I have been giving a lot of thought lately to the data that is stored on the servers here in my office and data stored on my client’s servers as well. The traditional client server model is fine. There is nothing wrong with it except that it poses certain limitations when providing access to information outside the office. More and more business and the work done in the service of that business is being done everywhere but in the office. The cloud is the perfect tool to leverage for making this transition. But when you think about how that data will be used and accessed both in and out of the office and how to protect it and manage who can access it complications arise.
Cloud storage is great. It is cheap and secure, but how do you access it. In many instances you need an additional application or you need to create one of your own. The idea of a cloud file server that matches 1 to 1 with the way we use our local file servers seems to be lost. But in taking a step back and looking at this from different angles maybe traditional file server ideology shouldn’t be what we should be looking for in the cloud. I am a big fan of Active Directory (AD) and the security and manageability it affords network administrators. AD gives us the tools to secure the network and the data within. A single password and user ID is all we need to unlock everything we need to do our work in the office. But what about outside the office. This is where the idea of integrating Single Sign On (SSO) provides an opportunity to make life easier for network administrators to integrate cloud services like Box.com into the security umbrella of AD. Box.com as an example supports SSO integrating with AD allowing you to link box accounts to network user accounts so they sign on to both systems with the same credentials. Employees rejoice! You don’t have to remember another password. I use box.com as an example because once you get rolling it has the most in common with a file server. You can create shared groups of folders, attach and sync them to local hard drives on employees’ computers as folders or mapped drives. Plus, a non-technical employee could probably set it up with a minimum of support from the folks at box.com. “But Brian,” you ask, “what about office 365?” Well yes, of course, you have integration with local AD. I think however that setting up features like these at this point in Office 365 are still a little difficult, so if you want to go with what is certainly an extremely powerful solution make sure you have your IT consultant handy along the path of planning and implementation.
We can get everyone connected, but now what should we store on the cloud? Well, it depends on what you need. There are a lot of files on your servers that I am sure haven’t been opened since you installed your first server. While it would be nice to access these on a whim from anywhere in the world you probably don’t really need to do that. There are probably records that just by their very nature should be left to continue maturing inside your local server until such time they might be needed. Things you are actively working on or that you might be referencing in the future — those are your documents you want in the cloud. Say you are an architecture firm and your structural engineer had to take some time off in the middle of a big project. Well, if your drawings and docs related to the project are all in the cloud you can call him up and ask him to review the latest changes to make sure the structure isn’t going to fall over with the first storm that passes through. He just logs into the cloud with his work user name and password and nobody misses a beat.
When a project is done it loses relevancy and value very quickly so it doesn’t make sense to keep it at the crux of your active data. Move it back to your local file server for archival or better yet place it in some form of bulk cloud storage for retention. Super sensitive data or large files that you need to be able to open quickly will always have a place on the high performance local network, but for most of the stuff you work on regularly the Cloud is the place for your business .
If you think moving to the Cloud is the next big technology step your business is going to take then it is of the utmost importance that you plan on exactly how you will leverage the Cloud and how you will educate your employees to use it. Cloud technology is still new. Most of your older employees might have an idea about using it but they are going to need guidance, because it is unlike anything they have used at work before. Your 20-something new hires are going to have a different outlook. They will be very comfortable using the cloud and in many respects expect it to be a tool at their disposal. Like what I saw in the early 2000’s with servers making their mark on the small business network, the cloud technology of the Internet is here and it is time you began looking at how you can use it to improve the way you do business.