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7/23/2013
10:55 AM
Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
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Cloud File Storage Fight: No Knockout Yet

Cloud file sharing services like Dropbox and Amazon continue to proliferate, with no clear winner. Enterprise IT still seeks ease of use and deployment.

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Whose world is this anyway? It's that time again, the dreaded close race of superpowers, with no clear winner in sight. Where is a level-headed conservative person supposed to lay his loyalties, fortunes and favors? This is not politics I speak of, but document file storage -- the very same fight that years ago gave rise to the mainframe, then personal computers, then kilo-, mega-, giga-, tera- and the dreaded petabyte.

The creation, use, storage, retrieval and hopefully destruction of the simple written word has become a driver of more than just an economy, it has transformed the very fabric of society. Now any individual with access to a computer, smartphone, etc. can put fingers to keys and begin the creation process, unaware of the magnitude of burden they are placing on the IT industry.

Dropbox, Box, Amazon Web Services, Hightail (formerly known as YouSendIt) and the plethora of systems Microsoft would have us learn, purchase, secure and support are all vying for us to abandon our traditional and well-established use of the folder, finder and directory structure. This known albatross on a company's resources is ripe for drastic change, but which alternative to choose?

[ Hybrid solution: Egnyte Blends Google Drive, On-Premises Storage. ]

What is wrong with the current system anyway? Well, it would appear that the driving technological shift is size and access, specifically mobile. Today's wireless platforms scream at more than 1000 megabits per second. Combine that with regulations that mandate a company keep track of all this data, and the security required to ensure that the wrong information (which is now highly mobile) does not get into the wrong hands.

It is hard to imagine that my 64-GB company phone can take photos of my kids at 2 MB per photo, and I can type 50-100 emails a day that all need to be cataloged, stored and saved for eternity. This demand for cheap storage and retrieval from virtually anywhere is challenging every paradigm of corporate IT control. When did this ever-evolving creation process become so loose and unchecked?

Dropbox would have us believe that its simple desktop client, which allows anyone to share entire directories with anyone else, across the Internet, for free is the future of collaboration and ultimately replacement for our file servers.

Box touts its legendary security and tight integration with Windows as the wisest of choices, even going so far as to court healthcare companies.

Amazon simply continues to drop its prices and gobble up data at an alarming rate, but its ease of use, desktop integration and roadmap are a serious concern.

Hightail and the plethora of large file transfer systems out there all capture copies of our data, if only for a short period of time, but enough to make them potential future solutions. Today, they mostly fill a gap, transmitting files too large for email, but they've begun to compete in other sharing and storage scenarios.

Of course, the behemoth Microsoft, coming off what was seen as a major success with the release of SharePoint 2010, now finds itself verging on irrelevance. It is cobbling together a strategy of mobile apps, SkyDrive, SkyDrive Pro, Office 365 and that thing called Azure. Isn't that enough to make IT departments scream, "What are you doing to us?"

Last, we must take note of Salesforce.com -- arguably not a pure-play file system replacement, but anyone on the Force.com platform can't help but like the combination of tight security, ubiquitous access, and easy management and reporting. It's enough to make IT professionals drool with anticipation of a single tight platform that embodies the cloud and solves the limitations of current systems.

So it would seem that simple solutions like Box and Dropbox will need to be contained as threats to large organizations because of their lack of enterprise-class security and auditing capabilities. While Box has these, it operates outside of current administration systems and therefore becomes a burden, instead of embraced as an innovation here to set data free.

Amazon will continue to define cheap storage. It will also bring a needed level of understanding and adoption of data storage that fits its security models.

Microsoft will confound the industry it created by being (yet again) behind the market, waiting for its partners to innovate on its now mature infrastructure.

Salesforce.com is the odd man out here. It's scalable, secure and arguably best suited to support the mobile and social changes in the market through its recent acquisitions. But will Salesforce.com carve out file storage as a standalone offering? Or will it just allow its current customers to bask in the goodness of the cloud it invented so many years ago?

For my IBM, Linux and Hadoop friends, there are, of course, those options. But for the regular computer users in corporate America, finding an easy-to-deploy-and-use cloud file-sharing implementation continues to elude us.

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