When it comes to the bread and butter of office IT operations, gaining speedy access to your files, along with the ability to quickly print when you need to, are typically the things most employers and workers would prioritise in terms of their basic needs.
Traditionally, file and print servers perform this task in an office environment.
Much like Active Directory, Exchange (email) servers or any server necessary to house large databases, costs can quickly spiral once hardware, support and backup solutions are factored into the equation.
When assessing your business for cloud computing, we will almost certainly look at the feasibility of moving your file and print functionality to the cloud.
AN END TO THE SHARED DRIVE
The concept of shared drives is familiar to anyone who has worked primarily in an office environment, over the last 20 years.
A shared drive is the term given to the network location (usually a folder on a local server hard drive) accessible by multiple users in an office, from their own workstations.
Some shared drives might be universal, whereas others might be limited to certain users with particular roles and privileges. Active directory typically manages the identification and authentication of users to particular shared resources, to protect their integrity.
When file storage is moved to a centralised cloud platform, the data previously accessed via your local file server now resides in a service such as Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. Set up correctly, the same speed of access and layered access rights are retained, despite the files no longer residing on your local area network.
Each cloud storage provider offers different features and benefits and our cloud consultants are able to walk through these with our clients, mindful of their specific challenges and pain-points, to ensure selection of the most appropriate service for their particular needs.
SO CLOUD STORAGE – DO I EVEN NEED IT?
If all work performed within your business takes place under one roof – the ‘company office’ – without any remote work, satellite sites or home worker functionality required, then it might be that cloud storage holds no real benefit.
In the majority of cases, however, businesses are keen to embrace the benefits that technology has afforded us, and enable employees to work from anywhere they can find an internet connection.
The advantages of implementing a ‘work anywhere’ IT infrastructure are many:
- Better work / life balance for your team
- Less office expenses (desks, chairs, phones utilities, coffee!)
- Contribute to a better environment by cutting carbon emissions
- Foster good will with your staff by taking a flexible approach to their work
CASE STUDY: REAL ESTATE AGENCY
A great example of the tangible benefits that can be realised from embracing intelligent cloud storage comes virtue of a real estate agency for whom we implemented a Dropbox solution
The agency had multiple branches across Wairarapa – Masterton, Greytown, Martinborough – all of whom accessed a shared NAS (Network Attached Storage) device over VPN (Virtual Private Network) links.
The setup was inelegant and wrought with errors and issues.
Inconsistency of data, due to multiple parties editing the same document simultaneously, as well as heavily saturated internet connections due to the VPN connections, meant that the company real estate agents and back-office staff who relied upon the system were being hampered by their technology, rather than empowered.
A relatively simple solution: our team set up a number of compartmentalised Dropbox shares in the cloud, with each team member (categorised by role) allocated access to the relevant shared content needed. Dropbox proprietary sync agent protects against data inconsistencies due to multiple user access, and perpetually synchronises all content across each end workstation, ensuring data integrity and instant access to data for all parties.
The improvements to our client’s network speeds and productivity have revolutionised their business.
PRINTING IN THE CLOUD?
No, the printing itself doesn’t happen in the cloud. The frustration of waiting for the printouts to be delivered would be unbearable!
The print functionality that can be moved to the cloud is actually the management of print queues, per printer.
Management of printing entails:
- Ensuring authentication is in place for users to print to their printer of choice (whilst restricting access to only those who should have it)
- Tracking print jobs for auditing purposes
- Ensuring secure, private printing is accessible for your organisation
Some specific design and setup work is required in order to move the management of such tasks into the cloud - notably, creation of secure VPN (Virtual Private Network) tunnels to keep your data encrypted, end-to-end.
Due to the lower volume of print traffic compared to file access requests, VPN tunnels in this scenario are extremely unlikely to cause any significant network issues and is usually a viable solution as an alternative to local print management.