Dropbox app integration could be 'nightmare' for IT

Dropbox Chooser gives users more access to their data. For IT pros, this new Dropbox app integration service gives more reasons to worry.

Personal cloud storage and file-sharing services remain technology non grata in IT departments. Unfortunately for IT, they're getting a whole lot easier for employees to use.

Dropbox is a lot like Apple. They aren't selling to IT.
Matt KoshtIT manager

The latest example comes from Dropbox, whose new Chooser service lets users access their data from other Software as a Service (SaaS) applications. The danger of cloud storage and file-sharing services extending into other apps is that it takes away even more of IT's control over corporate data, said Kristine Kao, storage analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, a research firm based in Milford, Mass.

"This could be a nightmare for IT," she said.

Dropbox app integration joins crowded field

The new Dropbox app integration service is similar to Box OneCloud, a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) that let other productivity apps access and edit documents stored in Box's cloud. Each company's goal is to use this integration to become the preferred file system for all Web-based applications, Kao said. Other major vendors are also getting into the mix; Google Drive, for example, combines cloud storage and file sharing with the Google Docs productivity suite and, just this week, added Gmail integration as well.

In announcing Chooser, Dropbox highlighted Asana, a cloud-based project management application that lets users attach files from their Dropbox accounts with one click. One SaaS application company, HelloFax, was able to build out this Dropbox integration in a single day.

"[Dropbox]'s simpleness is one of the things IT hates so much about it, but it's also why people love to use it," said Matt Kosht, an IT manager at a Michigan utility company.

Beyond Dropbox app integration concerns

IT's aversion to Dropbox has more to do with security, control and downtime than any specific features the service lacks, Kosht said. To address those concerns, he said he'd welcome the following changes by Dropbox: allowing IT departments to control the encryption keys; improving corporate directory integration; giving IT the ability to recover employees' data if they leave the company; and adding some sort of policy enforcement mechanism.

To keep employees from using Dropbox and similar consumer-oriented services, organizations need to provide enterprise-friendly alternatives, said Roshan Popal, director of information technology at Cigital Inc., a software security firm in Dulles, Va.

More on enterprise Dropbox integration

Using Dropbox for corporate file sharing

Should IT drop Dropbox?

Enterprise alternatives to Dropbox

Popal and his company went with a product from Accellion because he wanted control over the data, specifically by storing it behind the firewall in an on-premises appliance. He said he would consider Dropbox if and only if it made an on-premises version. Otherwise, there's too much risk, he said.

"Cloud security isn't there yet," he added.

A Dropbox Inc. spokesperson said the company has no plans for an on-premises version, because it would limit the features and functionalities the company could offer customers.

Dropbox's enterprise play

Dropbox surpassed the 100 million-user milestone this year, and yet most Dropbox application users remain solidly on the consumer side. "Dropbox knows there are inroads to be made in enterprises, and they are trying to make the right decision with what features and functions to add," Kao said. "The enterprise alternatives have evolved slower than users and IT want."

The Dropbox for Teams product, aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses, offers IT departments several favorable features, including two-factor authentication, and data encryption in transit and at rest. There's also Active Directory integration, but it requires a third-party product from Okta or OneLogin.

"Dropbox is a lot like Apple in many ways," Kosht said. "They aren't selling to an IT department. We're just the annoying thing that gets in the way, even though both are more IT-friendly than they let on."

Twenty-eight percent of organizations have already established corporate accounts for cloud storage and file-sharing services, and that number could approach 50% over the next year, according to a November survey by Enterprise Strategy Group. There' s no easy way to determine how many employees use these services in an unauthorized capacity, and that's the biggest problem for slow-to-react IT departments, Kao said.

"If the alternative isn't as easy to use as Dropbox, employees are just going to keep using Dropbox," she said.

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