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Cloud services provide a great opportunity for IT to erase the boundaries between traditional software categories and, mashup style, more directly meet user needs, whether for collaboration and communication or disaster recovery and file synchronization. Yet despite the cloud's flexibility, online storage services still largely segment feature sets along lines dating from the earliest days of storage hardware and backup software. As we found in analyzing responses for our first InformationWeek Cloud Storage Buyer's Guide, products tend to focus on one of three sets of storage requirements:
-- Full-system backup: The online version of a tape drive and backup software.
--File sharing and synchronization: This generation's version of CDs and USB sticks, of which there's seemingly a new example every day, but none more popular than Dropbox.
Of course, several providers, like ADrive and Egnyte, do offer a mix of both backup and sharing features, but not raw storage--that's an entirely different breed that's more basic infrastructure packaged service. Yet they still tend to focus on one area, either backup or file sharing, adding just enough capability in the other to be able to check the right boxes on a feature matrix (but don't take my word for it, we've posted the full set of cloud storage vendor responses).
Wouldn't it be nice if someone would mix it up with a decent combination of cloud storage features that aren't a lowest-common-denominator compromise, and then throw in a central management console and data security to boot?
Well, that's just what Druva may have pulled off with its updated inSync service.
In fact, it's integration, combining cross-device file sharing, central IT control, data loss prevention, and enforcement of security policies, that Druva CEO Jaspreet Singh says is inSync's key differentiator. Indeed, inSync sports some impressive features. For example, the backup module, which now supports Android and iOS, does client-side data deduplication and caching to reduce network utilization; simple WAN optimization, using packet-size adjustment in response to network conditions along with bandwidth throttling; network and stored-data encryption, the latter using two factors with unique client-side keys for each user; and single sign-on with Active Directory integration and SAML support. It also delivers a full set of scheduling options.
And inSync isn't just for client backup; it includes agents for popular server-side applications, including Windows and Linux file servers, Exchange, SQL Server, and MySQL.
Druva inSync's file-sharing and synchronization features mirror those found in popular consumer services like Dropbox and Box: Shared folders are fully integrated into the local file system, with files automatically replicated to all of a user's devices. When sharing within the same organization, the system uses your enterprise directory to define groups and permissions. Sharing with external collaborators is done via password-protected Web links.
Of course, file sharing uses the same data and network encryption features as the backup module, but Druva's killer enterprise features are its central management console and DLP capabilities.
The console is a portal through which accounts and security policies are configured, but it also offers a rich set of data analysis reports and alerts where usage can be sliced and diced by virtually any file property: account, file type, size, modification date, you name it. But unlike any service in our storage roundup, inSync also includes DLP features that allow central control over the types of content each user or group is allowed to share. The service even includes some basic mobile device management features, such as remote wipe of inSync shares on either PCs or mobile devices and geolocation, which works on either mobile devices or PCs using GPS for the former and Wi-Fi location databases for the latter.
Like most storage services, inSync uses a tiered pricing model, starting with basic backup and adding optional features, but the whole enchilada as described here runs $14 per user per month. The caveat, according to Singh, is that the "unlimited" plan caps at an average 100 GB per user, so if your 100-employee company starts using more than 10 TB, you're staring at an extra bill. Still, at 14 cents per gigabyte per user per month, Druva's full-featured offering beats two-thirds of the services in our Buyer's Guide when ranked by price.
You could pay a lot more for services providing a lot less.
If we seem enthusiastic, it's because we're glad to finally see a cloud provider that's not afraid to blur boundaries. Others have made some headway; for example, among the participants in our Buyer's Guide, ADrive offers a basic set of backup features along with ad hoc file sharing, but its mobile support is limited. It didn't have a mobile app at the time of our report but has since released an Android client; iPhone users can jury-rig something using ADrive's WebDAV interface and a third-party client like WebDAV Navigator. Egnyte, for its part, earned a gold star in our report for offering a good combination of backup, sharing, and collaboration services. However, it's not a pure cloud service but a hybrid (not that there's anything wrong with that), relying on local NAS devices as the primary data store, replicating to a cloud service for backup, remote access, and file sharing.
One of our key pieces of advice is that cloud storage buyers clearly define their goals before shopping. Are you looking to the cloud for backup? If so, must the service support mobile devices as well as PCs and servers? Or are you mainly interested in the cloud as a convenient means of sharing information among employees--on-site, teleworkers, and road warriors--and business partners? If so, beware opening the cloud-sharing Pandora's box, since the combination of automated file sync and smartphones can be a DLP program's worst nightmare.
Fact is, most organizations need both backup and sharing. As we've pointed out previously, in many ways, the cloud, with its inherent off-site redundancy, makes a better backup and disaster recovery option than on-premises systems, particularly for SMBs with limited IT resources.
Cloud providers have an opportunity to redefine feature sets and pricing models for many IT functions. Whether it's Google Apps bundling email, file sharing, and a full set of office applications; Salesforce.com, which has augmented its core CRM product with a variety of collaboration, data analysis, and application platform services; or Druva, with its mix of data protection and sharing technology, the cloud provides an unprecedented ability to match service to need, unencumbered by the limitations of physical devices or location.
While there's no reason cloud storage services should map to established product categories, there's every reason for IT to pay attention, because consumer services like Dropbox and SkyDrive pose significant risks of both data loss and malware intrusion. As enterprises seek to gain control over ad hoc online file sharing by migrating to more secure and manageable alternatives, while simultaneously looking to the cloud as a more convenient and, in many cases (especially for SMBs), more secure mode of backup, it behooves us to demand greater feature integration.