloud data such as DropBox, SkyDrive, Box etc and also with SaaS services such as BaseCamp. This promotes a ‘joined up’ strategy for company file sharing.

Point 3: Integrates with what you have ? Consider whether the solution works how you work so that it does not get in the way of business or productivity. For example Storage Made Easy integrates directly in the desktop as a network drive with simple right click options to share files. This behaviour supports Windows, Mac and Linux.  Also integration has been done with other core business productivity tools such as Microsoft Outlook and Mac Mail to promote easy secure file sharing using links directly from the corporate mail client. Similar integrations exists for core productivity tools such as Microsoft Office and Open Office or Libre Office.

Point 4: Compliance, Compliance Compliance – Compliance is fast catching up with all verticals when it comes to storing and accessing corporate files off site. There is specific industry legislation related to this, such as HIPPA in healthcare and FERPA in education, but  there are various legislation proposals being processed at various levels in the USA and EU and it is a safe bet that  the ability to track historic file events will become more of a requirement not less of a one. Also for companies, the ability to search against historic file sharing or data access should be just part of an overall joined up corporate security policy.

Point 5: On-Premise, Hybrid or Cloud ? The last point is to do with implementation. You should be able to decide how you manage data or metadata associated with storing files and sharing files. This can be behind the corporate firewall, totally on Cloud., or some combination of both. The key word here is choice.

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Cloud Computing Use Case: Editing Google Docs, Office365 and DropBox files in iWork on the iPad

We recently did a roll out of our Cloud File Server service to a company of just under 150 people. The primary driver of this was federating data sources, governance and auditing of data, and the ability to edit files directly on iWork on the iPad.

For this use case we’ll concentrate on the latter, enabling ubiquitous document editing on the iPad using the Apple iWork product which encompasses Pages, Keynote and Numbers.

The company is a technology company in which different parts of the businesses use different Cloud Services. The core business admin and management uses Office365. Google Docs is used by the sales team, primarily as a way to share Google Docs files easily with their customers and prospects, whom they found to be predominately Google Docs users. DropBox is used by the tech team who like the ability to have replicated to all their code, tech papers etc instantly to any device.

Interestingly, whereas you would think this disparate use of similar Cloud storage services is an edge case, we find it is not. The storage vendor names may change, but the disparate number, of what appear to be, similar services remains.

When questioned about why they don’t use the other in-house services each team had a different USP as to why:

Tech Team: “With DropBox I don’t have to remember to bring my files. They are always with me”

Admin / Management: “Office365 works and Syncs with what I use like my Outlook task list and calendar”

Sales Team: “most of our customers use Google Apps, so sharing files with the Google Group we have setup for Sales is the best way to get new deals / propositions to them”

One thing this company has jointly bought into was iPad’s. They all used them and their preference was to use Apple iWork as their document editor as they liked it’s simplicity, ease of use, and WYSIWYG features. The problem was it did not work with any of their Cloud products.as it only supported iCloud, MobileMe and WebDav.

The company in question had already bought into the SME Cloud File Server. It enabled them to audit files above all the clouds they used and provide Organisation Shared folders that worked above a “set” of Clouds, giving them a single view on disparate resources.

As the SME Cloud File Server also supports a WebDav protocol adaptor above any Cloud, something we call CloudDav, then it became very easy for all the teams to create, load, edit, and save documents to either Google Docs, Office365, or DropBox.

The steps to achieve this were simple:

1. Launch Pages, Numbers or Keynote

2. Click the ‘+’ button and choose ‘Copy from Webdav’ (assume a doc is to be loaded)

3. Enter https://Webdav.storagemadeeasy.com as the server address and your smestorage username and password as authentication. This will then load the file tree and the clouds available to the account.

4. Tap on a document to load it and start editing

5. When finished just choose the “Copy to WebDAV” button and it will be saved.

In this way documents in Clouds not supported by iWork can be edited and saved.

 

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Thoughts on Amazon’s new onsite Storage Gateway announcement

Amazon Web Services has announced that it now offers a new storage gateway appliance (virtual machine image) that can be placed on a customers site. What benefit is this ? It really provides an easy way to integrate local storage or systems with the facility to replicate data to the Amazon Cloud. For example you could add the technology to an existing data center so that it resided between servers and storage  so that you could easily start replicating data to Amazon S3.

Note,however,these are actually stored as EBS Volumes. So although users can access data stored in this fashion locally from the gateway, if they wish to access this data directly through AWS they would need to start an EC2 instance and attached the EBS volume. . This in and of itself makes it easier to then integrate S3 stored data with other AWS services (if this is important to you). Note that this is not ‘replacing’ what you already have (ie. “great, I can just use the Cloud”), it is in addition to what you already have.

Firstly lets look at what the requirements are to host the Gateway.  These are:

  • VMware ESXi hypervisor (v4.1) on a physical machine with at least 7.5GB of RAM
  • Four (4) virtual processors assigned to the appliance VM along with 75GB of disk space for the Open Virtual Alliance (OVA) image installation and data.
  • A “proper” sized network connection to Amazon.
  •  iSCSI initiators on either Windows server 2008, Windows 7 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux

(Also note that the Gateway beta is optimised for block write sizes which are more than 4Kb.  AWS warns that using smaller I/O sizes are likely to cause overhead which can result in storage space that is effectively ‘lost’. This means that prior to installation there needs to be a check made on the file systems / volumes to ensure they can use the larger allocation sizes).

Firstly we’d like to point out that it’s great to see Amazon adding their own on-premise Cloud Gateway. It’s great to see them competing with the likes of  EMC, TwinStrata, and Nasuni. It would have been nice to see NFS or CIFS supported as interfaces, as from our own interactions with customers, we believe that is what customers really want to see, but maybe we can expect to see that added as the Gateway offering matures.

(Differences between iSCSI & NFS: iSCSI and NFS both allow storage access over an IP networking infrastructure. The difference is that iSCSI enables block storage transfer whereas NFS and CIFS transfers files.)

Many customers may find that they already have the capabilities for which they would use the Gateway, such as snapshots, backup and archiving, which is a pretty old, mature and I would expect a little more cost effective mechanism of achieving similar goals. However with that said we can see many use case where, with our own Cloud File Server Appliance where customers will really embrace the Gateway.

So where does the AWS Cloud Gateway end and the SME Cloud Appliance begin ? Well, the first things to understand about the SME Cloud Appliance is that it acts at a layer ‘above’ the storage. It provides a mechanism to unify disparate data sources into one file tree, add unified user access management and permissions, add unified governance and e-compliance, has focus on enabling companies to manage ‘Cloud Sprawl’, and leverages the ability for companies to let staff “bring your own device” (BYOD). In short, as I often say when asked to comment about Storage in general, the response is “it’s all about the App”. Storage in and of itself is not a single source in companies and secondly having things stored is no good unless you have unified, search, logic, control and anytime anywhere access that supports all desktops and all devices. This is what we essentially are bringing to the table with our Cloud File Server Appliance.

To take advantage of the Amazon Cloud Gateway what would be required is for us to connect to the local iSCSI stored data within the Gateway and this is something we will be looking to do in the short term.

For further information see the Amazon Cloud Gateway Storage FAQ’s. Also note that Amazon are also doing a free webcast on 23rd February.

 

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Cloud Computing Use Case: Enabling Cross Cloud file abstraction with unified ACLs and BYOD

Continuing our ongoing blogs on Cloud Computing Use Cases, this one is from a real customer with a complex use which details how and why they use SMEStorage:

Please tell us a little about what you do:

AlliedComm provides turn-key communication and web information applications. AlliedComm consists of four micro brands that service niche industries and organizations. These brands include JurisComm, FaithComm, Healthcomm and CiviComm

What were the technical challenge you were trying to solve:

1) Quickly allocate cloud-based ‘Private Organization Decentralized Storage’ for clients (‘pods’) that can be shed/discharged with client attrition.
2) Create a seamless management layer between cloud storage asset (pod) and respective client with flexible ACL permissions for individual client access.
3) Provide a branded, feature-rich portal with an improved GUI cloud-management experience for clients to independently manage cloud assets.

Why did you choose SMEStorage?

#1 BYOD. Whether by Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, Blackberry, WinPhone, CloudDav, HTTP, FTP, email, fax and web, …you name it, SME’ supports it. (I wouldn’t be surprised if SME’ announces ‘messenger pigeon-to-cloud’ support coming early Q2 2012 *April fools). Our customers demand access to their cloud on their terms. SME allows us to provide all of this at a fraction of the cost compared to other vendors and with zero infrastructure.

#2 Features, features, features …they go on and on and on. They are easy to get to and intuitively laid out. EVERY setting is flexible and customizable. SME’s flexibility allows for limitless applications and ease of management specific to our business’s needs. With ‘power user’ features, we can really manipulate our settings. Nuance matters and we like the flexibility SMEstorage gives us to groom our SME’ service specific to the way we need it to operate.

#3 No ‘sky high’ corporate-centric pricing. Fair is fair. No gimmicks. No games. Pay for what you use. A la carte add-ons. We LOVE that.

#4 Easy security, backup and redundancy. With SMEstorage, we’re able to isolate our clients’ respective cloud assets as separate ‘pods’ but manage them from a layer above on one interface from within SMEstorage. SMEstorage gives us the ability to import, integrate and transfer assets between virtually EVERY cloud storage provider.

#5 Integration, inclusion and extensibility. We can can still access and manage our cloud vendor resources outside of SME’ if we choose to. SME’ provides the flexibility to integrate web storage with our web applications directly with each cloud storage vendor or, alternatively, by proxy with SME’. Often times SME’ provides integration capabilities not available directly from the cloud storage vendor.

Give us an example of how you decided to use SMEStorage

A good example of one application we use SME’ for is FaithComm’s Cloud Media Storage and CDN. Our client’s’ sites are hosted on FaithComm’s standalone servers while the large media and image files are offloaded to cloud storage ‘pods’ and broadcasted across our CDN. We’re able to manage everything from our SMEstorage account yet each client’s cloud storage assets are independent from each other as separate S3, Azure, Rackspace, etc. accounts. From the client’s point of view, the two applications are seamless. Additionally, we provide each client with group ACL login credentials to collaborate on, access, combine, transfer and manage all of their their cloud storage assets via SME’ on the device of their choice. SMEstorage, in our opinion, is a brilliant development in the storage and management of cloud-based assets.

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Cloud federation and governance will dominate in 2012

It’s seasonally topical to write a blog post that will draw a close to the old year with some predictions for the New Year, so read on for a post that fits with that trend…

2011 has been an eventful year for SMEStorage. On the business side we have always been a privately owned self funded company. We have never been VC backed and we’re profitable and have needed to be to be self sufficient. To enable us to expand the founders took a decision to raise some money to enable the company to continue to grow and expand the company. To this end Vehera, the owning entity of SMEStorage sold a small amount of equity enabling Vehera to raise a million dollars to fund the companies push for 2012. This will give the ability to add some more staff to enable us to grow the opportunity we see for our technology with ISP’s and the Enterprise.

On the Technology front we continued building out our support for Cloud’s resulting in SMEStorage now supporting over 35 Storage and SaaS Clouds. We also released a native Windows Phone Client,and also the first versions of Mac and Linux Cloud Tools and we enhanced our native browser plug in’s with support for Google Chrome and Safari. We also enhanced our iOS App for iPhone and iPad many times over the course of the year as well as releasing a native Android client for Phones and tablets. In addition to all of this we also improved our core offering with a myriad of new features which included adding protocol adaptors that exposed Clouds mapped to SMEStorage over WebDav, FTP or the Amazon S3 API, even if the underlying Cloud does not natively support these protocols.

So what for 2012, well, firstly we’ll continue to add more services that can be federated and managed. Shortly we’ll be announcing support for SugarSync, and the UbuntuOne Cloud. We’ll also be adding services less traditionally associated with file stores. The first of these will be BaseCamp, which will be followed by some CRM SaaS services and we have in mind another project / collaboration SaaS tool.

We’ll also be adding even more Cloud governance and e-compliance features. If your interested on our take on Cloud Sprawl and governance please see our prior blog post on this subject.

We intend to push out our revised Cloud Appliance in early 2012. This will give any customer the ability to have a hybrid Cloud governance application that deals with Cloud and local data and service federation that they fully control and own. Customers will be able to host this in their own data centre as it will be available as a VMWare, XEN or KVM appliance. As an alternative we intend to enable easy access to an Amazon EC2 based instance. We also intend to make it easy for resellers to get their ands on it and offer it as a value add to their own business.

It’s our firm belief that with the greater adoption of Cloud, and the increasing array of Cloud Services that 2012 will be the year of Cloud Federation and governance as companies struggle to manage and control the Cloud services deployed in their organisation. We believe that with our advanced service features, comprehensive access clients, and Hybrid on-premise Cloud Appliance that we are well placed to help companies who struggle with these issues.

For general predictions, we’ll make just one, and that is that the “free lunch” is coming to an end. In a volatile economy services that offer “free” may look appealing, but all businesses need to make money to survive and free eventually needs to become paid, and companies need a solid business model to survive. Hoping to capitalise at some point on a large user base of free users is not a business plan. There is room for some element of freemium, we use it ourselves, but our belief is that it has to be underpinned by a solid business plan. If you’d like to read more about this, see this post which goes into a little more depth.

All that remains to be said is to wish you all a “Happy New Year” and we hope all your hopes and dreams are realised in the forthcoming year.

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OpenStack now supported for SME Open Cloud SaaS Platform and Cloud Appliance

We are really pleased to announce that we have added OpenStack Swift object Storage support to the SME Open Cloud Platform. Swift is a sub project of OpenStack and provides a highly scalable redundant unstructured data store. Swift is 5 separate services, object, container, account, auth and proxy. Although each of these can be scaled separately, in practice they run together.

Never heard of Swift? it’s the underlying distributable object store that supports RackSpace Cloud Files. It’s akin to Amazon’s S3 implementation but unlike implementations such as Eucalyptus, which clone S3 API’s, but are not sponsored by Amazon, openStack and Swift has RackSpace firmly onboard, and have proven scale.

As Swift is used by Rackspace Cloud Files. Swift RackSpace claim it is production-ready code that is scalable to massive levels (100-petabyte clusters and 100000 requests per second). Swift sacrifices C for A and P from a CAP theorem perspective. Although most operations happen synchronously consistency is sacrificed in failure scenarios.

From our perspective we have seen ISP’s and larger SMB users of our on-premise Cloud Gateway appliance expressing interest in SME supporting this, and we supply this as VMWARE Appliance (OR XEN, KVM) or as a dedicated hardware appliance for smaller companies who wish to embrace their own private Cloud infrastructure.

As with our S3 API endpoint support SME will overlay a more traditional file store on top of Swift layered with the business functionality we provide in our  Cloud File Server, which includes virtual drives and clients for Mac, Windows and Linux, and feature rich mobile clients for iPad, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry, as well as value added features to Swift such as Webdav and FTP support.

Setting up Swift with SME is easy. First you need to add a new Cloud Provider and then the Cloud Wizard will be invoked. The first step is to enter your OpenStack details:

When entering the endpoint URL you should be sure to include the Port. An example URL is: http://<IP Address>:11000/v1.0.

Next you will need to choose which containers you want to work with and which should be the default container for any uploads to smart folders.

Once you have done this you will be ready to start the meta-sync which pulls in and caches all the information about containers and files.

If you have any issues connecting please refer to this advanced post on using SME with OpenStack 1.60 and SWAuth.

Once complete you will be able to access/amange your OpenStack files from the SME Web clients,  as well as using a Cloud Drive on Windows, Mac or Linux, and mobile clients for Android, iOS, and BlackBerry, and  the plethora of other tools and clients that SME provides. We’v e posted some screenshots below of this.

Web File Manager

iOS OpenStack

Android OpenStack

Firefox Plug-In OpenStack

Chrome OpenStack Plug-In

Mac Cloud Drive OpenStack

The OpenStack Swift API’s also get embedded for use within our own feature rich multi-cloud API framework in which we add many business driven features.. You can find details about that on our developer page

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New Cloud DashBoard beta

My Cloud DashboardYou may have noticed a new item on your Sidebar recently called “My  DashBoard“. This is going to be the new place where consolidate all the information about your account and your settings, and when out of beta it will replace the “My Account” link.

It has the same content as the tabs contained within ‘My Account‘ but it is contained within one dynamic screen and information can be rolled up or rolled down depending on what is needed.

Cloud File Server users have an extra beta DashBoard within their Organisation SideBar called ‘Options‘.

This details all the Organisation Options that are available for managing the Cloud File Server.

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