News / March, 2016

File-Sharing in the Cloud: What’s Available and What Works for Higher Ed

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By: Steve Zurier, EdTech Magazine

Danny Miller, system chief information security officer at Texas A&M University, had a potential logistical nightmare on his hands with the increase in free file-sharing programs, such as Dropbox, used by students, faculty and staff. Instead, he and his staff turned a challenge into an opportunity to more effectively manage files and improve collaboration for the university’s 170,000 users.

Organizations are turning to enterprise file management tools to better secure sensitive documents and reduce the administrative burden of relying on email to transmit large documents. Enterprise products such as Box, Citrix ShareFile and Syncplicity provide organizations with an easier way to share graphics-intensive files and video. While Box runs only in the cloud, many of these products offer both public cloud and private cloud options. 

Texas A&M chose Syncplicity by Axway, mainly for its flexibility. Miller says Texas A&M conducts nearly $1 billion worth of research annually, much of it medical- or Defense Department–related, and those documents must remain highly secure. The university stores all that sensitive data plus student Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) data on servers inside its firewall. Miller notes that Syncplicity by Axway offers storage, so other non-sensitive data resides on Syncplicity by Axway servers in the public cloud.

“The ease of use of the interface was also important,” Miller says. “For most users, it really doesn’t look any different than the consumer file-sharing programs they used in the past.” And because he now sits on Syncplicity by Axway’s board, he can help influence the future direction of the product.

Syncplicity by Axway also makes collaboration more effective. Professors and students can now share course-related documents and video easily without choking the email servers. And in an early example of how Syncplicity by Axway can be used, administrators who represent the 22 entities in the university system are using Syncplicity by Axway to share project management documentation for a major financial system upgrade.

“We expect that the overhaul of the financial system will be ongoing for at least three years, but that’s only one example,” Miller says. “Students and professors are finding new ways every day to collaborate with Syncplicity by Axway.”

Terri McClure, a senior analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, says IT departments were put in a bind when people started using consumer-oriented Software as a Service products such as Dropbox and the free version of Box.

“All of a sudden, organizations had corporate data on people’s personal smartphones and tablets, and it created security issues,” McClure says. “The industry responded by building products that had a central dashboard. They offered rudimentary control at first, and now the products have matured to offer more advanced security and rulemaking controls.”

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