Working together. The problems of local file storage.

By Mark on Aug 2
Teamwork and cloud storage

Part 2: The problems of local file storage.

Part two of our four-part blog series continuing our look at how workers and companies can work more effectively together.

Missed the first part? Read it here - Part 1: Why email is a nuisance!

The evolution of local file storage

Storing files in the same location as where you work seems like a logical way of doing things. Certainly, when we are talking about the workplace that pre-dates the Internet, was there any other way?

Pre-Internet days companies using manual, paper-based systems and methodologies simply had no alternative, unless there was a duplication system that enabled them to send copies of critical business documents offsite to another location. Of course, for long-term archival purposes, archives of old documents could simply be relocated to a storage facility.

The digital age dawned, but it didn’t happen for every company in a single ‘big bang’ moment of creation. It started with enterprises and filtered down. Slowly.

November 1951 is where we see the first true commercial use of computing as we would understand it today. For no reason other than because it made business sense, accounting within finance departments and sales order systems were generally where companies started to digitize.

However, by 1991, many companies were yet to embrace the era of the desktop computer and generally put digital tools in the hands of employees.

On-premise local file storage

Once the personal computer had arrived, local filing systems were the obvious way to organize files. Local hard disk files were backed up to removable media. On-premise networking and client-server became standard practice, allowing file storage to be centralized. Centralized storage meant the issue of back up and data loss became an important point of best practice for network administrators.

IT departments had to implement expensive and complicated back-up routines. But this was highly unsatisfactory. At scale, back up is notoriously complicated. Software is tricky to configure, and conditions such as whether a file is open, or saved in the right place could easily be the difference between a backup succeeding or failing. The uncomfortable truth was that investing in hardware, storage media and software offered no guarantees for managing the risk of data loss.

Post millennium, there was an explosion of media files - digital photo and video became much more commonplace. As file sizes grew, the flood of data was overwhelming; the backup window - down time on the network where duplication of the files could take place quickly - was closing.

Personal filing systems…

Centralized storage at the local file server gave administrators control over a ‘master filing system’, a hierarchical structure for organizing files. However, local desktop and laptop hard disks often ended up with duplicates of work files organized in personal filing systems. Quite often this company data was mixed in along with people’s personals - photos, letters etc.

So, to summarize some of the key problems associated with local file storage:

  • Local file storage is difficult to manage
  • Management headroom for administrators
  • Expensive - hardware, media, software and admin time
  • Unreliable, offering no firm guarantees for preventing data loss

Storage for the way our businesses operate today

Remote file serving - that is the ability to locate files on servers in geographically distant places to where they are created or worked upon has been possible since the late 1970s. However, several technical limitations made it impractical for general day-to-day computing. Primarily, connectivity could only be achieved over telephone lines using modems, meaning slow file transfer speeds.

Today’s cloud file storage services utilize large scale cloud computing using virtualized servers and storage devices. Connectivity is services provide file transfer speeds that are appropriate for the intended purpose. Infrastructure (hardware and operating system only) and platform (infrastructure and applications) are used to deliver popular online file storage services.

Dropbox, Google Docs, Microsoft One Drive and SharePoint are perhaps the most well-known of these. File storage is a foundation layer that offers service providers enormous scope for varying their service offerings. Storage is a base upon which other services and capabilities can be layered to add value.

Essentially, a company can select the best file storage platform and additional services to meet its needs.

  • Online backup - simply storage, with services offering the ability to replicate local file organization systems with online backup services.
  • Sharing - storage services which overcome operating system restrictions or other barriers which prevent data being exchanged between different users or individuals using multiple devices.
  • Collaboration - storage with a powerful set of additional capabilities which allow teams to work tougher more easily and with greater focus to achieve higher levels of productivity.

Any company that wants to extract the maximum value from online storage services should strongly consider the case for moving to a collaboration platform. There are lots of options, so whichever way you prefer to work, you’re bound to find one that just right.

From the point of view of avoiding the problems associated with local file storage, the benefits of collaboration software include:

No need to worry about data loss

Online services are backed up remotely. Replication between multiple data centers as well as conventional duplication within a primary data center are typical methods that are applied to prevent data loss at the platform.

Reduction or elimination of storage and back up

Depending on the right service and the way your business works, collaboration platforms with sharing capability may enable the reduction or elimination of the requirement for large scale local file storage and the associated costs of backup.

Sharing and security

Sharing files securely is one of the biggest advantages. Sharing permissions can be set up, secure links prevent unauthorized access and downloads can be tracked to see who has accessed what. Share internally with workers in your organization as well as with third parties such as clients or service delivery partners.

Avoid ‘shadow IT’

Collaboration platforms usually eliminate the need for employees to use ‘shadow IT’ - sharing services that contravene IT policy. This significantly reduces the potential for data leakage to unauthorized persons and the company being the situation where it has no idea of who has what access to which documents, including its confidential business information and intellectual property.

Grouping of files with messaging

Unite the silos of file storage and collaborative communication together and store files alongside the communication and messaging that relates them. End the tedious process of manual forensic examination of trailing through email to locate messages relating to associated productivity files.

Maintaining definitive versions

Maintain master files to provide definitive versioning. This prevents the chaos and confusion that comes from distributing, commenting and editing performed on files by different team members. Some collaboration platforms may provide the capability for multiple people to edit simultaneously in real-time, accelerating the workflow process.

Locate information faster

Collaboration platforms provide centralization of stored files and related communications, enabling information to be rapidly located with search tools. Avoid delay and frustration of searching the separate file storage and message silos. Reuse existing knowledge and productivity assets that have already been created.

Work anytime, anywhere, any device

Team members can collaborate from any suitable internet connected device. This can be together, in real time from multiple different remote locations. Interworking can also be performed in time-shifted working patterns across different time zones. Access files from devices that may restrict user file management capability, such as Apple iOS.

Local storage is not entirely obsolete just yet…

Companies that operate in AEC sectors (architecture, engineering, construction) are likely to have unavoidable requirements to manage design files of considerable size when compared to those used by other types of business.

These may have to be shared across multiple offices or job sites on a global scale. As a result of the time required to upload and download files, for efficient productivity, this makes using storage capability provided by collaboration platforms impractical.

In these cases, a hybrid solution using cloud resources and on-premise elements can deliver the collaborative benefits of a cloud service with the large file handling requirements of AEC environments.

On-premise storage elements, such as storage appliances, are used to cache large files locally, providing real time usability and avoiding delays that result from low bandwidth connectivity.

Migrating storage to the cloud

So, despite the very strong case for moving to a cloud collaboration application that provides file storage, it is likely to be unrealistic to eliminate the use of local storage entirely. But it is certainly possible to migrate away from it and reduce the amount of data stored locally.

In designing a policy to support best practice for collaborative working, consider:

  • All files for project work should be stored on the platform
  • Collaboration on project files should not take place off-platform
  • Administrators take an active role in reducing local file storage

The next blog of this short series examines another strand of working together better with collaboration best practices, Part 3: Keeping business data safe in the cloud.