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Risk vs. reward: Personal cloud storage services in the enterprise

Personal cloud storage services have benefits, but with data security concerns on the rise, organizations may want to consider alternatives that offer more control.

Internal, open source software such

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as SparkleShare and ownCloud offer some of the same synchronization capabilities and ease of use that have made Dropbox and other personal cloud storage services so popular. They also give enterprise IT departments more oversight regarding where and how users can store and access data.

User demand for personal cloud storage services is strong and growing, but every organization must decide which system of document sharing best suits its needs. Security, manageability and version control are all factors that IT decision-makers should consider before choosing a system.

Benefits of personal cloud storage services

Cloud and on-premise document management systems both hold a lot of promise. The biggest benefit of personal cloud storage services is that they’re easy to use. When a user saves files to his or her Dropbox folder, for example, those files are automatically synced in the cloud, where the user can access them from other devices and share them with others.

From an enterprise perspective, personal cloud storage services ensure that users are always working on the most up-to-date version of a document, and they offer support for a variety of platforms. In addition, a company doesn’t have to dedicate resources to implementing and supporting a document management system, and there aren’t many costs associated with planning, administration or equipment.

In-house document management systems also offer many benefits. SparkleShare, for instance, uses the Git version control system and lets IT administrators specify where users can store data. It only supports Linux, Mac OS X and Android now, but Windows and iOS versions are in the works.

Then there’s ownCloud, an open source project that lets organizations set up their own cloud storage services. Users can access the service from Mac, Linux and Windows desktops via WebDAV, an online collaboration service that offers many of the same features as Dropbox, including version control, file sharing, encryption and syncing.

Personal cloud storage security concerns

Neither personal cloud storage services nor in-house document management systems are a perfect fit, however. On-premise systems -- even using free, open source software -- bring planning, administration and equipment costs that organizations may not want to absorb. And personal cloud storage services eliminate the enterprise’s number-one priority when it comes to data: control.

With a cloud service, enterprise data is stored in a remote data center that no one in IT (or anywhere else in the organization) can access. Enterprise users just drop files into folders, and the inner workings remain a mystery, for the most part.

Earlier this year there was a security problem at Dropbox, when a programming error opened  a four-hour window during which anyone could log on to any account with any password. There haven’t been many security breaches of this nature, but there could be, and that possibility raises concerns about control over corporate documents in personal cloud storage services. The fact that these services generally rely on simple sign-ins with a username and password, rather than more advanced authentication methods, can exacerbate the problem.

More on personal cloud storage

To cloud skeptics: Don’t diss Dropbox

VMware Octopus takes aim at Dropbox

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

With all these challenges, it seems most enterprises would balk at using personal cloud storage services. But as the consumerization of IT grows, so too do users’ expectations that these services will be available. And the fact is, could services can help people do their jobs better, and they’re often more efficient than what’s available in-house. Organizations need to determine the service that maximizes data control and security while still providing the benefits of the cloud to both the enterprise and its users.

This was first published in November 2011

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