Monday, January 7, 2013

Where did you take my "drive"?

The email-cloud and the data file-cloud transitions would have very different depictions on the local weatherman's radar map. 

One has a rainbow already gleaming over it, with many companies finding the promised pot of gold after nary a gust of wind.  The other sends reams of input to the forecast models and generates results that leave technologists shaking their heads and wondering what is really going on? And how to prepare for this pending storm?

First, on email. The transition to cloud based email systems provides many options (Hosted Microsoft Exchange, Gmail etc.) and many advantages. After such a transition, the user experience is quite similar to that of an on-premises email systemand the 'pain-of-the-change' for the user community - is not very high. In other words - for the most part - such a transition is quite seamless. 

The resulting higher reliability, reduced costs, and scalability for storage - all make this a worthwhile strategic decision for most organizations. The cost benefits for non-profits are significantly higher because of the far lower per-user costs which vendors like Microsoft allow. The email transition to the cloud is therefore already a relatively mature model.

But what do we do with the "F Drive" - the data files - the files which users access via the infamous "drives" - my drive, your drive, the shared drive, the designated drive, the organization drive, Ms. Daisy's drive? Ahh that is another story altogether, and it is far from a mature model.

Many organizations who have moved to cloud based email solutions, still keep the rest of the data in house. When you ask - why? The sheer number of different answers will surprise you. 

--Our users complain of latency with cloud storage for files.
 --We have moved our own data file server to a data center - that's our cloud.
 --We can't find someone who will take our 'drives' and make them accessible to our users in the same way as before.
 --We are not sure that the cloud is secure for our files.
 --What if the connection to the internet is broken - what do we do then? How will get our files? How will we work?

....and so on.

Whereas, most if not all of these questions are relevant, I think the most important question really lies elsewhere.

Should the cloud based file storage be architected in the same way in which files have been accessed for decades?

Or, is it time to re-think the entire methodology for storage of files?

Should we perhaps be thinking of a new paradigm where file storage is based on ubiquitous access, advanced search functions, access from any device with any form factor, and finally - new ways to collaborate with multiple collaborators in real time?    

I suggest that we are moving from a static one dimensional model for file storage, to a multi-dimensional model for collaboration and access - and this requires us to make sure we are making considered good choices.

'Driving' data files to the cloud is not a mature model - yet. That rainbow is also out there somewhere.  It’s time we started figuring out how to find it. 

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