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Buying and managing online file collaboration tools

IT departments can endorse a single offering that best balances collaboration and file sharing needs with their security and control requirements.

IT departments can endorse a single offering that best balances collaboration and file sharing needs with their security and control requirements.

The online file sharing and collaboration market, as Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) defines it, includes Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings that help customers share and access documents and other files in the cloud, and allows for easy access by and collaboration across multiple endpoint devices. This includes SaaS offerings focused on sharing and collaboration, and purposely excludes those services focused primarily on data protection and backup. There’s certainly some overlap; well-known vendors that focus primarily on file sharing and collaboration include Box, Citrix ShareFile, Dropbox, Egnyte, SugarSync, Syncplicity and, more recently, YouSendIt entered the market.

The reason IT needs to take a good hard look at these tools today is because, in many cases, they’re already being used in your organizations. So it’s in your best interest to get in front of the trend and provide corporate-approved (and managed) online file sharing and collaboration tools to protect corporate data.


The impact of consumerization

ESG has observed a significant shift in the acceptance of alternative endpoint devices by corporate IT staffs. What are the forces compelling these changes? End-user demand is a huge driver. With the continued mass-market adoption of sophisticated devices like smartphones and tablets in the consumer space, it simply follows that users would push to utilize those devices for both personal and work purposes.

This isn’t bad news for IT. Ultimately, consumerization can be a “win-win”—corporate IT staffs pass on some of the cost of device acquisition and service plans while maintaining control over their organization’s information, and employees have the freedom to use the device(s) of their own choosing. However, there are critical issues that IT managers must consider, such as providing app and workspace deployment options that enable IT to manage and maintain user identity, device independence, security and predictable productivity. In addition, there are the cost and other considerations associated with new vendor and telecom contracts to provide 24/7 support to mobile endpoint devices.

Getting in front of the wave

Corporate IT departments can get out in front of this wave by endorsing a single offering that best balances collaboration and file sharing needs with their security and control requirements. With a smart and educated investment, companies stand to satisfy their users while enjoying improved security and control over company information, better administrative capabilities and, ultimately, peace of mind.

Pricing and offerings in the market vary widely based on the amount of storage, number of users, levels of support and availability of data on mobile devices. But users need to be careful; it can be difficult to do an apples-to-apples pricing comparison because some products charge per seat, others have capacity limits or charge by capacity, and still others have custom quote pricing for business users. This is, indeed, a nascent market and offerings will likely continue to evolve as vendors evaluate pricing models and make land grabs with attractive pricing options designed to lure users.

IT departments should pay particular attention to scalability (licensing structures and how easy it is to add users) and service– level agreements (uptime guarantees). In addition, those making the shift from traditional data storage vendors to the online space should be warned: They’re probably used to a certain level of support and while some vendors offer “premium” or “dedicated” support options, others only offer FAQs and online help. Vendors like Box, Syncplicity and YouSendIt stand out in this area as they provide dedicated account managers for enterprise accounts.


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 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.

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