I’ve heard the question countless times. It’s asked by customers, investors, and partners. I always have an answer (as I do for almost any question) but it hasn’t always been great. And that bugs me…
You see, I’m an answer guy. I like having the answers and I like being right. I pride myself on being able to take complex questions and provide simple answers. This question however has been one I’ve struggled with. If I work here and don’t have a good answer, how can IT? Time to do some research – off to the stacks!
If you read the content from Nasuni, Box, SharePoint and others, it’s easy to be confused. A lot of the language is the same: sharing, collaboration, multi-site, global, secure, file server consolidation…the list goes on. If everyone is using the same words, it’s easy to think that everyone is doing the same thing, using the same systems, or even solving the same problem.
Box and Sharepoint are collaboration tools. Their primary function is to allow users from all over the world (and across companies) to share and collaborate on the creation and consumption of files. For a certain set of users this type of technology can replace their need for the corporate file server. For groups, teams, or even departments that primarily operate with basic office files like PPT, XLS, PDF, DOC, etc. these collaboration products provide a brand new web 2.0 interface. This new look can be slick – a lot sexier than the windows explorer you’re used to! They provide detailed file auditing, cool social tools that allow users to comment, and even multi-platform support. Want to sell a new technology to the C-level execs? Show them the support for iPads and they’ll be drooling like 5-year olds. Trust me, I’ve seen it.
If Box and other collaboration tools offer so much functionality, then what does Nasuni do? Now we’re getting somewhere… Unlike these web-based products, Nasuni provides the same fileserver functionality you’re used to. It provides local storage, snapshots, authentication, and connectivity via standard protocols just like your current fileserver does. HOWEVER, unlike your current fileserver, the Nasuni Filers connect to a single global volume that stores all of your data – giving you access to the entire global share from any office. It’s the control and protection of file server centralization with the benefits of local performance.
Nasuni provides file service capabilities just like your traditional file server – through CIFS and NFS. Notice the acronym I did not use there? API. With all the buzz about APIs these days it’s important to remember the “P” in API – Programming. In order to leverage the files stored in Box or any other collaboration tool you need to program (or hack together a server and authentication system to front end the storage). Nasuni, on the other hand, uses standard interfaces. The same interfaces that applications, users, databases, and all sorts of other systems use to connect to the fileserver now. This means that you get a general-purpose system – one that works with your existing infrastructure. In fact you can run local instances of collaboration tools like Sharepoint on top of Nasuni. We’re happy to provide the back-end storage.
One other wrinkle for cloud-based solutions like Box, is that providing enterprise-grade security is impossible. In order for your data to be readable in the cloud it needs to be unencrypted and therefore at risk. While that may be fine for part of an enterprise dataset, it certainly doesn’t work for the lions share. For more information on security in the cloud see this video by David Shaw, one of the contributors to the OpenPGP standard and this article about encryption as a service.
Collaboration tools are amazing pieces of software. They deliver remarkable functionality on top of the filesystem. That functionality can make files easier share and collaborate on. This is the benefit of SaaS – an added layer of functionality. But collaboration tools are not infrastructure. They don’t leverage long-standing standards to deliver functionality critical to enterprise IT.
This is Nasuni’s domain. We’re delivering Infrastructure as a Service and we’re plumbers. We make the pipes that data flows through. We may not be sexy but at least we wear pants that fit.
For those of you, like me, who are ADD, here is your pithy answer:
- Need to share primarily Microsoft and other office documents with employees inside and outside of your organization securely? You want Box or Sharepoint.
- Need a file server that requires no backup, never runs out of space and enables the sharing of files across the organization through standard interfaces? Need support for existing applications and use-cases? Need to deliver all of that without any change to user behavior? You want Nasuni.
As always, questions, comments, and even rants are appreciated. Until next time, call your mom – she appreciates it (even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it).