An increasing number of application providers, including Adobe and Autodesk, are offering vertically integrated cloud workspaces for their software applications. Adobe sums up the benefits as: “It’s your entire creative world – all in one place.”
These app vendors are on the right track. Cloud object storage that is infinite, has geo-redundancy built-in, and eliminates the need to purchase, provision, and refresh on-premises NAS infrastructure is definitely where the market is headed. But based on our interactions with customers who have tested these application cloud services, they fall short of enterprise expectations in several critical areas. In some ways, they can actually represent a step backward for IT.
Here is why application-specific clouds fall short of a full cloud-based global file system when it comes to storing, protecting, sharing, and managing application-generated file data.
Autodesk’s Fusion 360 package brings all its 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE tools under one cloud-based storage platform. Users can design from scratch, run simulations, send specs for parts that need to be milled, and more. Adobe’s Creative Cloud storage enables users to sync their files to the cloud from their desktops for access anywhere and share files across their teams and outside the organization.
However, in using these app-specific clouds, enterprises are creating silos of data – the very thing they have tried to avoid. Cloud initiatives are supposed to unify all data, locations and users, not wall them off in separate cloud-based rooms.
Based on our customer experiences, enterprises want all the files associated with any given project – contracts, Office documents, video files, Autodesk Revit renderings, Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop creative content, and more – in the same place. An advertising agency working on a new video segment might have a script in one application and the video in another. Those files shouldn’t live in separate clouds. The same data protection, versioning and locking schemes should apply, too, or the risk of editing conflicts and data loss increases.
Security and Data Protection Limitations
When security breaches and data loss events happen, users appeal to IT for help. But when files live in application-specific clouds, IT professionals don’t have the same controls.
Before moving data to an application cloud, IT should ask:
- Who manages the cloud? When something goes wrong, do you appeal to the cloud or the application provider?
- What happens if users want to store drawings or other files from a third-party solution in the application vendor’s cloud?
- Does the application cloud perform well across multiple collaborative sites and/or design centers?
- What is the data protection model and how does it leverage the cloud?
- How often is data backed up? How many versions of every file can be stored? Can users and IT both restore files?
- What happens if a connection to the application cloud is lost? Will end users still be able to work effectively on their files or will they lose access entirely?
- How is data encrypted in transit to the cloud and once it is stored in the cloud? Who holds the encryption keys?
Application-specific clouds do not have the breadth of security and data protection capabilities needed to satisfy many enterprise security policies and compliance initiatives, or the ability to meet many enterprise recovery point and time objectives (RPOs/RTOs).
Separation of Apps from Infrastructure
Enterprise IT infrastructure is the foundation upon which everything else runs. For this reason, IT organizations generally prefer to keep IT infrastructure separate from their apps. This way, each layer can be optimized for maximum performance and availability. IT can choose the ideal implementation for networking, storage, applications, file sharing, systems management, and so on.
When you choose an application-based cloud service, you become locked into a single vendor that controls all layers of the IT stack as they relate to that application suite’s files. A vendor that has long specialized in video editing or engineering software is suddenly in charge of your storage, file sharing, collaboration and data protection solutions as well.
Lack of Storage Domain Expertise
Application vendors are not storage experts. This is important because storage is an extremely complex domain. And this is why I’m not surprised when I hear customers complain about the Revit Server or Adobe Cloud. They’re quick to point out how well these clouds integrates with the applications. But they really don’t like the way they perform as a storage platform.
Inevitably, they start looking elsewhere for a solution to enhance file sharing and collaboration between remote users and offices.
What’s Really Needed: App-Neutral Cloud Storage and Collaboration
We’ve already seen how this story played out in the healthcare industry. Healthcare organizations first tried to leverage application-specific storage from their Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) vendors using a vertically integrated model. Frustrated by many of the same issues listed above, hospitals and healthcare providers today use Vendor-Neutral Archives (VNAs). This neutral approach avoids the data silo problem, stores all their medical images in one place, enables them to pick the best infrastructure solutions independent of their apps, and ensures access to deep storage domain expertise.
Instead of locking into one or more application-specific clouds, consider a general purpose cloud-native global file system instead. You’ll be able to apply the benefits of app-specific clouds to ALL your files, and gain the additional benefits of advanced data protection and multi-site file sharing and collaboration. With a global file system, you’ll be able to support all types of large, complex files, and satisfy the most demanding design workflows.