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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Cloud Computing Use Case: Sharing PDF’s stored on SkyDrive with an “on the road” team using Galaxy Tab and iPad’s

Given the propensity for so many different use cases that using the Cloud with Files can come up with  we thought we’d start sharing some of the day-to-day use cases we deal with here on our blog.

This one is an inbound request in which a business has a series of PDF’s stored in a folder hierarchy on SkyDrive that they need to share with a distributed team that uses a combination of Galaxy Tab and iPad’s. The files need to be synchronised for offline use and the files can be updated each evening so the remote people need to be able to resync the files locally to get the latest versions for offline use.

Firstly lets address SlyDrive. In this event all the business needs to is to start using our Cloud File Server and add the SkyDrive Cloud to their account from the Cloud DashBoard.  This starts a wizard in which the user is stepped through adding the SkyDrive Cloud.

 

 

 

Once this is done the Business Admin of the Cloud File Server needs to convert the  folder containing the PDF’s into a shared Organization Folder. This means that any users that are added to the Cloud File Server will be able to see this folder.

The Business Cloud Admin can now choose to set the types of permissions that they wish to set on the folder (read only, etc).

 

 

 

 

Once this is done The Cloud Admin can add the users:

 

 

 

 

Now this is setup lets move to the tablet side. We’ll take the iPad first:

IPAD:

Each of the users that the Cloud File Server Admin added to the Cloud File Server can access their account using the iSMEStorage iPad App. once logged in they will be able to view files on the Cloud in a unique Cloud Files view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However as per the business requirements we need to be able to sync the folder that was shared containing PDF’s down to the device. To do this the user needs to visit that particular folder in the Cloud File Manager and nominate the folder for local sync.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once this is done the user can go to ‘My Syncs’ from the menu and action a sync which will download all the PDF’s locally. In future as the documents are updated overnight he just needs to visit My Syncs again and choose to resync which will download the newest files.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Galaxy Tab:

As with the iPad the user needs to visit the PDF directory from the Cloud Files view and nominate the PDF folder for Sync in the SMEStorage Android App.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once this is done the user can return to My syncs, click on the directory and choose to sync. This will download the relevant PDF’s to the iPad. Again a sync can be done each day to update the latest files.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As there is less restriction on Android devices users can set the App to do a scheduled sync daily. Unfortunately this is not currently possible on the iPad.

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Implementing secure document delivery of private data to the iPad

One of the interesting projects we’ve recently been looking at with several customers is implementing secure document delivery of private (and in some cases public) data to the iPad using a combination of our Open Cloud Platform and our iSMEStorage iPad App.

The iPad seems to have become the executive, and salesman’s choice of device for mobility and ease of use. We’re seeing it everywhere from high end Finance to very small two to three man businesses.

What restricts some businesses from being able to use the iPad a  means of accessing Cloud Data that they store on premise or in public Clouds in private accounts is often security. They need a level of security that can be above what is required for normal everyday use. I’ve outlined some of the requirements below:

 

 

 

 

1. Requirement to have full control over Cloud File Server / Gateway. This requires the company implementing our Open Cloud Platform on their premise or in their data centre. This is reasonable straight forward and we have a whitepaper on the architecture for high availability here.

2. The iPad has to be a complete sandbox and not accessible as a “File system”. Of course, the way Apple designed iOS Apps was that each operate in their own sandbox directory and by default there is no access to different directories from within Apps (unlike Android). However if the device jailbroken all bets are off. To this end, we implemented in our code for such clients that detects if the device is jail broken when the App is installed or launched. If it is then the App becomes inaccessible.

3. Of course in in point 2 above, if the App is not launched and someone gets access to the filesystem via a jailbreak then the files could still be compromised. To this end we have implemented encryption on PIN. The current version of iSMEStorage already enables adding a PIN over above login. For private customers we this PIN to also encrypt the data on the iPad, much like you can do using the home directory encryption that Apple provides on the Mac. This now means that if the device is jailbroken and the App is not launched then the files, even if accessed, cannot be viewed. This feature may well make it’s way into our App Store iSMEStorage App at some point in the future.

4. In the unlikely event someone does get access to the App then all documents that are accessed can be encrypted using the SMEStorage Cloud Platform which means that a PIN is required to download them to the device (where the are encrypted anyway). The encryption is 256 bit AES encryption.

5. Integration with third party authentication services. A number of clients we’ve worked with have their own third party authentication services. In some cases we’ve need to look at integrating these into the authentication mechanism used for our iPad App. Two examples are Ping Identity Server and Arcot mobile authentication solution. You can view a short whitepaper on security integration here.

6. Disabling any document sharing with other Apps. This of course makes perfect sense in a world where you want the ultimate security for files and was simply a case of disabling this feature. This presented some challenges where customers wanted still to have some editing capabilities of documents. To this end we entered into OEM’s with best of breed third party solutions for such private implementations that enable document editing from within the App as well as PDF annotation for PDF documents.

Taking these steps a secure document delivery solution can be achieved for Private data. Public data, stored on such services as Amazon S3, or RackSpace, can if required also be accessed by “plugging them” in at a Cloud Platform Server level. Additional data becomes part of the Cloud File System and can be managed easily within the virtual directory. The Organisation can use the options in the SMEStorage Cloud File Server to require encryption for all documents stored on such services that pass through the Cloud Gateway.

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Office 365

We’ve had a quite a few requests now for SMEStorage to offer integration with Office 365, Microsoft’s online offering for small businesses. We’re doing some analysis to see whether we can add connection to Office 365 so that users can work with data from iOS, Android, and BlackBerry (with Windows Phone coming soon), as well as, of course, Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Office 365 has built in access to files folders via integrated SharePoint capability and unfortunately the SharePoint in 365 does not seem to have any means to connect via WebDav for users.

We’ll post an update when we have more news on our work to add Office 365 integration.

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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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SME now supports Amazon Cloud Drive

**Please note this is an old post – Amazon Cloud Drive is no longer supported

We’ve now added support for Amazon Cloud Drive as a Cloud Storage Provider that can be used with SMEStorage.

Amazon providers every Amazon customer, even new customers without purchases,  5 Gigabytes of online storage. Customers in the US, who have purchased at least one digital music album on Amazon get, 20 Gigabytes of extra space for the first year. Paid Storage plans start at 20 Gigabytes and go up to 1000 Gigabytes. Each Gigabyte costs $1 per year with no additional costs (ie. no data transfer rates that are normally charged with the use of storage such as Amazon S3).

Let step through adding the Amazon Cloud Drive to your account:

1. First sign up for a new Amazon Account. Even if you have an Amazon Account it can be worth separating your main Amazon account from your Storage Account as Amazon does not provider separate token authentication for Cloud Drive, so the details you use will be the same details you use to login into Amazon, and you may wish to keep these private.

2. Once registered you will be taken to the Cloud Drive home screen, but it is important that you at least attempt to upload a file so that you can agree to the Amazon Terms and Conditions of Cloud Drive (if you are interested, you can review the terms and condition here).

3. Once you have done this your Amazon Cloud Drive will be ready

4. You can now either choose to add the Amazon Cloud Drive to your existing SMEStorage Account (got to My Account->Providers tab and choose “Add new Provider‘ Link) or you can sign up for a new free SMEStorage account. In either case you will need to enter your Amazon Cloud Drive authentication details at the first step of the wizard.

5. After your authentication has been verified you will be required to sync your meta data to create your cloud view within SMEStorage.

6. Once this has completed your CloudDrive files will be mapped and accessible via SMEStorage.

7. If you use the files via our Web Portal then you get all the integrations that are available to all clients such as integration with Zoho office for editing office docs, with Google Viewer for viewing files, ScribD for viewing PDF files, and Picnik for editing images.

8. All other SMEStorage clients will also be able to use with the Amazon Cloud Drive. These include, our Firefox Plug-In, Chrome Extension Plug-In, iPhone/iPad client, Android client, BlackBerry client, Windows Cloud Tools + Virtual Drive, Mac Cloud Tools + virtual Drive, Linux Cloud Tools + Virtual Drive.

Some examples of Clients using the Cloud Drive can be seen below:

iPhone Client

Firefox Client

Mac Client


Free Windows Cloud Explorer

Windows Virtual Drive

UPDATE: This is an old Blog Post – Amazon now prevent access to Cloud Drive and it is no longer supported.

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