Author: IronOrbit

Ransomware Risk Mitigation: The Desktop-as-a-Service Solution

Ransomware is a dangerous and growing threat. Find out how security-minded executives establish best-in-class protection.

2019 has proven to be an alarming year for cybersecurity professionals and cyber-attacks show no signs of slowing down in 2020.

One cybersecurity firm characterized the rapidly growing pace of cyberthreats across all industries as an “unprecedented and unrelenting barrage”. Within 24 hours of its report, the City of New Orleans and several other municipal organizations fell victim to ransomware attacks.

But it’s not just large-scale enterprises and public institutions that are under attack. Small and mid-sized businesses offer low-hanging fruit for opportunistic cyber criminals, who often use automation to widen their area of attack.

Small businesses, large enterprises, and public institutions alike have all struggled to respond decisively to the ransomware threat. Until recently, executives had few options – and fewer defenses – in their fight against cybercrime. Now, Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solutions offer comprehensive, scalable ransomware protection services to organizations of all sizes.

 

What Exactly is Ransomware and How Does It Work?

 

The number of ways for a cyber intruder to take over your computer system without your knowledge before it’s too late.

The typical ransomware attack begins with the stealthy takeover of the victim’s computer. This may be accomplished through phishing, social engineering, or a sophisticated zero-day exploit – the goal is to have access to the network while remaining undetected.

Upon compromising the network, the cybercriminal can begin slowly encrypting important files. Most ransomware applications do this automatically, using a variety of different methods to evade detection. The process may take days, weeks, or months to complete.

Once the ransomware encryption algorithm reaches critical mass, it then locks users out of the network, displaying a ransom note demanding payment for a decryption key. Sometimes the demand is small – on the order of $500 to $1000 – and sometimes the demand reaches into six-figure sums.

Ransom demands are usually for bitcoins. “If one organization is willing to pay $500,000, the next may be willing to pay $600,000.”

Small sums make paying the ransom a tempting option, but a dangerous one. There is no guarantee that the cyber attacker will relinquish control of the network. Instead, executives who pay up reinforce the cybercriminal profit cycle. It is only a matter of time before the ransomware attacker strikes again.

Famous examples of ransomware variants include WannaCry, which spread to over 230,000 computers across 150 countries in 2017, and Petya. The WannaCry crisis targeted healthcare clinics and hospitals, causing untold damage and highlighted the risk that outdated IT systems represent in these industries.

Petya was unique because it did not encrypt specific files. Instead, it encrypted the local hard drive’s Master File Table, rendering the entire device unusable. There are dozens of other variants out there, and each one uses a unique strategy to take advantage of victims. NotPetya developed on Petya’s attack method, using the same vulnerability previously exploited by WannaCry.

Who Is At Risk of Ransomware Attacks?

 

Emsisoft reports that during the first half of 2019, 491 healthcare providers were hit with ransomware. The attacks are increasing and the demands are for larger ransoms.

Everyone. Although high-profile targets like hospitals and municipal institutions make headlines, thousands of business owners are defrauded every day. On average, one business falls victim to ransomware every 14 seconds.

Small and mid-sized businesses are especially vulnerable because they typically do not have access to the kind of comprehensive security resources that large enterprises can afford. Small businesses that do not rely on reputable third-party managed service providers make especially easy targets.

Cybercriminals have shown that they are willing to target hospitals and public institutions without shame. The greater the need for functioning IT systems is, the more likely the cybercriminals are to get paid. This is how the cybercrime profit cycle perpetuates itself.

What Can Small and Mid-sized Businesses Do About Ransomware?

 

Organizations caught unprepared have few options. Although cybersecurity experts correctly warn against paying the ransom, desperate business owners often pay anyways. But the relief is only temporary. 60% of small and mid-sized businesses victimized by cybercriminals do not recover and shut down within six months.

Preparation is key to successfully resisting a ransomware attack. Organizations that cannot afford to develop, implement, and deploy state-of-the-art security resources need to contract a reputable third-party vendor for the purpose.

Even enterprise-level organizations with tens of thousands of employees often find themselves opting for a managed solution instead of an in-house one. The cybersecurity industry is experiencing a widening talent shortage, making it difficult even for deep-pocketed businesses to hold on to their best security officers.

Introducing IronOrbit: Comprehensive Ransomware Protection

IronOrbit achieves best-in-class ransomware protection through a unique approach to cloud desktop hosting. There are three key processes that must work together flawlessly to guarantee ransomware resilience:

1.   Prevention

The best way to prevent a ransomware attack from taking place is preventing the initial malware deployment. Firewalls, email filters, content filters, and constant patch management all play a critical role in keeping malicious code out of DaaS systems.

Maintaining up-to-date software is more important than most executives and employees realize. Since NotPetya used the same attack vector as WannaCry, its victims entirely consisted of individuals and businesses who neglected to install security patches after the WannaCry crisis.

2.   Recovery

There is no way to guarantee 100% prevention. However, business owners and their IT teams can circumvent the damage ransomware causes with consistent backup and restoration tools. IronOrbit’s disaster recovery features can wind back the clock, reloading your entire suite of business systems to the state they were in just before the attack occurred.

3.   Remediation

Ransomware recovery cannot guarantee business continuity on its own without best-in-class remediation tools. Without the ability to trace the attack to its source in a fully logged environment, there is no way to tell whether the attack has been truly averted or not. IronOrbit uses state-of-the-art digital investigation tools to track ransomware attacks to their source and mitigate them.

Schedule a Consultation with an IronOrbit Security Expert

IronOrbit has helped numerous businesses capitalize on the efficiency and peace of mind that secure DaaS solutions offer. Protect your business from the threat of ransomware with the help of our expertise and knowledge.

 

The Top Cloud Solutions Every AEC Firm Should Be Using in 2020

The quantity and quality of cloud offerings have grown significantly in the last few years. There are a number of new solutions available to AEC firms that are especially worth taking a look at. We’ll look at a few of the top cloud solutions in this article.

The AEC industry faces incredible growth and changes in urbanization and globalization. As traditional data centers become insufficient to meet these demands, so does the demand for security and efficiency. Trends such as hyper-automation, the distributed cloud, and practical blockchain are just some of the trends that will continue to proliferate into 2020. Each one of them has the ability to transform and optimize initiatives.  The AEC sector has done a good job of keeping up to date. More than 2/3 of AEC firms store data in the cloud. The reason: cloud solutions are an important ingredient to maximizing workflow, costs, and sustainability.

Cloud storage, for instance, can be a more cost-effective alternative to spending thousands on upgrading your local IT. Cloud computing has become increasingly popular for a number of reasons: it’s more affordable, able to perform computationally intensive work, workspace flexibility, and more secure.

Also, there is the added advantage that, with cloud-based computing, it’s possible to view and work with complex renderings on an underpowered device.

Scalability is also easier in the cloud. Most providers allow for scalable, on-demand resource usage. This enables your company to have more computing power when it’s needed.

Cloud storage providers enable benefits that are impossible to duplicate. A Cisco report suggested, “By 2021, 94 percent of workloads and compute instances will be processed by cloud data centers.”

Firms that have moved to the cloud have an edge over the competition. With that in mind, let’s take look at what kind of cloud services are available. Let’s also consider how each one benefits an AEC firm.

 

1 – Cloud Storage

It’s less expensive than storing large CAD files on premises to house large data with a cloud storage provider

 

Cloud storage is a great solution because it is simple and offers several important benefits.

First, cloud storage providers backup your data. Cloud storage companies will often have servers in two different parts of the world. One server might be on the West Coast of the United States. The other server might be on the East Coast so that even the largest disaster won’t wipe out your files.

Files stored on the cloud can be accessed from anywhere. Whether your crew is working 10 or 1,000 miles away they’ll have easy access to everything stored online. It’s also simple to set permission levels on various files. For example, an administrator can dictate that renderings can be viewed at the job site but only edited in the office.

 

Everyday examples of cloud storage providers include DropBox, Google Drive, Sharepoint and One Drive.

2- Cloud Storage Gateways

Cloud storage gateways can help to reduce costs in a number of ways. Data compression reduces bandwidth which enables increased storage. These cloud storage gateways can make smart decisions about where to save files. Files that accessed frequently) are called “hot files.” Hot files can be more expensive to store online. A gateway may keep them in local storage while storing more infrequently used files in the cloud.

Panzura

Panzura has a cloud-based version designed to create a shared environment for everyone to work in. With Panzura users can store CAD and BIM files online and open them in a matter of seconds, not minutes. All files can be accessed from any location making collaboration easier. Panzura claims to “reduce infrastructure costs up to 70%,” over traditional data centers.

Like all cloud storage service providers, Panzura makes it easy to share files and collaborate across a variety of devices.

Another of Panzura’s interesting features is the work-sharing monitor. Work-sharing allows for remote viewing of another Panzura user’s workstation. As with other cloud-based solutions, Panzura can scale as your firm grows.

3 – Cloud-Based Accounting and Management Applications

Running your firm’s accounting and management applications in the cloud simplifies workflow. Collaboration is fluid when everyone at the company has access to the files. Accessibility to files while at the office, at home, or at a hotel room on the other side of the country.

Decreased IT and Hardware Costs: You’ll be able to significantly reduce IT and hardware costs when you host your Sage or QuickBooks software off-premise with a cloud hosting provider.

The cloud enables collaborators to work in real-time. Different permission models can be set for different users. It is also easier to collaborate with suppliers, distributors, and contractors. Since the files and data are already online it’s simple to give outside parties access. That’s opposed to localized data which is more difficult to share.

Deltek is a cloud-based solution to track projects. Project steps can be broad or detailed. Deltek tracks billable hours, resource usage, and expenses. If your firm uses different programs for different purposes, it may be time to consolidate.

While localized programs have offered project tracking for years. Deltek makes collaboration easier for the whole team. Everyone from accounting to the drafting team has access to the same program. The functionality is the same whether they’re on a $5,000 workstation or a $200 smartphone.

 

4 – Internet of Things (IoT)

The number of Internet-connected devices is growing at an exponential rate. As microchips and transmitters are becoming more affordable, more applications and innovations are being introduced onto the market. This means more tools for the AEC industry to track and improve efficiency.

The whole Internet of Things (IoT)

Internet-connected GPS devices, for instance, are great at tracking fleet mileage. They can also make recommendations about necessary vehicle maintenance. There is a Bluetooth tag that attaches to a piece of equipment making it easy to locate on a crowded job site. The tag also helps recover lost tools.

 

5 – Hosted Desktops

Hosted desktops transform computers into more powerful workstations without having to purchase expensive PC hardware.

A hosted desktop is ideal for AEC firms running multiple AutoCAD workstations. Scaling is also a breeze as hosted desktops can increase their resources to handle any task.

A hosted desktop transforms cheap laptop or tablet devices into a powerful workstation. The kind of devices that can launch power-hungry programs and model complex drawings. That makes it great for the crew out in the field who don’t normally have access to powerful computers.

 

IronOrbit INFINITY: The All-in-One Solution
The all-in-one solution offered by IronOrbit provides peace of mind, increased agility, and true synergy with key organizational objectives.

While cloud solutions (here are 7 good reasons why AEC firms need the cloud) offer a number of advantages to AEC firms, not all products are created equal. Products like INFINITY offers tremendous functionality and flexibility.

INFINITY is a convenient cloud-based workstation. It combines the best features of cloud-based solutions into one place. This includes:

  • Hosted desktops
  • Cloud storage (including Panzura integration)
  • Application hosting (any application, including accounting and ERP software)
  • Unlimited computing, upgrades, and bandwidth
  • Managed backups and disaster recovery
  • Managed security and compliance
  • 24/7 US-based IT support

INFINITY is a workspace that allows access to CPU and graphics-intensive applications from anywhere.

With unlimited CPU and RAM upgrades you never have to be concerned that you’ll run out of processing power and collaboration is easy when your whole team is working in a centralized environment.

Centralization allows the team to work with the same version software. The whole team uses the same application and work from the same set of files. There’s no longer the concern that employees are accessing different versions.

Inconsistent files can cause delays, accidents, compliance violations and more. Having the team working from the same set of files is a considerable benefit.

Then there’s the convenience of dealing with one vendor. Forget about tracking costs from multiple service providers. There’s no dealing with half a dozen account managers and support teams. IronOrbit gives you everything in one package so that you’ll only ever need to work with a single company.

An Easy-To-Manage and Future-Proof Solution, Too

Speaking of the all-in-one package, IronOrbit wants to make cloud management as simple as possible. They take care of setup, backups, application security as well as user support.

Other cloud solutions require the client to do a number of things. They have to set up the service. Integrate the service with existing infrastructure, and manage it on an ongoing basis. With IronOrbit these time-consuming processes are gone.

When considering a cloud service provider, it’s important to think about the future. IronOrbit is backed by today’s cutting-edge technology. It’s flexible enough to support any future technology growth.

IronOrbit is constantly upgrading its infrastructure. Their clients can take advantage of unlimited GPU and RAM; unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited upgrades to the latest versions of Windows and Microsoft Office.

Whatever devices and operating systems the future holds, IronOrbit INFINITY will be ready to support them and give you the same level of service that you’d expect from a professional cloud-solution package. With INFINITY’s centralized, all-inclusive and convenient software you’re always in good hands.

In Thomas Friedman’s book THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE, he refers to the exponential acceleration in technology based on Moore’s Law: the speed and power of microchips double every 24 months.

In this age of acceleration, companies have 3 major objectives. They want to do more. They want to move faster. They want to do it at less cost.

To achieve all 3 objectives, a company has to ensure one thing. That there is alignment between their business objectives and their IT capabilities. Harmonizing clear objectives with IT capabilities, companies will realize their full potential. Not all companies are able to follow that path on their own. They may know they need to change, but don’t know how to get there.

If they do know how to get there, they don’t know who will manage the new environments. It’s more common now that company leadership won’t have a clue of what their future state should look like. Our primary job is to listen to the customer. We need to understand our client’s objectives and future-state desires. Then we analyze the requirements against IT capabilities. It has to be a solid yet flexible enough infrastructure that will support the future business goals. To the degree this harmony between goals and technology is in place, the intended transformations will happen.

It’s Time for an Upgrade

In the last couple of years, there have been a lot of exciting developments in the AEC-cloud-industry. From time and maintenance tracking to hosted desktops allowing users to render complex projects on their iPhones, the cloud has much to offer.

Not to mention savings, when you factor in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars you can save by not having to continuously upgrade your workstations.

If you haven’t looked into getting on the cloud yet there has never been a better time. Cloud computing and project management are the directions the AEC industry is heading toward. No firm is going to want to play catch up to its competitors.

3 Strategies To Reducing Operations Cost

The world of information technology and collaboration moves fast. In fact, it’s changing at a pace most are struggling to keep up with for a variety of reasons. People want to have skills that are in demand. Businesses need to be relevant and modern. There’s also that age-old concern for all businesses. How to reduce operating costs.

Sure, we all want to adopt those amazing new cloud services. Embrace that fancy new network appliance. But how can you get there? Is it affordable? That’s the real question. We want to reduce costs, not increase it. It’s all about reducing costs. Let’s take a look at how organizations can bridge that cost gap.

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Choosing the Best Collaboration Tool for You


The need for video and voice collaboration software revolved around mobile workers. Workers in the field needed a way to keep in touch with their peers in a central office. We’ve all had to tune in for ‘state of the union’ conference calls. How many of us can remember sitting through a long, boring PowerPoint presentation? The collaboration work-life was good.

There were a couple of pain points as workers and environments changed. The expensive telephone contracts didn’t help. Neither did those long-distance charges. To say nothing of the pile of actual telephones.


Webex broke through and changed the game, but now that arena is becoming crowded and complex. Let’s take a look at some of the solutions available. Then we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts. We’ll make sure your mobile teams can work while adhering to any security compliance.

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How to Start a Business

Owning, operating, and building your own business provides satisfaction and pride. There are also risks and challenges. Not every start-up business succeeds. 

Many small business start-ups fail in just a few short years, if not sooner, according to the Small Business Administration. Don’t let that happen to you.  The time and effort you invest in working on your business before you get started working in your business will pay off handsomely.

You have to challenge yourself if you want to become a successful entrepreneur; and, of course, be willing to take some risks.

The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute ranks the United States as the best place in the world to start a business. If you want to start in the Golden State, you’ll find yourself with another leg up. California boasts the highest startup survival rates in the nation at 82.3%. California has one of the highest rates of new entrepreneurship as well. Couple that success rate with year-round perfect weather, the most beautiful beaches in the world, Disneyland, and you’ll wonder why you never considered a startup in the first place! 

Of course, starting a new business on your own isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are many things to take into account. There’s almost no way you’ll be an expert in all (or even most) of the skills required to start a successful business. Topics will vary depending on the type of business you intend to start. But here are 5 things which are an absolute must!

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Why Move to the Cloud?

The Age of the Cloud is Upon Us.

What exactly does that mean for an organization? Why move to the cloud in the first place. Small businesses and enterprises alike have been migrating their IT systems to the cloud for quite some time. In fact, a dramatically increasing number of small businesses are moving to the cloud.

According to Gartner, the market for the public cloud will increase by 17.3 percent this year to $206.2 billion.

Forbes predicts that 83% of all IT workloads will be in the cloud with on-premises workloads falling from 37% to 27% by 2020. 

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The Microsoft Experience: Team Collaboration Tools for 2019 and Beyond

In June of this year, Microsoft reclaimed a 1 trillion-dollar market cap, buoyed by all-time high stock prices. What is it that makes a company so valuable? Yeah, we’ve all used Outlook, Outlook365 and PowerPoint and they work great, but trillion-dollar great?

The answer is simple, but not as transparent as measuring a Microsoft product against a competitor’s. The truth is that Microsoft’s holistic approach to IT offers one of the best team tools. Insofar as project management communication tools are concerned, there’s nothing better. It is a business enabler for their customers.

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Microsoft Intune Review: Putting It Up Against MobileIron

The world we live in is changing at an amazing pace.

The innovation enabled by the rapid growth and worldwide adoption of the internet has been absolutely incredible. Surely that’s no surprise to anyone connected today, but let’s take a moment to put it into perspective the jaw-dropping scope of the number of connected devices.

One of the trendiest buzzwords to hit the market today is the IoT (Internet of things). The IoT is exactly what it sounds like; a collection of devices that connect to the internet.

Map of the IOT landscape across the globe.
The Internet of Things

This could be anything from your Nest thermostat, that Tesla roadster parked in your garage, or the far more common smartphone sitting in your back pocket. Sounds like that could be a lot of connected ‘things’, right? Well, as of 2018, the IoT was a $151B market with 7B connected devices and is expected to reach 10B by 2020.

What exactly does this have to do with MobileIron or Intune? Well, as the number of connected devices skyrockets, organizations are scrambling to protect their data that could invariably find their way to those devices.

Traditionally, a business would view their datacenter as the security boundary. But as we dive into a more cloud-first, a mobile-first world that simply is no longer true. We need to ensure that data is protected, regardless of which ‘thing’ it ends up on. In order to accomplish that, businesses are transitioning to unified endpoint management (UEM) solutions like Intune and MobileIron.

Let’s dive into this Microsoft Intune review.

Application Management

In the past, companies would use device management solutions to enforce strict control over devices before granting them access. Sounds good, right? Well, what about situations where end-users bring their own devices or try to access your data from a device not owned by your company?

Sure, you could choose to block those devices but that means you’ll need to provide those users with devices to work with remotely. Even in that scenario, most individuals would prefer not to carry a personal device and a work device.

Modern management solutions take that struggle into account and allow application-level control of your data, regardless of what devices it ends up on. This is where solutions like Intune or MobileIron shine. They allow you to ensure that data you’re putting on a specific device stays on that device.

Mobile Device Management - MDM - separates and secures corporate data from personal data.
Mobile Device Management allows you to separate and secure corporate data from personal data.

You’re able to enforce data encryption. You’re able to ensure the data can’t be moved to an unmanaged location. As an administrator, you are able to effectively remove your data from that device when necessary.

Comparing Intune versus MobileIron in Managing Your Data

Now let’s take a minute to compare both Intune and MobileIron when it comes to managing your data on end-user owned devices (BYOD). Both solutions offer great functionality here; they grant you the ability to ensure that your data doesn’t leave the application that it started in. No copy/paste, no save to the device, no save to unsupported cloud locations, enforce encryption, etc.

The problem is that both solutions require you to use their client (Outlook, OneDrive, Apps, Docs, or Mail+). Things like the default applications in iOS and Android are out of the question due to a lack of SDK (Software Development Kit) support.

MobileIron struggles here because typically, in order for you to actually get the required app, you need to enroll the device and enforce a wider area of control. More control than some individuals are comfortable granting to their employer over their personal devices.

Intune’s MAM

Microsoft’s Intune allows for application management (MAM) without enrollment. Simply use the Outlook app (or OneDrive, SharePoint, Box, Dropbox, etc.) and sign-in from any device as you normally would to access your data. At that point, policies created by the administrator are enforced on the application itself and not on the device. Again, the goal here is to prevent someone from taking sensitive information and copying directly to their iOS mail app and forwarding it outside of your scope of influence.

Intune MAM illustration
Intune MAM separates and protects your personal from corporate data.

Consider that the Enterprise Mobility and Security license required for Intune also includes Azure AD Premium for auditing and reporting in Azure as well as Conditional Access to restrict access or require multifactor and it’s a pretty compelling argument for Intune.

The official graphic from Microsoft for Azure Active Directory Premium.

 Device Management

Management of the device as a whole is a little easier to accomplish and has been an industry mainstay for a decade. Both Intune and MobileIron are excellent options if you’re going to require all devices to be enrolled and managed centrally.

In fact, MobileIron was selected as the industry leader by Gartner in 2017. The problem of needing specific applications on the device to access the data is easily overcome by simply pushing the required application to the device in question.

Of course there’s more to working remotely than just using applications; you’re also able to push configuration like WiFi profiles to allow them to automatically connect to the office WiFi or deploying certificates to the device to allow a more secure, seamless sign in experience when they open up their work apps.

Requiring enrollment is the big gotcha here. It’s difficult to require an end-user to enroll their device; after all, it is theirs. And what happens when one of those 10B other connected devices is able to be integrated in the near future (here’s looking at you Alexa, Cortona, and Ford)?

Trending Forward

This is a 3D graphic illustrating how enterprise data is integrated securely, from the company's server to a mobile device information provider using MobileIron.

While MobileIron may be a great option for mobile device management today, there are some glaring limitations that they need to address. Today, MobileIron is truly only an MDM/MAM solution with Android and iOS in mind. It struggles with cloud integration for the directory which means that the future is a little murky when there may no longer be an on-premises ‘identity’ for your users.

It also doesn’t have a way to integrate Windows devices (or platforms that may operate as ‘dumb’ devices, like Alexa); which will be a key differentiator in the future as more and more of that IoT make their way into the business landscape.

Intune is already built with Azure Active Directory as it’s backbone to provide conditional access, multifactor authentication, and all the analytics and telemetry you need to find out who signed in, how many times, and from where.

Microsoft has positioned Intune as the clear replacement of System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) for modern endpoint management, all while allowing for device co-management with SCCM still in the picture to handle legacy endpoints.

Intune Takes the Lead

Not only has Microsoft built a solution in Intune that disrupted the enterprise mobility market, they immediately doubled down by partnering with other major players to ensure that as industry evolves, they’ll not be left out.

Now all this isn’t to say that MobileIron (or any of the other current solutions) isn’t an excellent answer to the problem of securing your data on mobile devices. MobileIron scales incredibly well with numerous deployments exceeding 100,000k devices and there’s an on-premises offering for organizations that are entirely cloud adverse.

But the question really is; why would I choose MobileIron over Intune and considering the way that Microsoft has positioned themselves to take advantage of connected devices in the future with Azure, MobileIron has a tough time standing up.

Cloud Storage Reviews: Which One is Right for You?

The information technology industry is bursting at the seams.

Most business experience data sprawl. It is something IT managers and Managed Service Providers constantly have to prepare for.

We’ve come a long way since CompuServe, back in 1983, first offered a small amount of disk space to its customers.

Considering the amount of data organizations are required to host for their users, it’s not surprising to see the cost of maintaining that storage become astronomical. It’s a constant balancing act between costs and availability of resources.

Whether your business works primarily with documents or large multimedia files, ensuring data continuity through a solid business continuity, or disaster recovery, plan is more challenging than ever.

Businesses are not investing in expensive, high-performance, tiered storage services. They just want general file storage. Leveraging storage as service providers for personal files is an excellent option to offload a significant portion of that financial burden. Advantages of cloud storage, as a storage service, means dramatically improved reliability and increased organizational resilience.

Cloud Storage as a Service

The 4 Main Cloud Storage Providers

Most people are already familiar with Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive due to the storage service they’ve been providing to retail consumers, but what else is out there? All 3 evolved into enterprise class competitors. Now they’ve been joined by Microsoft’s OneDrive.

All 4 offer a solution to the problem

All 4 provide a cost effective, highly available centralized service to improve storage and collaboration for your employees. Let’s explore how cloud storage works.

Specific Key Points to Consider

It is critical to maintain business continuity. File and storage service availability is necessary to ensure users are able to accomplish the work that makes a business successful. Check the capacity per user and overall ease of use.

Following a foundation of security and compliance best practices will protect users from those accidents where they share sensitive information with the wrong party. Overcoming overshare and incidents like ransomware or data destruction are important.

Finally, cost is a consideration. What’s the point of having such an amazing solution if you can’t justify the cost of ownership?

Which Business Continuity Management Framework to Use

Continuity of business enterprise relies on how much data can be stored in the service per person, and how easy it is to access. Although the first half is transparent, there are licensing implications in each of the services that impact the amount of space accessible.

* There are more granular enterprise class licenses available for Microsoft, Dropbox, and Box but the space provided is similar what’s outlined above.

Storage Space

Each provider has 3 business class offerings comparable with each other. Both Google and Box offer entry level offerings providing 30GB and 100GB per user respectively. Most users will need much less on premises.

Based purely on storage space provided per user, Dropbox is the clear winner with Google and Box following close behind. Both types of Storage as a Service (SaaS) offer unlimited capacity to their mid-tier licenses.

Microsoft’s licensing model grants each user a terabyte of storage, which is impressive in itself, but unlimited is unlimited.

Based on storage space provided per user, Dropbox is the clear winner.

Availability

Now that we’ve talked about space, let’s consider accessibility. Users need to access their files without incident, share with internal teams for collaboration, and share with external parties when necessary.

In order for users to access their files on the same account, they need to synchronize those accounts to the cloud through each of these prospective services. Administrators will need to maintain an identity infrastructure like ADFS, OKTA, Ping, or Centrify to handle those sign-in claims. If those servers go down, users can’t access their files in the cloud.

Microsoft’s OneDrive sync is built into Windows 10

The Microsoft Advantage

Microsoft allows seamless single sign-on without that infrastructure. They either deploy an agent on an existing on premises server for pass through authentication, or by securely synchronizing a password hash with the accounts.

Enabling individuals to access their data, whether they’re online or not, is becoming increasingly important. Each of these solutions have a sync client that will ensure their files are stored and accessed locally on both Mac and Windows PCs (as well as Android and MacOS mobile). Changes to those files are sync’d back up to the cloud to ensure the individual is always accessing the most recent version of their file.

This is a distinct advantage offered by the Microsoft file and storage service. Microsoft’s OneDrive sync is built into Windows 10 and can be controlled via Group Policy. Each of the other clients need to be distributed by an admin and maintained individually.

Nothing is Perfect

No cloud infrastructure is perfect. Downtime is always a possibility. Each of the cloud storage services, with the exception of Dropbox, offer financially backed service level agreements of 3 or 4 “nines” of availability (99.9% or 99.99%). These numbers are measured throughout the year with 99.9% availability representing just eight hours per year of service interruption. Considering the minimal difference over between 99.9% or 99.99% uptime, we can view this as a wash.

DropBox

Obviously DropBox is out of contention because they don’t financially guarantee uptime with a service level agreement. That’s not to say that DropBox doesn’t meet those lofty standards, but it means that, in a worst case scenario, they offer reimbursement for poor quality of service. Depending on your business, this may not be a concern; however, if the organization maintains a high business continuity policy standard, this may be a deal breaker.

Security

When evaluating migration of your IT infrastructure to the cloud, security should be among the top priorities.

Summation

These cloud storage services allow for single sign-on users for businesses-on-premises accounts. The same controls placed on users’ accounts are inherently enforced by these solutions as well! Should anyone attempt to discover a password by repeatedly trying to sign in (Brute Force), having good on- premises lockout and password policies will maintain security.

Additionally, using a federation provider for single sign-on will prevent access outside of your building, or enforce multi-factor authentication for specific services. Federation services often have intelligent features built into them. For example, ADFS’s extranet smart lockout uses machine learning to assess good or bad request by determining regular sign-in locations

These protections are not typically part of the cloud services presented in this article. These are options that ensure business continuity management policies are in place regardless of the file and storage provider selected. All of these cloud storage services invest heavily to comply with global security and compliance standards, but it’s the responsibility of the organization’s leadership to develop and ensure sound business continuity practices and see that they’re maintained.

Sharing

Microsoft has the advantage of having the share feature designed into the Windows interface. The interface also allows for close integration with other Microsoft office products. While it is simple to share files or folders both internally and externally with other services; Microsoft Office products have the ‘Share’ button built conveniently into the workspace.

Each of the services have a great web-based interface allowing for data storage, accessibility, and file sharing; but the benefits of Microsoft’s complete collaboration provide a real distinct advantage of its competitors.

Cost

Business level licenses offered by each of the platforms are listed above. The table below compares exactly the space costs per person. Note: there are additional, more granular, enterprise level licenses available, but not shown, for each of the services listed.

Those cloud storage providers offering unlimited storage have the advantage. Is the advantage worth the extra expense? Google has a strong stake with their Business license, offering unlimited storage (as well as several other G Suite offerings) at just $12. Box and DropBox struggle with a higher starting price point, but offer little else outside of their storage and sharing collaboration services (even though they do include data loss prevention services).

Microsoft is the clear winner even though they offer “just” 1TB per user. For $8.25 per person/month, Microsoft offers storage included with their entire Office Suite. Most organizations, if not all, would be already paying for Microsoft’s suite of programs. Why not save the cost of an additional storage service provider.

If an organization were to opt for the business premium license at $12.50 per user, they would also be getting Exchange Online with 50GB of mailbox quota per person, Microsoft Teams for collaboration services (personal chat, team based persistent chat, external sharing, etc), and SharePoint for an array of collaboration options (Intranet sites, Team sites, external file sharing, and content management services).

And The Winner Is?

While Box, Dropbox, and Google all offer great cloud file sharing and storage services for a very reasonable price (seriously, *unlimited* storage for $12 user/month?!), it’s difficult to compete with Microsoft in the business collaboration space. Users are likely to be using Microsoft Office already and logging into Windows PCs, using accounts provided by Microsoft’s Active Directory.

Integration and Security Compliance is Everything

The integration between OneDrive, Office, and Windows is fantastic and the familiarity offered to your users and admin staff is a clear enabler.

Add in the security and compliance features offered through some of the similarly priced Enterprise licensing, users not only have the ability to seamlessly collaborate with peers, they do so while the admin protects them with encryption, data loss prevention, and advanced features built into Azure AD. These features leverage machine learning to protect end users’ credentials and provide MFA.

Because Microsoft’s licensing options can be so specific, it’s possible to select the preferred features. Maybe you have a subset of individuals who share the same computer, or maybe don’t need all the same bells and whistles as your information workers, no problem; just give them a license that doesn’t include the things they don’t need (the $5.00 Business Essentials license comes to mind here).