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Buying and managing online file collaboration tools

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Product differentiators: Research is key

As you start to dig into the market, some of these offerings may seem similar. However, there are differences in terms of which vendors/service offerings are better suited to enterprises and which are better tailored for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). For example, most vendors in this space provide sharing and collaboration capabilities and, generally speaking, all files stored on these products are accessible with an Internet connection. Box and YouSendit however, offer easy scalability—IT doesn’t need to determine how much storage it will need because they charge by the user, not by storage. This makes it much easier for a large enterprise to predict and allocate budget for these products.

SugarSync, on the other hand, is an ideal option for SMEs that need an easy-to-implement service and the option to scale without the need for 24/7 support or guaranteed uptime. The service works without requiring users to move files into new folders, and allows them to keep their existing folder hierarchy, so IT doesn’t need to implement a behavior change within the company. In addition to offering well-rounded business functionality like offline access to files, sync across users and support for multiple mobile devices, SugarSync also offers personal features (e.g., music streaming to mobile devices), which would fit well with companies that allow personal use of endpoint devices.

In addition

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to basic file sharing functionality, IT shops looking to roll out online file sharing and collaboration solutions across the enterprise need central administration capabilities for configuration and management tasks. Because this isn’t a requirement for consumer products and so many of these products evolved from consumer offerings, ESG finds that most vendors are still building out their capabilities in this area. These are critical requirements, however, and those service providers that make it easy for IT to implement and manage their solutions will have a natural edge over the competition.

Among the key administration and control questions that enterprise customers should ask are the following:

  • Can group policies be set from a central dashboard, or does each account need to be set individually?
  • Is there integration with Active Directory? Not just Single Sign-On to the service, but also leveraging Active Directory Groups for fast and easy provisioning, de-provisioning and policy management?
  • Does the offering allow for administrator visibility into account usage through audit reports and provide data for chargebacks to business units?

You’ll need answers to all these questions before making buying decisions.

But the big Kahuna is security. Security is the No. 1 concern when it comes to enterprise IT’s adoption of cloud services. Based on interviews with current online file sharing and collaboration service providers, ESG believes these companies hear customers’ concerns loud and clear. Seeking to reassure IT professionals and provide peace of mind, many vendors use SAS 70 Type II certified data centers, and implement varying degrees of encryption and password protection safeguards. Expect more focus on security from these vendors in the coming year as they seek to allay user concerns about the robustness and security of their products.

The bigger truth

ESG is seeing these products being rolled out for a variety of use cases, from basic file sharing to collaboration, SharePoint replacement and data protection. The big drivers are workforce mobility and endpoint device support, but many IT managers also mention getting unshackled from the VPN as a major driver. The big issue here is that many of IT’s customers, the end users that IT supports, are often already using some type of product they’ve personally subscribed to. If that employee leaves/is let go and uses a personal account, the data goes with the account. If IT deploys and manages the product, the data stays with the account, which IT owns. This is why IT has to get in front of the wave: To keep control of corporate data on the endpoint devices they must now support in the enterprise. This is why ESG expects the online file sharing and collaboration space to be blazing hot this year.

BIO: Terri McClure is a senior storage analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass.

This was first published in March 2012

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