Novell recently unveiled Filr, a file-sharing service that aims to provide a more secure alternative to consumer-oriented, cloud-based services such as Dropbox. Filr is designed to reduce the risk of mobile computing by syncing data on mobile devices with master versions stored in a secure location.
However, rather than approach file sync and sharing from the point of view of the client, as most consumer-oriented services do, Novell designed its system from the data center outward. Novell describes this design as giving "IT complete control of all shared files." That's great for IT, but not so much for the user.
By contrast, consumer offerings tend to leave IT out of the loop, such as the alpha version of BitTorrent's Sync, which uses P2P networking to create links to sync data between two machines. Consumer-oriented services emphasize ease of access to data, which is what workers really want.
In Novell's version, files shared with other users or mobile devices retain the same security and access controls that apply to the original file on the network. Files can be stored on a user's networked directory to be accessed remotely, or stored as local copies on laptops or smartphones. Filr client software runs on the mobile devices to maintain security and to sync changes or deletions with the files on the server.
This approach, according to Novell, gives IT granular control over who accesses the files and which files can be accessed. It integrates with existing security or authentication systems rather than requiring additional layers of new security or changes in the network infrastructure.
Filr deploys in three parts, each of which runs as a virtual machine on corporate servers.
The Filr Appliance provides all the sharing and connectivity services and acts as a first point of contact for mobile Filr-equipped machines. The main Filr server is connected to the Novell MySQL Database Appliance, which stores information about which users are using Filr, what files they can access and where and how the files are stored. A Java-based search engine called the Search Index Appliance scans all the files marked for sharing, including metadata about security and business-policy limitations on how they can be shared, to make it simpler for end users to find the data they need.
Personal files can be mapped to a user's home directory within the corporate network. The system keeps track of files to which a user has access; IT can grant or revoke access according to user profiles stored in the corporate directory.
Novell's entry into secure file sharing is only one of dozens of new products or services introduced since the beginning of 2012, according to a report by Gartner analyst Monica Basso. For example, storage giant EMC introduced its own remote file access service in January.
Storing all of a user's files within the corporate network gives organizations more control over the data. Corporations can apply their own internal security controls, enforce policies, and reduce the risk that important information will be stolen or that compliance rules might be violated.
At $45 per user per year, Novell's service isn't particularly expensive from a corporate perspective, but it can't compete with the free cloud sync services widely available online.
This is a classic problem for corporate technology. It's not easy for boring old IT to compete with low-cost, easy-to-use options.
If IT managers really do want to wean end users off of Dropbox and other services, they're going to have to offer something better, quicker, more convenient, and more tailored to users' needs and personal convenience.Kevin Fogarty is a freelance writer covering networking, security, virtualization, cloud computing, big data and IT innovation. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN.com, CIO, Computerworld, Network World and other leading IT publications. View Full Bio