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Enterprise cloud file-sharing apps give IT more control over data

Employees already use cloud file-sharing and collaboration services such as Dropbox at work, whether IT knows it or not. Enterprise cloud file-sharing apps let IT regain control.

Smartphones and tablets aren’t the only consumer tools that have made their way into the enterprise. Now IT admins have to deal with the influx of cloud file-sharing and collaboration apps.

Cloud storage services from companies including Box, Dropbox and YouSendIt let employees send and share documents, move large files and work remotely from any device that can connect to the Internet -- and IT might never know.

This “Wild West” approach to cloud file sharing is a major problem for companies such AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in Lexington, Mass.

“A few years ago we were trying to get our first drug out to market, and files were being sent all over the place,” said Nate McBride, executive director of IT for AMAG. “I noticed right off the bat that people were using inventive ways to send confidential files without any way to audit them. We had no way of knowing if they got hijacked along the way.” 

His answer was to adopt a cloud file-sharing product that IT could control. Mostly, he wanted a centralized application that IT could use to track data and audit files that his employees would also embrace.

Choosing an enterprise cloud file-sharing service

There are corporate file-sharing versions of consumer products that provide data protection, security, and uptime guarantees.  Other providers, such as Huddle, only offer enterprise versions.

McBride uses YouSendIt, which costs $14.99 per user per month. For that price, AMAG gets unlimited storage, tight integration with email for sending links to files, the ability to use electronic signatures -- important for AMAG’s highly regulated industry -- and other IT management options related to file security and control.

The pharmaceutical company’s four-man IT department runs entirely in the cloud, and YouSendIt is also its primary document storage drive. McBride said this approach is good for IT because it lets them focus on end users, who are happy to have these cloud tools and IT support. AMAG’s cloud-centric model isn’t for everyone, though.

“People thought I was insane,” said McBride, describing when he would tell other IT admins about the company’s migration from on-premise data centers to cloud vendors for data storage.

Cloud security concerns are quite common. It’s the reason that RES Software recently introduced a file-sharing tool called HyperDrive that flips the Dropbox model on its head. With HyperDrive, the files live on premises instead of in the cloud.

This approach gives IT pros the control and data protection that they want, while providing follow-me-data capabilities for end users, RES Software said. 

The downside is that this approach requires internal storage and networking infrastructure, as well as management, which adds costs. Some corporations will be willing to bear that burden for security benefits. The product, which will be available in April, is based on a subscription license priced at $4 per user per month.

Concerns about cloud file-sharing apps

There are many companies offering cloud file-sharing apps, but few have distinguished themselves as enterprise-ready. IT admins need to do their research before adopting one of these services, and they should be careful about the service agreements related to data recovery, backups and security, analysts said.

There’s a major difference between reputable businesses and cloud-based file lockers such as Megaupload, which the FBI recently shut down and charged with hosting copyright-infringing data.

“If you have highly confidential information, you’ll have to dig deep to see whose data is being stored alongside yours,” said Alan Pelze-Sharp, an analyst for the Real Story Group, a buyer's advocate for enterprise IT in Olney, Md. Otherwise, your data could become inaccessible without a moment’s notice, he said.

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The benefits of enterprise cloud file-sharing and collaboration tools for employees and IT departments, however, may outweigh the negatives, according to Pelze-Sharp.

“The real sweet spot,” he said, is the effortless document collaboration between “small groups and departments in a 20,000 employee company.” 

Cloud file-sharing tool use is still small and difficult to pinpoint, but it’s a growing market, said TJ Keitt, an analyst with Forrester Research, Inc. 

“If IT departments don’t make it easy for employees or don’t make the effort, the employees will,” Keitt said. “Collaboration is no longer about picking up the phone or visiting a cubicle.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email James Furbush or follow @slyoyster on Twitter

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