Looking around, it seems that every day brings more news about someone offering « DropBox for the Enterprise. » Given all the attention, it’s not surprising Kathleen Reidy of the451 Group recently labeled this new space the « Mobile File Sharing and Sync Platforms » market.
On one hand, this is pretty amazing – being in a market as it evolves from a single vendor into a bona fide market. On the other, this leads to confusion as vendors vie for the space, test what marketing works and what doesn’t, and attempt to claim victory. I thought I would simplify things a bit, and offer a few simple rules of thumb when looking at solutions in this space. I call them the « The Seven Habits of Highly Effective File Sync and Share. »
User Expectations? File sync and share is a consumer driven market, and IT around the world is by definition playing catch-up with what consumers found by themselves first. If you are going to purchase an enterprise sync and share solution, it better meet the user’s expectations – which means it better be at parity with whatever they are using today: simple and easy to use, provide the same basic functions, and enable sharing with customers, partners and other employees – and maybe even provide integration with their private data and network as well (see below for more on that). Anything else, and employees will not bother switching.
Hosted or On-Site? It is amazing how many vendors provide file sync and share services in the cloud. But what do you need? Are you looking for software for your own cloud, or do you want a service that can help you choose the right combination of public clouds and private storage, mixing them together in a hybrid cloud? It is up to you, but like so many things, read the fine print. It’s great to take advantage of external storage cost efficiencies, but it would be unfortunate to be limited only to 1 vendor’s cloud offering.
Data Location In IT, there are fundamental business requirements when it comes to data – customer data, patient data, and financial data. No matter how hard you try, and how hard you encrypt something, if you store customer data in the wrong place you violate rules, policies and – particularly in Europe – the law. When you sign up for a sync and share option, where is your data? Does it comply with the legal requirements for your solution? Can an admin you don’t know and didn’t hire access it with one click? Know where that data is, and who can touch it.
Migration Path Users will not tolerate the switching costs of a complex migration from the existing system to a new one. What does your solution offer to assist the migration? Can you deploy a new client, and then migrate the data behind the scenes for the users? If this is done right, it can help IT regain control over corporate data without getting in the way of getting the job done.
Private Data As mentioned above, consumers have a cloud file sharing solution today. It is free. It probably holds corporate and private information. While you can offer a solution for the corporate information, what are you doing about the private files? Can you provide a solution that helps the user with the complete problem they face, and thus encourage their adoption of your product, or are you going to try and get the boss to now have two solutions – one for public and one for private? This can make or break your offering out of the gates.
Flexibility File sync and share came from the consumer space, and it will continue to evolve in the consumer space. Who knows exactly where the space will all end up, but we do know that you want a product that is flexible, leverages plugins for all sorts of enterprise environments, and supports just about any storage back-end you can throw at it. And, you want the innovation that those leading edge consumers dream up because without it, the product you buy today may lock you in to proprietary software tomorrow.
Open Source Once the misunderstood child of the Linux world, open source software is now a force in the market. With the right open source software you get the flexibility and security you are looking for in a well inspected solution, with the control you need. You also get the innovation and cost structure that made open source so popular in enterprises today – a 2010 CNET survey suggests 98% of all enterprises leverage open source software in some way. If that software is supported by a commercial entity, an open source sync and share solution should make your list. There is no question this market is exploding – since I started this piece a couple days ago, several new vendors of sync and share cloud-based solutions have shown up in my RSS feed. The noise blaring at enterprise IT is deafening. Hopefully these « 7 Habits » get you thinking, so that when you get to make the choice for which solution you want to offer your employees, you have some help cutting through the noise.