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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Sharing files between iPad & Android Device

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A user Steve shared with us that he uses the iSMEStorage iPad App to share files with his android device. He turns on the iSMEStorage FTP Server and then connects using FTP Cafe from the Android (same Wi Fi network a pre-requisite).

We tried it, and it works great.

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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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You don’t need to Jailbreak to have the full files experience on your iPad / iPhone

I was talking to a friend recently and he was bemoaning the fact that he had upgraded his iPad 2 and therefore lost his jailbreak Apps, and in particular the iFile application which he felt made the iPad into more of a a laptop replacement. Without this he felt that as well as his iPad he also needed his laptop on trips “just in case”.

This got me thinking and I asked him what it was he needed to do. His answer was:

I need to be able to save files from my email locally, and then be able to send files I’ve saved on my device as an attachment, and I also need to be able to download any file type from the web browser and email if I need to. I also need  access to my internal office files over WebDav, my own personal DropBox files, and also files stored from our supplier which are hosted on a Amazon S3 Account they give us. With the Amazon S3 files I need to download then locally as I need to be able to share them with our customers as they are product information sheets, and I cannot just set them public in Amazon S3 as I don’t want to make these files available to everyone.

Additional to all of this I also want to be able to work with my Local files ie create directories, and even cut and paste files so that I can organise them, just like I would do on my laptop.”

I stepped through with him how he could do all of this with our Storage Made Easy iOS client and he was amazed. He did not know he could do some of these things without jailbreaking his iPad. Given the value he got from our chat he cajoled me into putting together this blog post outlining what I went through with him to share any value other readers / users would get from it.

Lets take the things he mentioned one by one:

1. Requirement: I need to be able to save files from email and web browser locally – You can save any attachment from your email into SME, even if the iPad does not recognise the file. The SME App lets you save any file type from email or Safari. Once it is saved you can choose to view it within SME, or send it as an attachment using the iOS email client. You can also choose to open the file into another iOS App and work with/on the file from there.

2. Requirement: I need to access my internal office files that I can share using WebDav and also my DropBox files – The SME App fully support access to local files over the WebDav protocol directly from the iPad and also works with DropBox. Both sets of files are presented in a unified file system so that they can easily be managed and you can even copy and paste files between the two.

3. Requirement: I need to be able to work with my Amazon S3 files and be able to download and share them over email with my supplier: As with DropBox and WebDav The SME App supports Amazon S3 and enables files to be managed or moved between clouds, as well as being download locally. However SME also enables you to share Amazon S3 files without making the files public on Amazon S3. You can even set a link expiry so that the file links that are shared eventually expire.

The SME App does not just work with WebDav, Amazon S3, and DropBox it now works with over 50 Storage Clouds.

4. Requirement: I also want to be able to work with my Local files ie create directories, and even cut and paste files so that I can organise them, just like I would do on my laptop – You can do exactly this in SME local files view. You can move files about using cut and paste and you can also create directories to help organise your files.

This touches only part of what can be done with the Storage Made EasyCloud and Local File Manager. Please see the slideshow below to see more:

 

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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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CloudDav update – say goodbye to those additional files in iWork

The SMEStorage implementation of CloudDav enables us to provide WebDav over any Cloud whether the underlying Cloud supports it or not. This has great use on devices such as the iPad when users want to use Google Docs with iWork or SKyDrive with iWork etc.

One of the small niggling issues we’ve had is that when files are saved using iWork the CloudDav implementation creates two extra files. One is the original file which is data and timestamped and the other is an empty file. The reason for this is:

1. Whenever SMEStorage changes a file (if file versioning is not turned on) then the original file is actually versioned and moved to Trash. The file is not actually removed from the underlying Cloud until the Trash is emptied and is visible in the same directory as the newly created file, except it has a date and timestamp appended to it.

2. iWork actually creates an empty file when you are working with the file you wish to edit. This file is empty and is a lock on a file  that it  lets go of once the file has been saved, but it results in the creation of a real empty  file.

Most of our users who use CloudDav with iWork just want one file that they changed to be saved and no additional files which they have to manually remove.

To accommodate this we’ve added a new setting in the Cloud DashBoard (accessible from the right sidebar after login):

 

 

 

 

 

This option is on for all new CloudDav accounts and can be turned on for any existing CloudDav accounts. This will prevent the creation of the extra two files in iWork on the iPad / iPhone.

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