Cloud File Server Branding

We’ve been asked many times from our Cloud File Server clients how they can customise their accounts to incorporate a unique link and logo branding. I’m pleased to be able to day this is now live on the site. A short overview on how to do this below:

1. How to brand your Cloud File Server

Branding your Cloud File Server is straightforward, when logged in as the Cloud Admin, just navigate to the Option setting and upload your own logos. One will be use for the login screen and the other will be used for the logo icon in the top left when logged in. 

Any logos uploaded, if larger than the file sizes requested will be cropped.

2. Unique Link

Once you have updated the graphics you will be given a unique link to access your Cloud File Server for your company.

3. Branding complete

Once you have completed the branding exercise your Cloud File Server can be accessed using the unique home page and your brand will be displayed subsequently after login.

You can change this as many times as you wish.

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New version of Windows Cloud Drive and Sync Tools released

We’ve updated our Windows Cloud Tools which are available to purchase by free users or as part of the Personal Lifetime and Team Cloud File Server Plans. The tools integrate the Cloud directly in the desktop via the means of a Cloud Drive with a drive letter that you can control, and also come with sophisticated sync tooling and a Cloud Management DashBoard

These are now available to all existing users of the Cloud Tools that are under support by logging into their DashBoard  and navigating to Cloud Add In’s.

Updated include:

– Fixed a Sync Centre ordering bug that could occur on scheduled sync

– Added speed (byte rate) limits.

– Sync Center – fixed windows system function GetLastWriteTimeUtc bug that cause an issue with some timestamps.

– saves endpoint when credentials are not saved.

– Added new endpoint MyCompany.FileServerApp.com/api, to be easier for appliance users to manage their private Clouds.

– Sync Center: Now runs in background when launched by schedulers. Shows a log at the end, if there were sync errors, or if “Don’t close” was checked when scheduled.

– Retries failed HTTP requests (3 times, at 3 seconds interval).

– Skip folders that failed to create.

– Logs more info on failed folders.

– Virtual Drive performance improvement

– WIndows 64 bit IFS Virtual Drive Driver update :resolves issue for some 64 bit machines

– other Minor fixes.

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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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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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Bring your own Device is changing Enterprise IT

In the not to distant past most companies had a unilateral policy on cell phones. You were given one by the company and it was a BlackBerry, or it was a Windows Mobile etc, and there was a mandate that you had to use it. The company provided it, you used it, and more often than not you walked around with another personal phone that you actually wanted to own and use.

Today, more and more companies are adopting a BYOD or ‘bring your own device’ approach. The Apple iPad was pinpointed, by research Forrester did on the subject, as what started to consolidate the shift that was preceded by the iPhone, as company executives brought it with them to the office and challenged IT to support it.

Far from IT departments having the ability to strictly dictate the mobile of their ecosystems, they are being challenged by personal smartphone preference. The Forrester report cites 59 percent of companies that were surveyed enabled employees to bring their own phones to work.

Another factor is the rise in remote or on-the-move working. Whereas in the past company workers had found themselves logging onto the corporate VPN from a laptop or PC, many companies use Google Docs or Hosted SharePoint making access easier to “just connect” using web security protocols such as OAuth. Many analysts and government bodies are predicting this as being the future of IT.

We’ve long been an advocate of this ‘martini’ anytime/anywhere type policy of working with data from mobile devices. It’s the future, plain and simple. This is why we very early built out a comprehensive mobile strategy that focused on supporting all the major mobile devices ie. iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

It’s also the reason why we’ve concentrated on providing governance and e-compliance features that work against what we believe will become the real challenge of corporate IT, that of the sprawl of public and private Cloud Services.

We will continue to focus on this throughout 2012 and broaden not only our supported data cloud offerings but we will also also release support for other SaaS services, some of which are in beta now with some of our customers.

We will continue to expand governance options and integration with Corporate IT, and best of all if you want to host all this in your own data centre, you can using our Cloud Appliance which supports VMware, XEN, and KVM environments.

We believe 2012 will be looked back on as the year that two key themes converged in corporate IT, that of mobile working and Cloud Computing, and we are looking forward to working with existing and new customers to support it.

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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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