by Jits Langedijk, CTA
Every once in a while I receive the question, “Why should I use ShareFile if I’ve already got OneDrive for Business?” Out of a natural habit, I always respond, “It depends.” That’s perhaps the most common answer in IT and also the safest one, at least for the IT pro. Nevertheless, I want to address this question and its dependencies in this blog post.
Why do we need Content Collaboration tools in the first place?
First of all, why do people ask this question? Well, people need tools to safely synchronize data across their variety of devices and perhaps more importantly, they need to collaborate with each other. Sharing data with content collaboration tools is indispensable. Working, simultaneously, on the same document is a clear example of driving productivity and meeting user expectations on how we, as human beings, like to digitally collaborate when it comes to data. The need for secure content collaboration tools is a fact. At first, we started to use synchronization tools in our private lives, very convenient with all our devices. Later on, we started to share them with relatives and friends. All these consumer style solutions really helped us and made our lives easy. A lot of us, myself included, started thinking, “Why don’t we use these solutions at the office?” And so, we did. A great example of Consumerization of IT, as we introduced consumer solutions (e.g. Dropbox, OneDrive, WeTransfer) into the enterprise world. Organizations recognized these shadow IT initiatives and addressed the challenges. Enterprise File Sync and Share solutions (e.g. Citrix ShareFile, Box, Egnyte) were implemented.
The consumer style solutions had some important parts in common. They solved a problem, they are very easy to use and they are all cloud solutions. As consumers, we started to use public cloud solutions right from the beginning, most of us taking the security dependencies for granted or at least choose simplicity over security. As organizations adopted public cloud solutions more often, Microsoft was leading the pack with Office365. At first, just to use Microsoft Exchange Online. Which makes total sense. No one had ever asked for an Exchange environment (if you had asked the questions behind the questions). People asked for a digital mail solution. With the adoption of Office365, organizations and employees all of a sudden had access to a broad variety of tools which helped us to work in a more pleasant and productive manner. Office365 has many components with excellent integration. One of those solutions is OneDrive for Business (ODfB). A great solution, offering 1TB storage space per user. So, if an organization has the ability to use OneDrive for Business, as part of their Office365 subscription, why do they need an additional solution like Citrix ShareFile?
They answer to this question depends entirely on what it is that we need to achieve. Before we take a closer look on what it is we are trying to achieve with secure content collaboration tools, let’s have a closer look at the solutions.
OneDrive for Business (ODfB) is one of the services and online apps that are part of the Office365 offering. We all know the productivity apps we all use to create, share and store content. Solutions like Office Online apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are core components of Office365. Besides these services and online apps, Office365 offers tons of other solutions which unlock new opportunities. Collaboration tools like Skype for Business, Teams and Yammer and additional tools like PowerBI, Delve and many more, empowers each and every one to achieve more. And ODfB, with 1TB of storage space per user, is part of it.
I have to admit, I can be a little bit fussy when it comes to ODfB and other solutions like OneDrive and Office365 Team Sites.
Microsoft offers another storage service called OneDrive. You may already be using OneDrive to store documents and other content in the cloud. OneDrive is online personal storage which you get with either a Microsoft or Outlook.com account. OneDrive for Business is online storage intended for business purposes. Your ODfB is managed by an organization and allows people to share and collaborate on work documents with co-workers. Basically, ODfB relies on SharePoint online. Site collection administrators in your organization control what you can do in the document library.
Office365 Team Sites
OneDrive for Business is also different from an Office365 Team Site, which is intended for storing team or project-related documents. Although it is very tempting to create and store documents using ODfB, you need to think about who can and can’t access the documents you store using ODfB. If a document is a collaborative effort related to a project, then saving to a team site might be a better choice.
OneDrive for Business
OneDrive for Business is a place where you can store files from your computer into the cloud, and access them from any device, or share them with others. As part of Office365 or SharePoint Server, OneDrive for Business lets people update and share their files from anywhere and work on Office documents with others at the same time.
So, as I said, it can be a little fussy, what to use and when. What has Microsoft to say about this? When to save documents to ODfB:
- If you don’t plan to share them:
Documents you place in OneDrive for Business are private until you share them. This makes OneDrive for Business your best option for draft documents or personal documents that no one else needs to see. Nevertheless, you can create a folder, share it with everyone in your organization and every document placed within this folder is accessible for your co-workers.
- You plan to share files individually and with a limited scope or life cycle:
For example, the draft version of this blog post may not be associated with a project, and you’d like a few colleagues to review it before you post it. In this case, you expect people to use the document once without needing additional storage or context information. All they need is a link to the document and editing permission.
- You can’t identify an existing team site where your document belongs, and you don’t think the purpose of the document warrants creating a new one.
Now we know when to use ODfB and maybe you have jumped to the conclusion that ODfB is a reliable cloud storage solution for organization. But wait, it’s much more. It seamlessly integrates with other Office applications and the newest Windows OS’ offers ODfB as the default save-as-location, so that your files automatically get uploaded to the cloud and roam with you as you use your other devices that are linked to that Microsoft account. Besides an integrated ODfB client in Windows operating systems, Microsoft provides ODfB clients for other (non-Microsoft) operating systems and mobile platforms as well.
Now that we know all about OneDrive for Business, the question remains, “Why do I need ShareFile if I’ve already got OneDrive for Business?” Before answering this question, let us have a quick look at Citrix ShareFile.
Citrix ShareFile is a flexible file sync and sharing solution that meets the collaboration and mobility needs of users, with scalable data security requirements for small business to the enterprise.
ShareFile increases mobile productivity by enabling people to access, sync and share content from anywhere, on any device for easy collaboration and enhanced productivity. With ShareFile, organizations are able to meet and improve security and compliance policies. Keep track of how sensitive data is being accessed and shared, both internally as well as outside the organization.
Citrix ShareFile was founded in 2005 and in October 2011 acquired by Citrix Systems. Today ShareFile is both offered as a standalone service as well as an integrated solution with other Citrix solutions. Initially, ShareFile was a cloud-only solution. To meet customer demand, a non-cloud storage solution was offered as well. This resulted in one of the first hybrid content collaboration solutions available. The hybrid solution allows costumers, to store content at their own (on-prem) datacenter as well as a public cloud. Citrix even extended this hybrid approach, allowing organizations to integrate (legacy) SMB shares, Office365, email attachments from MS Exchange and many other solutions, e.g. Box, Dropbox, Google, OneDrive and OneDrive for Business. This results in a secure content collaboration solution that enables people to access content on almost any kind of storage repository. Citrix ShareFile is basically an abstraction layer above content and storage locations. It simply doesn’t matter where your content resides, it is accessible via Citrix ShareFile. There is an intuitive and feature rich client available for almost every operating system and mobile platform.
Besides bringing all kinds of data together, Citrix extended the features of ShareFile. People sharing documents with each other is one thing. But in many occasions people expect these documents to return, perhaps signed, reviewed or with some comments. With Workflows this becomes easy. Organizations and individuals are able to create their own (custom) workflows allowing others to approve or annotate documents. With the help of easy-to-use steps, a workflow can be created which helps organizations and individuals to streamline time-consuming tasks. Based on triggers, documents can be ‘set to motion.’ Another part is electronic signing of documents. With the integration and acquisition of RightSignature it becomes easy and fast to get documents electronically signed.
Better Together – Citrix ShareFile and Microsoft OneDrive for Business
Since we have a better understanding of Microsoft OneDrive for Business and Citrix ShareFile, we finally get to the question, why do we need both? This question can be answered with a broad variety of arguments.
To start with perhaps one of the first and most important ones, content collaboration isn’t about storage locations, whether it is using public cloud solutions or on-prem SMB shares or anything in between. It is all about enabling individuals to achieve their goals with the content they need. To access data on any location, any device at any time. To securely collaborate with others without any constraints, both inside as well as outside the organization. People need to get real work done wherever your files live and with whomever you need to collaborate, using whatever device you’ve got. The combination of Citrix ShareFile and OneDrive for Business provides just that!
OneDrive for Business provides a great storage location with 1TB per user. This is cloud storage based on SharePoint online. This doesn’t always comply with rules and regulations. The integration of on-prem storage repositories is possible if we add Citrix ShareFile to the solutions. ShareFile provides the flexibility to store data wherever you want. Public cloud, private cloud or the old-fashioned datacenter. The majority of organizations have traditional SMB shares in place which we can’t migrate at once to OneDrive For Business or any other solution. We need a solution that allows us to access both. Citrix ShareFile together with OneDrive for Business can. Gartner even described this as their Magic Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Sync & Share.
“When a single Enterprise file sync is not optimal for all of these use cases, many organizations choose to deploy a combination of tools. They might combine OneDrive for Business for internal productivity, and a product like ShareFile for external collaboration.”
When it’s time to collaborate with people outside of your organization, ShareFile really begins to shine and lets you do more than what you could do with just OneDrive by itself.
Another key question to think about is, who are the people that we are collaborating with? Are they just colleagues inside the organization? Are they people outside the organization, like customers, partners or vendors? We know that information workers spend at least half their time working collaboratively on documents, and about two-thirds of that time collaborating with people who do not sit nearby. So, the problem is not ‘how do I share a file with someone who’s on my team,’ the problem is ‘how do I share a file with someone who’s NOT on my team.’
The use of Citrix ShareFile unlocks this world. ShareFile integrates with your Microsoft Active Directory using LDAP. A ShareFile account can be provisioned automatically and users are able to sign in, or use Single Sign-On, using their company credentials. In addition, external accounts can be created as well. These accounts reside on the ShareFile control plane and allow organizations to facilitate a secure content collaboration solution to both internal as well as external individuals. Perhaps even more important, ShareFile allows these individuals to collaborate with others, again internally as well as externally.
Another challenge can arise as soon as organizations have a hosted desktop environment in place. Many organizations have a Citrix XenApp, XenDesktop, VMware Horizon View or Microsoft RDS environment in place to deliver Windows applications. Using OneDrive for Business in these environments can be challenging. OneDrive for Business has, as do all software products, its limitations and restrictions. Take a look for yourself here, however, the most important ones are about Windows specific restrictions and limitations. Microsoft doesn’t support roaming, mandatory or temporary profiles. The use of RDS and VDI environments is a non-supported solution as well. Microsoft intended the OneDrive for Business solution for the Modern Workplace, with a focus on physical Windows 10 devices, which is a great fit. Nevertheless, many organization aren’t there yet. They are in a transition phase towards this world where we use local resources and apps on our physical devices and deliver legacy apps via centralized (cloud) solutions. The use of OneDrive for Business in a shared hosted desktop or VDI environment was not part of Microsoft’s plan. Now, I’m aware of how FSLogix can overcome some challenges with ODfB and many other apps which are not designed for these non-persistent environments, but this is something different when it comes to support from Microsoft.
To solve this challenge, simply add ShareFile to the solution. Citrix ShareFile provides the Drive Mapper which allows us to integrate data repositories (ShareFile connectors) into the hosted desktop environment. With the use of the Drive Mapper we are able to integrate OneDrive for Business content in a supported manner. The On-Demand sync feature (aka Placeholder) doesn’t solve the supportability issues. It solves a disk storage issue, which is hugely appreciated.
Intuitiveness and Integration
A great solution is adopted without the need to demonstrate. Dropbox, Slack and WhatsApp, all examples of solutions that, first of all, solved a problem (for some a problem they weren’t aware of) but second of all, excelled in ease of use. The same applies to ShareFile as well. The clients for different (mobile) operating systems have the same look-and-feel and, more important, it is easy to use. Different accounts can be easily used with the same mobile app and switching between these accounts works like a charm. Microsoft did a good job on the latest mobile clients. But it is just one app for one storage repository. Both the ShareFile and the OneDrive app integrate with other Microsoft mobile apps like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The integration of ShareFile and Microsoft Outlook works like you would expect. It’s an intuitive add-on enabling people to share data or request data by simply creating hyperlinks.
The deployment of Citrix ShareFile is pretty straightforward. More importantly, maintaining and integrating the environment is easy-going as well. Especially if other Citrix solutions (e.g. NetScaler, XenMobile, XenApp/XenDesktop) are already in place.
One other integrated part of ShareFile is Feedback and Approval Workflow. Using these workflows individuals are able to quickly and easily collaborate on projects and content, directly from the ShareFile app. Submit files for approval to an individual or a series of users, or collect feedback on files in the form of comments and annotations. Email reminders and the collaboration menu will reflect any custom account branding you have set.
Security is on top of mind, as it should be. Nevertheless, I personally believe designing and delivering a secure environment should be done by default. Solutions being used in the enterprise are designed with security principles in mind. So, a data collaboration solution must have security baked in, otherwise it’s not an enterprise solution. I don’t want to bother you with the security measures ShareFile and OneDrive for Business have in place, but what adds ShareFile to a secure content collaboration?
ShareFile delivers a set of security features. Password requirements, two-factor authentication (SAML 2.0), IP blacklisting, account and device lockout. It is also possible to create reports helping organizations to keep track of usage, access, storage and sharing activities. ShareFile doesn’t provide a full Data Leakage Prevention (DLP) solutions but has some great integrations with popular third-party solutions (e.g. Symantec DLP & Protection, McAfee DLP Prevent, Websense TRITON AP-DATA and RSA DLP).
Collaboration is a key element in each and every organization these days. Human beings are always able to collaborate out of a natural habit, but for a long period of time, the enterprise IT solutions didn’t fit. We created our security boundaries around our datacenters as walls around a city, keeping our valuables safe. Within the city, or better said, the organization, people were divided into teams and our SMB share design perfectly fitted the structure of the organization.
This is no longer valid. Silos within the organization are outdated and don’t match the multidisciplinary team approach of today. Teams find their members in each and every corner of the organization. Perhaps more importantly, team members can be found outside of the organization. And with that, data is both inside as well as outside the organization, out of reach and out of control. Yes, we can try to prevent it, but people will figure it out and engineer around it, leading to even less control. The only way to deal with it, is to facilitate it. People are in need for enterprise content collaboration solutions, that’s a hard fact. The data we use in our collaborative efforts is scattered all over the place and a proper solution that is able to bring it all together is essential. A single pane of glass towards all our data, no matter where it resides.
The question “Why should I use ShareFile if I’ve already got OneDrive for Business?” still remains. And the only true answer is still “It depends.” Yes, it all depends on what kind of data resources you need to make accessible. Using OneDrive for Business at a startup without any legacy data on SMB shares is great. But as soon as you face challenges with data on different repositories you need some additional solutions. In my honest opinion, Microsoft and ShareFile should team-up to provide a better solution for all of us, without having to pay for two solutions. From a Microsoft or Citrix point of view, this sounds ridiculous, but I think the end-user point of view has some more value in the end.
To conclude, take a close look on where data remains and in which scenarios data needs to be accessible. Which devices are being used and with whom do we need to collaborate, today and in the future? Start with the functionality. What do people need? If you know what it is you need to provide, or fix, only then take a closer look at the solutions provided by the vendors and find the best fit.