Feature Story

Get Off of My Cloud: Why CIOs Must Accept and Integrate Personal Clouds into the Enterprise

by Kristi Essick

A look at how the use of personal cloud services is impacting IT departments and why experts say the trend will only grow.

Many consumers today use personal cloud services such as Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, Evernote, and iCloud. The lure of these services is clear: they allow users to store files such as documents, notes, and photos on a central server – automatically syncing these files to all of their devices – and to share files with others with the click of a button.

In a recent survey, 75% of US consumers said they planned to use a personal cloud service in the near future, and 72% said they planned to use it to store both work and personal documents.

Consumer enthusiasm for personal cloud service has a lot of corporate IT departments worried, especially since several of these cloud services, including Dropbox and Evernote, have suffered from large security breaches. CIOs know their employees regularly upload work documents to personal clouds and access these services from work computers, which clearly puts enterprise information and networks at risk.

To protect corporate networks, some IT departments have chosen to block access to personal cloud services, resorting to device-level segregation of work and personal content. These same companies often implement enterprise-grade cloud services, such as Box, Accellion, Citrix Systems’ ShareFile, or Egnyte in an attempt to offer an enterprise-sanctioned cloud storage solution. More sophisticated companies sometimes use security software to monitor which cloud services employees access, attempting to filter sensitive file uploads. Obviously, these strategies fall short, as many employees will continue to use their own devices to access personal clouds, and find easy ways to upload company documents to these services.

In light of the inevitable creep of personal clouds into the corporate realm, some companies are adopting a concept called personal-enterprise integration that allows employees to ‘bring your own cloud’, in much the same way they already embrace ‘bring your own devices’, or BYOD. Instead of walling off personal clouds and denying their existence, forward-thinking IT departments are finding ways to integrate employees’ personal clouds in a secure fashion. A recent study showed that 73% of US IT professionals said employees’ use of personal cloud applications has had a direct impact on their decisions to implement cloud technologies in the enterprise.

While companies are still in the experimental stages of personal-enterprise integration, many will ultimately build API connections between popular personal cloud and enterprise apps, predicts Forrester Research in a recent report titled “The Coming Integration of Personal Cloud Services and Enterprise Apps”.

“The tug of war between empowered employees using new technologies to improve their work and IT’s efforts to secure company data and enforce compliance will continue for the next few years,” said Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, in the report. “Employees will increasingly drag IT into embracing personal cloud services…and CIOs will ultimately find personal-enterprise integration a better choice than walling off personal cloud services.”

To make personal-enterprise integration work, IT departments need access to new technologies – and enterprise IT vendors are starting to develop offerings to help companies securely mix work and personal clouds. At the same time, personal cloud services like Dropbox and Evernote are building in enterprise features to make their offerings more ‘business focused’.

Dual log-in capabilities are a first foray into personal-enterprise integration. Some cloud services allow users to have ‘work’ and ‘personal’ logins for one personal cloud account, partitioning documents into two categories. Microsoft SkyBox and iCloud are leaders in this regard. Another emerging model is the blended personal-enterprise cloud. For example, Evernote and Dropbox are experimenting with corporate versions of their services, allowing companies to sponsor accounts for employees, who maintain control over the accounts. These type of accounts allow IT departments to create corporate folders they can later delete or disconnect when employees leave the company. In another twist, VMWare has been working on offering a ‘secure personal cloud’ service, which would allow IT departments to offer employees a Dropbox-like cloud service, but hosted on secure corporate networks.

Still, these are just baby steps in a move toward greater personal-enterprise integration of cloud services. Going forward, Forrester predicts that IT departments will adopt technologies that let them manage policy, compliance, and security in a granular way.

“Rather than the blunt all-or-nothing control at the device level, IT will develop the ability to attach policy and access controls to individual data objects and create segmented data stores within apps and devices,” according to Forrester.

Whether CIOs like it or not, their employees are going to adopt personal cloud services, if they haven’t already. As Ramin Rastin, regional CIO for Time Warner Cable, recently said in his blog:

“The cloud is not just something the company builds – your employees will have their own personal clouds. This means the CIO needs to come up with a plan for how to deal with personal clouds. The use of such clouds will only grow, so this issue must be dealt with now!”


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