Channel technologies, CSPs

Enterprise File Sync and Sharing: 3 Questions to Ask

Forrester defines Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) as the technologies that "allow organizations to share and replicate content across multiple devices, distributing files to employees and/or customers or partners outside the enterprise."

Two Forrester Waves on the EFSS market were published recently, segmenting this crowded market into two categories: cloud solutions and hybrid solutions. Forrester clients can access them here:

We split the market this way because of the questions our customers ask us during inquiries and advisories. Clients typically have a larger set of requirements than just a simple way to share, and synchronize files across teams and devices. This is "table-stakes" and the differentiating requirements appear when business and technology management decision-makers look at usability, security, and the broader strategy for content collaboration and management.

So then, how to traverse the two Waves and dozens of vendors, including the 17 formally assessed in these two reports?

Ask these three questions when assessing an EFSS solution...

1. What is the plan for content in the cloud?

If the answer is:

"We're not going to cloud (at least not yet...)" then look at the Hybrid Wave for EFSS vendors that can use your existing investments in file shares or on-premises ECM systems. Vendors like Varonis work with existing network environments, and most of the Hybrid providers have packaged integrations for major content repository systems, such as SharePoint. With this approach there is no requirement to migrate or replicate content to a third-party repository just to get the mobile-friendly, easy file sharing experience of EFSS.

"We're taking a phased approach over the next couple of years", look at the Hybrid providers that also offer their own private or public cloud deployment option. Start by implementing EFSS from your own content repository systems, but keep the flexibility of moving to cloud services over time, without having to change EFSS vendors.Vendors such as Syncplicity, VMware's AirWatch, or Watchdox by BlackBerry can support this scenario. If this phased approach means introducing cloud as a complement to existing systems for new projects, programs or use cases, consider the Cloud providers that allow you to sign up for a subset of your overall user base while the overall cloud roadmap is being finalized.

"We want to go all in on cloud, sooner rather than later", then look at the Cloud EFSS vendors carefully, asking not just about their collaboration and file sharing features, but their overall perspective on acting as an enterprise "system of record". Leading vendors in this cloud segment, such as Box, Dropbox, Google, and Microsoft are actively investing in their repository services (such as for storage, search, access controls, lifecycle management, metadata). These EFSS providers offer lightweight enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities and can serve a broad set of requirements for managing business content. Some of the Hybrid providers (such as Accellion, Citrix ShareFile, Egnyte, or Syncplicity) can also offer an entirely cloud solution and may be a good fit for a short list.

2. Is data sovereignty / data residency a concern for your content?

If the response is:

Yes, the storage of content and/or metadata in a specific jurisdiction is key to EFSS adoption and cloud is the preferred delivery model, Look at providers that can provide contractual commitments for data center locations and outline how files and associated metadata is handled. Cloud EFSS providers such as Huddle, Intralinks, Thru, and Workshare, for example, are frequently used for sensitive data handling use cases in regulated industries and can attest to data locations, such as whether a UK or US cloud service will be used. As well, consider the Hybrid providers that support a private cloud models, such as with a trusted data center provider in your region.

Yes, and we've invested in the security and storage controls we need already, then consider the Hybrid providers that can use files that are already residing in those systems, such as file shares, SharePoint sites, or other content applications.

No, then consider the cloud providers that offer EFSS at large scale, such as Box, Dropbox, or Google.

3. Do you need to share content with your extended enterprise?

If the answer is:

No, we don't share files with our customers, partners, suppliers, or contractors, then ask your line of business leaders or operational teams if there are more efficient, auditable, collaborative approaches to content distribution than email. Determine if EFSS adoption can help contribute directly to top line growth by using to support initiatives to improve customer experience.

Yes, this is a use case important to the EFSS initiative, then make sure this requirement is included in any vendor demonstrations and pilot programs. Understand the licensing model the vendor offers for these external participants - many do not charge to share content with outside users. Understand the rights management or other security controls files can have when shared outside the organization. Do not undervalue usability and overall user experience if external parties are a key audience - test drive how quickly users can adapt to the app and if their preferred devices and platforms are supported.

Cheryl McKinnon is principal analyst at Forrester Research, where she serves enterprise architecture professionals. Read more Forrester blogs here.