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Cloud collaboration software connects at networking company Enterasys

Enterasys Networks ended up with more users than expected when it deployed a cloud-based collaboration system. But that turned out to be a good thing.

When Enterasys Networks Inc. deployed a cloud collaboration and content management system two years ago, the Salem, N.H., company got more than it bargained for. Initially intended for its sales force only, the system quickly lured users in other departments to open personal accounts with vendor Box. Use of the cloud collaboration software "spread very virally," said Benjamin Doyle, vice president of sales enablement and analytics at Enterasys.

And that turned out to be OK with Enterasys officials. The networking technology vendor eventually opened up the cloud system to all of its 1,000-plus employees; now it has more than 3 TB of content stored in the system and near-universal adoption internally, according to Doyle, who spoke at the Association for Information and Image Management's AIIM Conference 2013 in New Orleans.

We're not Big Brother-ish in any respect. But we do take information and content security very seriously.

Benjamin Doyle, VP of sales enablement and analytics, Enterasys Networks Inc.

Doyle said one of the keys to making the wider deployment work was combining the cloud collaboration tools with a single sign-on and application provisioning service from Okta Inc. The Okta technology enables Enterasys workers to access the collaboration system on various devices and to get in from remote locations without having to use a virtual private network; they can also set up their own information sharing links, both internally and externally, as well as connections to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other personal applications.

While end users get a large degree of autonomy, Doyle, a hybrid business-IT executive who is responsible for the company's business applications, said his team gets a robust set of tools for managing security -- perennially the biggest concern that companies have about cloud computing applications of all stripes. IT staffers can monitor system usage and see when users self-provision new applications, although he said that's done under a cloak of "arm's-length anonymity" to shield the identities and personal-account passwords of the involved users.

Exit closed from cloud collaboration system

In addition, external information sharing links are set to expire after six months, and content deleted by users isn't actually removed from the collaboration system without first being checked by the IT team to make sure it's non-essential information that can safely be disposed of. "We're not Big Brother-ish in any respect," Doyle said in an interview after his presentation. "We try to enable our employees and respect them to make the right decisions. But we do take information and content security very seriously."

Cloud security isn't an insurmountable problem, said Steve Weissman, principal consultant at Holly Group in Waltham, Mass. But he added that turning to cloud-based collaboration tools doesn't absolve companies of the need to put in place solid security and IT management procedures such as the ones Doyle outlined. "If your process was crummy before, it's not going to be magically better just because you're using the cloud," Weissman said. "A different implementation model is all it is."

Doug Miles, AIIM's director of market intelligence, said he isn't seeing a big rush to move collaboration and content management applications to the cloud. Worries about security are clearly a factor in holding back organizations on cloud collaboration deployments. Also, the functionality in the online version of Microsoft's market-leading SharePoint collaboration software hasn't matched up to what's in the on-premises product, although the software vendor moved the two closer to parity in conjunction with its new SharePoint 2013 release.

Backup policy in the cloud

American Nuclear Insurers (ANI) has signed up to use the SharePoint Online cloud service, but initially only as a backup system in case there are problems accessing its on-premises SharePoint installation, said Daniel Antion, vice president of information services at the Glastonbury, Conn., company, which sells liability insurance to nuclear power facilities.

More on deploying and using cloud collaboration software

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Read a Q&A with Box CEO Aaron Levie on cloud collaboration and storage

"We're not really comfortable having a totally cloud-based operation," Antion said at the AIIM conference, citing cost, security and accessibility concerns. He added that the cost savings typically expected from cloud computing might not materialize for a company the size of ANI, which has only about 35 employees.

Enterasys, on the other hand, is fully sold on the cloud. In addition to the cloud collaboration software, the company uses Salesforce.com, Google Apps and a variety of other cloud-based applications; Doyle said the only major business applications that don't run in the cloud now are its SAP-based supply chain management and financial systems.

And for Enterasys, at least, doing collaboration in the cloud is paying off financially. Decommissioning file servers replaced by the cloud system's document repository has reduced IT hardware and maintenance costs by nearly $200,000 a year, Doyle said. The actual annual savings are less than half that after the subscription fees for the Box software are taken into account, he indicated. Enterasys officials aren't complaining, though. "It's a higher cost on the surface than a traditional system," Doyle said. "But we're comfortable with that."

Craig Stedman is executive editor of SearchContentManagement. Email him at cstedman@techtarget.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @sContentMgmt.

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