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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Turning a NetGear ReadyNas into a Cloud File Server with WebDav and SME

NetGear ReadyNAS is a fully featured NAS appliance for individuals and small businesses (SMB’s).

The ReadyNAS is a great way to store locally accessible content but it would be even better if you could get to that content when out of the office and on the road. Even better what if you could organise that content, assign which users can access which files remotely, set file access permissions, and more, in essence turning your ReadyNas into a private Cloud File Server.

Thankfully, the ReadyNAS supports WebDAV, or “Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning”, which is an an extension to HTTP that allows access to files remotely over HTTP or HTTPS. This enables you to map your ReadyNAS as a Private Cloud to SME This is a true Private Cloud in that your files do not need to be moved or synchronised anywhere else for this to work.

First you need to setup the ReadyNAS for WebDav. You can find a detailed guide on how to do that here.

Once this is done we can begin to add the The WebDav enabled ReadyNAS as a Mapped Private Cloud to SME.

To do this the first thing to do is setup an Account at We will be stepping through the setup of a Cloud File Server Account, but this will also work for free or personal accounts.

After creating an account (in this example a Cloud File Server Account) let’s first configure the WebDav connector to work with the ReadyNAS.

To do this navigate to ‘My DashBoard’ from the sidebar and choose to add a new WebDav Provider.

Choosing ‘Add Provider’ will take you to a screen where you can add the ReadyNAS WebDav provider details.

For the WebDav Server host enter the “IP Address (or DDNS name)/sharename” that you setup when getting your ReadyNAS for WebDav. For username and password use the same name and password that you use for accessing a share on your PC. Change the port to 443 as SSL is enabled. Enter the ReadyNAS share path that you previously entered.

Once done click ‘continue, and you will be prompted to sync the ReadyNAS file meta data from the share that you just created.

Once this is done your ReadyNAS device is available to be used as a CloudFile Server.

If you navigate to the file manager you will see the ReadyNAS files/folders from the share you created on the ReadyNAS:

As well as the ReadyNAS files we can also add other Cloud Files, from any of over 25 Cloud Storage Providers. In this case I’ll add Google Docs using the exactly same procedure as adding the WebDav provider we outlined earlier except this time I’ll choose the Google Docs Provider and step through that wizard. Once Added I’ll be able to add both sets of files in a virtual file tree:

This is now setup to be able to access files using iPhone / iPad, Android, Windows Mobile 7, BlackBerry or any of the Mac,Windows, and Linux desktop drives that SME Supports:

Now we’re ready to create some users. We can do this from our Web Dashboard:

Users login become <username>@<Cloud File Server name>. In this example we used marketing@ReadyNAS.

Once the users are setup we can add some shared Organisation Folders from the File Manager and then set some access permissions against them. These folders can be a mixture of folders that reside on the ReadyNAS or Google Docs, or indeed any other Cloud you have added.

The Cloud Admin can also enable users to be able to setup their own private Clouds with data only they have access to, for example Google Docs Apps accounts that are allocated to each user, or SkyDrive Accounts etc:

There are a myriad of file sharing options which include file links, file links with managed expiry, sharing with collaboration groups, making files public (and if required protecting them with passwords even if public). All these options are also available from mobile devices and tablets:

This is the end of the brief overview of setting up a ReadyNAS appliance to work with the SME Cloud file Server.

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Automating OpenStack Swift backup to Amazon S3

One of the interesting things you can do when you have added an OpenStack Swift Provider to an Account is to automate the backing up off data to another Cloud, something we call ‘Cloud Safe’. This means if the OpenStack Swift data is not available then you can access the data from the backup Cloud.

We’ll step through an example of how to automate the backing up of data from OpenStack Swift to Amazon S3.

First you’ll need an account that supports such a backup. For this you’ll need either a Personal Lifetime Cloud or an Organisation Cloud File Server Account, or you’ll need to be using the SMEStorage Open Cloud Platform Appliance.

Once you have mapped OpenStack to your Account you can proceed to the Cloud Dashboard to assign a backup Cloud Provider for OpenStack:

If you click on the “Add Cloud Provider” dialog you will be asked to choose whether you wish to add a primary cloud provider or a backup cloud provider:

Ensure you Select the backup provider radio button and also Amazon S3 as the cloud to be used for backup. Once you have done this you will be taken to a wizard to enter your Amazon S3 Details:

Once you have stepped through the wizard and completed adding your S3 account a sync task will be generated that will synchronise the existing data that resides on OpenStack with the Amazon S3 Cloud you just added. You can check on the status of this Cloud sync task from the Cloud Sync task link in the right sidebar after login from

Once this task has completed your data is sync’d to S3. If you upload any new data a sync task will be created to also transfer this to S3. If you delete any data then it will be deleted from your primary cloud but the default action is not to remove it from your backup cloud, in the event you later wish to find such removed data.

This mechanism of “Cloud Safe” or Cloud-to-Cloud backup will actually work with any combination of Clouds that are mapped to your account.

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New Cloud File Manager beta launched on SME

We’ve updated our Rich File Manager on our website to address one of it’s major criticisms which was only loading up to 10,000 items in the cache. Now it has been designed from the ground up and the cache is dynamic and loads on demand so the number files you wish to view in the browser is not a restriction.

It still has the look and feel of a real file system, except of course it aggregates Clouds and is, in essence a Cloud File System Aggregator.

It has a mode where it becomes enlarged and is a web ‘App’ in the browser so you can use it like a regular old File Manager once it’s launched.

You’ll find a beta link under the current file manager if you wish to use it.

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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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Visual Versioning added to Web Platform

We have now added support for visual versioning of files in the SMEStorage web platform to easily identify and manage files that have been edited or changed by individual and business users of the Cloud File Server.

The Cloud File Server Admin can manage whether files versioning is turned on or off, and can also choose whether versioned files are visible in desktop and mobile clients.

Visual versioning  is an enhancement we have made in the web application so that users can easily identify which files are versioned, and if they choose to, even easily promote previous versions of files.

If a file is promoted then all user comments attached to the file being replaced move to the file that is promoted so that there is consistency.

Versioning works on files above any of the numerous storage clouds that are supported by the SMEStorage platform. This means that the same files shared between organisations and stored on different storage clouds can still be tracked and versioned as if they resided on the same data service

The visual versioning feature is available now for all existing, and new, users of the SMEStorage SaaS  platform.

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