Some of you might remember those early days of computer networking when coaxial cables were used to interconnect PCs and Novell Netware was the market leader for file sharing. Although new players appeared in this space with IBM LAN Server and Microsoft Windows NT, the basic concept of shared network drives did not change much.
The general concept is based on centralized file repositories. Management and especially access management is usually limited to administrative personnel and based on groups rather than on individual users. And, because of the centralized approach, users are required to be online to access files.
This was state of the art for almost 20 years.
As with anything that stays for a long time, requirements change and the centralized concept was unable to meet the new needs of the millennium generation. Mobile computing started to become more natural, the number and kinds of devices changed from static PCs to notebooks and nowadays tablets and mobile phones. Users are not only able to take administrative responsibilities, but they can even demand to manage their resources themselves.
Although some tried to enhance the existing software with all kinds of add-ons (offline folders) and workarounds to help support the new requirements, the outcome was not really satisfying.
Dropbox was and still is so successful because it fulfills those new needs!
The paradigm switched from a centralized file store to a distributed, replicated file repository with easy access regardless of whether the user is online, offline or using a mobile device like a tablet or mobile phone or even only a web browser. The user is able to share his owned files easily with other users or groups through a simple web interface.
But how does this affect enterprise IT?
These new user requirements are not limited to consumers. Actually, the need to have access to your important files and work on them in a geographically distributed team is a very common requirement of today’s enterprises. Dropbox has inspired a number of other products and services specifically targeting the enterprise market to appear in recent years. Not only do these programs support the new file sharing paradigm, but they also support core enterprise requirements for data security, privacy and control.
File services today are no longer based on shared network drives, but rather on distributed file repositories with easy access through web interfaces or replication clients and which enables the user to perform limited management task themselves. If the enterprise IT department does not fulfill these new user requirements, shadow IT based on Dropbox and similar technologies may continue to rise. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.