On premises DropBox

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Introduction

In our private lives we are already accustomed to using cloud based file sharing. Who of us isn’t using or has tried Dropbox? Dropbox was my first cloud based file sharing solution. In the time between now and then there are many new players in town like BOX,PogoPlug and many more. Where Box stores the files in the cloud, other store the files on premise like Pogoplug (for private use).

Now a days users are using solutions like Dropbox to store company data. Who thinks this is not happening, please get out of your cave. My customers, mostly in the top fortune or government, must be aware of the risks users are taking “without” knowing what risk they are taking. Even when a user knows the risk, they are willing to take it because of the flexibility it gives them! My advice: Think like a user! In some company’s the IT departments are still saying NO to the wish of the end user. But let’s be honest, the rules within the IT department are less restricted. And the end users (especially from generation Y) are consuming IT: they are demanding this flexibility. In my opinion these days IT is controlled by our users .Don’t try to control them, work with them. Watch and learn how they like to work, this is the only way you’ll be in control.

I’ve looked around for an on-premises cloud based solution and found several players in the market. Last year on VMworld I heard about Octopus from VMware, and after some searching I found other solutions like RES Hyperdrive, Appsense Datanow, Cortado corporate server, Proact Probox and Citrix Sharefile. So for what functionalities should we look when we select and test the different solutions?

When I read about the solutions (and testing some of them) I found there are two main categories: the ones that function like a broker and the ones that are File sharing appliances. Let me explain:

Broker solutions

The solutions that work like a broker don’t need storage attached for sharing files, they use your current storage and permissions and makes them available in the (internal) cloud.

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Figure 1 On premises broker

In this case the employee wants to open a file (this can either be an internal or external worker). The request goes to the broker, the broker will verify the credentials within the Active Directory and check if the user is allowed to use the broker, then the permissions on the storage (file server) are verified, and then the employee is able to open the file. The authentication part does not have to be noticeable for the end user since this can be a single sign on. The end user has one place where he or she stores there files. This is very useful if almost every person in the organization needs this facility.

File sharing appliances
The solutions that are File sharing appliances have storage attached, from that storage the files will be available from the (internal) cloud

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Figure 2 File sharing appliances

In the case of the file sharing appliance the user (this can either be an internal or external worker) needs a file from within the company. The user doesn’t know if the file is stored on the file sharing appliance or on the company’s file server. He (or she) has to look in both places an check which file is the most recent. For the external user the file must be on the file sharing appliance, if it’s not the version he’s looking for there’s no alternative. The authentication for this kind of solutions is the same as for the broker solutions and can be single sign as well.

Both solutions have pros and cons. The broker can be integrated in your current infrastructure and use your internal file server to make the files available. But what is the impact on your fileserver and what about security, especially for the corporate data? With the file sharing appliances the files are knowingly placed on the cloud storage. Not every file that is on your file server is available from the cloud appliance, so you might end up getting files placed in two places (with different file versions).

Comparing the products

I got the opportunity to get some presentations, demos and hands-on experience with 9 different providers of cloud based storage. Remember that at the time of this is writing most of the providers did not have a production version available. Most of them will have one around Q3 this year (2012).

RES Hyperdrive

Citrix Sharefile

Appsense DataNow

VMware Octopus

EMC Syncplicity

PROACT Probox

BOX

Cortado Corporate Server

SpotDog

Notubox

The first selection criterion is whether the solution is on or off premises? Mostly because I might need to have control over the location of my data and I don’t want to lose that control, probably because of government rules or compliancy. Think of the patriot act and the reference architecture of a company. From the list above BOX and Syncplicity didn’t meet the requirement (these solution are off premises only). Notubox and SpotDog are slightly different because they are more a paperless meeting tool with the ability to share files, so these solutions are for a particular type of work and that is why I will not discuss them.

The first category for comparison is the way data is synchronized.
 

RES
Hyperdrive

Cortado Corporate Server

PROACT Probox

Citrix ShareFile

Appsence Datanow

Vmware Octopus

On opening

+

+

+

+

+

+

During logon /logoff

+

+

+

Scheduled

+

+

+

Direct/Live

+

+

+

+

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Secure communication

SSL

SSL

SSL

SSL

SSL

SSL

From what platform is integration available?

 

RES
Hyperdrive

Cortado Corporate Server

PROACT Probox

Citrix ShareFile

Appsence Datanow

Vmware Octopus

MS Windows

+

+

+

+

+

+

Macintosch

+

+

+

+

+

+

Linux

+

+

+

iPhone

+

+

+

+

+

+

iPAD

+

+

+

+

+

+

Android phone

+

+

+

+

+

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Android Pad

+

+

+

+

+

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Windows Mobile

+

+

+

+

Web interface

+

+

+

+

+

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BlackBerry

+

+

+

Cloud application integration

+

+

+

With Cloud application integration I mean: Are there API’s (Application Programming Interface) exposed that allowed other applications to write to the file cloud solution? Or use the API’s to integrate in a SaaS solution? For example: Can an application like numbers (the apple excel program), on your iPad, write directly to the cloud solution?

What options are available?
 

RES
Hyperdrive

Cortado Corporate Server

PROACT Probox

Citrix ShareFile

Appsence Datanow

Vmware Octopus

File sharing

+

+

+

+

+

+

Folder sharing

+

+

+

+

+

+

File versions

+

+

+

Streaming audio/video

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+

+

+

+

thumbnail image view

+

+

+

+

+

+

Exchange integration

+

+

+

+

+

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Full texts search

+

+

+

+

+

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Max file size

No

No

No

Yes 100 GB (Ent version) 2GB

No

No but is manageable

Offline available

+

+

+

+

+

+

Connection profile

+

+

Brand

+

?

+

+

+

Remote wipe

+

+

+

+

+

Additional information about the options

File versions can be important but Citrix doesn’t have it yet, why? Because it is a broker that connects to your fileserver. So if your file server has file version then it is a Yes but it is not built in Citrix ShareFile

Thumbnail image view is supported within all the solutions in this article, but I have seen solution that did not support this. I think it is important to have thumbnail images to increase the user experience.

The Microsoft Exchange integration varies within most of the solutions. Some solutions enable you to send a link to the file (instead of attaching the file to the email, also to users in- and outside your company). With solutions like Citrix ShareFile users can set a file size limit of (for instance) 2 MB, when the file is bigger a link will be send instead of the file.
Having files available offline (for mobile devices like an iPad) can also be very important because I might need access to files when I am outside the office. If I have to download the file first,I am depending on the signal and bandwidth of the mobile data provider. Some solutions (which I didn’t mentioned in this article) don’t have this possibility,but most of them have do. There is always a first time for the file to be downloaded on to the mobile device, this is something you and your users must be aware off.

Extra Point worth mentioning

Except for these points there are some other points I found worth mentioning:

Within Citrix ShareFile it is possible to have multi accounts base on multi e-mail addresses (corporate and privet addresses) for a single user to access the same corporate folder. This can be managed by the administrator.I don’t have a use case for that but it can be useful. It is also possible to invite users to a certain folder to place files in. A unique feature is the integration within the Citrix Receiver, this is a very good move! The possibility to create a separate space (container) on your device (let say iPad) where you’re corporate data and you approved corporate applications are placed is a unique feature as well. So in this case the file will stay within the separate space (container) and is always manageable! Why is this important?

Let’s walk through some steps users will do with a cloud based file sharing solution. Let’s say there is a confidential texts document and the user is working with an iPad in public transport. The user want to open the confidential document in Pages (this is the MS word version of Apple). What happened in the background? The document went from the encrypted storage within the cloud (protected with a password e.g.) via the encrypted channel to the iPad. It remained encrypted (in the ShareFile container) until we opened it in Pages. Now every time you open Pages your confidential Word document is available, without supplying a password and ”unencrypted” on the device. An iPad is also encrypted but when you have access you are able to view and edit the document. What happens when the users steps out of the public transport and forgets the iPad….So here this is a risk to consider.

This risk can be reduced by using an Mobile Device Manager(MDM). Alternatively you can use Microsoft Exchange to verify certain policies are met and enable you to do a remote wipe. With Citrix ShareFile this will not happen, the file will remain in the Sharefile container and can only be opened from an published corporate application. This is also a solution that VMware will offer with Octopus in combination with Horizon.

Update! The word is that for Sharefile it will be a SAAS solution with means that the broker in figure 1 will be on the internet side instead of the company side.

The VMware Octopus solution will be like the Citrix ShareFile solution Despite I am more attracted to VMware (because of my vSphere background) I must say that Citrix ShareFile has a big advantage: the integration with the Citrix Receiver. For all other solutions you will be deploying an “extra” agent for the end user.
Besides the email notification, that all other products have as well, VMware will have SMS notification.

Beside this VMware leaves me with an question: There is an option in Zimbra, the email solution of VMware, called briefcase that’s like a on premises cloud solution. So why develop another solution with the same purpose?

RES Hyperdrive will have integration with Automation Manager, which is great for management, but it is also a requirement if you would like to manage it well. Something we noticed is that most solutions use port 443 (SSL, duh!) but RES uses 3 ports, port 80 for windows, port 8080 for Mac and port 443 This can be inconvenient for reverse proxy systems. When working with Hyperdrive I found the look and feel of this product better than Citrix ShareFile. A very nice option was the possibility to do self-provisioning,a drawback is that it is not possible (yet?) to use CIFS: it uses direct attached storage (DAS) only. A nice tool that RES is giving away is the Free RES Baseline Desktop Analyzer (BDA). With this tool it is possible to see what users are using Dropbox and what type of files are store.

Sizing

Sizing is important to scale the solution accordingly. Most of the solutions don’t have the exact numbers yet but give an estimation of around 1000 users per appliance, for more users you need to scale out. The only exception is Citrix ShareFile. When I asked them if their solution will be available as an appliance that can be imported in VMware ESX or Hyper-V they didn’t respond. During discussion with colleagues we thought of the possibility that maybe they will make it an on line (SaaS) solution, but how they will connect to the on premises data is something we did not agree?

My opinion with Hands on experience

I had some hands on experience with some of the solutions. With the promises from the vendors and with a technical view I think that ShareFile is the best product because of integration with the receiver ! But I think that when a choice has to be made the best product will not always win. Not only the price has a big influence on the choice but the vendor that.

If the customer is already using products from the vendor the management of the on premises cloud solution might be integrated in their management products, and this is a very important aspect. If the end use hase the opportunity to influence the decision I think it will go for RES Hyperdrive because of the look and feel!

There is no answer to what the best solution is because I didn’t have the opportunity to test drive all of them. And if I did the answers will be : It depends! But when you get to the point that you’ll have to make a decision this article might help you. Think what is important for the user, me (the administrator) and the organization.

Kees Baggerman also made a good comparison of on premises file sharing solution you can read the article here

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