May 15, 2014

File Sharing in the Cloud

As information systems move into the cloud, many organizations are starting to ask, “What about my files?”  CRM, financial management, email, HR, and payroll all seem to have readily available cloud-based solutions. Files, however, remain stubbornly entrenched on an aging local server. With more employees working remotely full-time and/or in the field, nonprofit organizations are finding that it’s time for those files to become more accessible.

The absence of viable enterprise options has driven many staff to use their own solutions.  The most common form of BYOA (Bring Your Own App) is DropBox, a solution many staff use to make backups of local files, access files remotely, and securely share large files outside of the organization.

Organizations are rightly concerned about the loss of control and management that these solutions introduce.  At the same time, it is unrealistic to expect staff to stop using a tool that is helping them get their job done, and forcing them to go back to using technology that is almost two decades old.

It turns out that translating the traditional “file server experience” in a cloud-based environment is technically challenging, particularly because organizations need to collaborate on and centrally manage individual employee’s files as well as departmental and organizational files.  There is no shortage of possible solutions.  At last count, we found over two dozen cloud-based File Sharing and Synchronization (FSS) solutions.

Community IT Innovators has researched and tested many of them.  Solutions are all roughly similar in terms of their performance, functionality and feature set.  The top 3 in terms of usage are DropBox, Box, and SharePoint.  These solutions all have substantial financial backing through venture funding (or Microsoft itself in the case of SharePoint).  They have also started to capture large market share and brand recognition.  Each one has its pros and cons.

1. DropBox for Business – works incredibly well for personal file sharing and has widespread adoption.  Both the product and the company are consumer-oriented, however, and have struggled to pivot to the enterprise.  Read Ben Thompson’s fantastic analysis of DropBox

2. Box – has focused on the Enterprise for many years.  It provides better tools than DropBox and integrates with an impressively large number of solutions from SalesForce to Google Apps to Office 365.  It needs to add more users quickly over the next few years to succeed.

3. SharePoint – is the well-known (and possibly notorious) collaboration portal.  Although it has been around for over a decade, it has struggled for widespread adoption.  Microsoft continues to improve and develop its capabilities and has been transforming it into a cloud-based file sharing solution with Office 365.  The complete revamp of the OneDrive for Business offering addition to SharePoint Online and the recent appointment of new CEO Satya Nadella, along with updates (such as Office for iPad), have put SharePoint back in the game.

Which cloud-based file sharing solution is right for you?  Of course, that depends. Although the three mentioned above are the front-runners, there are other top competitors that may be right for your organization.

SugarSync has a similar feature set to Dropbox for Business, at a lower price point.

Soonr needs to bring prices back down a bit (it used to be a freebie for nonprofits), but it is a good product.

Sharefile just lowered their prices. They could use a tweak to the online drag and drop interface and desktop app selection; however, they are one of the only other solutions besides OneDrive for Business/Sharepoint Online that offers fully integrated Office Web Apps for viewing and editing.

Be sure to take the time to perform a thorough assessment of your technical and organizational needs for the cloud file sharing space to inform your choice.

Some of the most common features which you should prioritize include:

  • The basics such as storage limits, pricing (including pricing on additional storage), and file size limits
  • Central management and security features like folder management, access control, and device disabling
  • Ease of use including web interface and desktop sync application
  • Collaboration features such as locking and version control

You can learn more from a free webinar we led in January

Johan Hammerstrom
I have always been interested in using technology as a force for good that can improve our world. In college, I pursued this interest through science, first studying Chemistry, Physics and Biology at Stanford University where I graduated with Honors with a BS in Chemistry. I went on to study Biophysics at Johns Hopkins University and received a Masters Degree. The time I spent in Baltimore convinced me that there were more pressing and immediate problems that technology could and should be used to address. I left academic science and pursued a career in Information Technology, with the express goal of improving our communities and our world. I started at Community IT in 1999 as a Network Administrator. Since that time, I have been a Network Engineer, a Team Lead, the Director of Services, Vice President of Services, Chief Operating Officer and now President & CEO. Working directly with over 200 nonprofit organizations, to help them plan around and use technology to accomplish their mission has been one of the most positive and rewarding experiences of my life.
Tags: Cloud