How comfortable are enterprises putting most or all of their files into the public cloud? Entrusting critical data entirely to third-party providers has long been viewed with skepticism, as organizations remain concerned about what could happen to their assets. Denial-of-service attacks, insider breaches and novel but unsecured APIs are just a few of the common risks to remotely stored data.

Security concerns about the public cloud haven't held back adoption
Unsurprisingly, security easily topped the list of public cloud anxieties compiled by a recent 451 Research survey, with 69 percent listing it as a major concern. No other public cloud feature was of similar priority to even half of respondents – compliance, which took second place, was a pressing matter for only 45 percent of IT managers.

Uneasiness about some aspects of the public cloud security hasn't exactly held back adoption, however. Forrester Research found that 40 percent of the nearly 2,000 enterprises that it recently surveyed had rolled out workloads to the public cloud in 2013, and projected that an additional 50 percent of them would do so this year. More specifically, interest in public cloud infrastructure is likely to ramp up as companies need more storage and bandwidth to handle big data projects, temporary workloads, development and testing of software and online media.

Overall, public resources will likely be important components for many enterprise operations, whether organizations decide to go all-in on platforms such as Amazon Web Services or blend them with on-premises setups to create even more efficient hybrid clouds. One of the keys to managing new data centers and cloud deployments will be knowing how to move not only large workloads but even individual files between clouds based on their particular security, compliance and performance requirements.

In this context, online and hybrid file sharing solutions will play a critical role in giving enterprises the flexibility they need to handle many different types of data. While some items will be well suited to public storage, others will need to remain on-premises. Vendors such as Egnyte, a Seagate Cloud Builder Alliance partner, have pioneered solutions that manage files seamlessly across different environments, ensuring maximum portability and security.

Demand for hybrid file sharing grows as companies utilize both public and private infrastructure
The amount of data being stored in the public cloud is rising rapidly. It took six years for Amazon S3 to reach 1 trillion objects in storage, but less than a year for it to top 2 trillion, according to TechTarget. Despite many obstacles – including the aforementioned security and compliance concerns, as well as surveillance considerations sparked by revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency's intelligence-gathering efforts – organizations appear increasingly comfortable keeping files in the cloud.

But the public cloud doesn't necessarily offer a one-size-fits-all solution for information storage, if only because not all files are created equal. Sensitive business plans or protected health records should and do receive a higher level of care than sales materials. For this reason, organizations in sectors such as healthcare and finance have sometimes been careful about entrusting data to cloud service providers, instead opting to build something on-premises that meets their stringent requirements. For example, Bank of America recently built a pair of cloud environments, one on top of OpenStack and the other using proprietary technology

Still, maintaining fine-grained control over files is both more important and difficult than ever before, thanks to the amount of data that enterprises have to handle as well as the growing number of endpoints that they need to keep tabs on. To make things easier, companies have turned to online file sharing and sync services that enable access from many different devices while also letting administrators closely monitor what data's being accessed and by whom. In this way, organizations strike a balance between using the cloud as an integral part of operations and seeing that data is properly protected.

Hybrid solutions, such as those provided by Egnyte, address the simultaneous needs for efficiency and security. Users can still tap into cloud-stored assets, but also are granted access to files kept behind the corporate firewall. For organizations, the blended approach means that they don't have to lose as much sleep over remote storage, and as an added benefit, they ensure that existing cloud hardware investments are put to good use.

"The overwhelming number of hybrid deployments we're seeing across customers of all sizes speaks volumes about where the online file-sharing market is headed. Simply put, it's a matter of providing customers with a choice," stated Steve Erbst, Egnyte vice president of worldwide field operations. "The cloud is great for some data and use cases, but others, especially data sets that need to stay behind the firewall, need to be addressed and accessed differently."

ESG survey underscores interest in flexible file sharing
Enterprise Strategy Group's survey of IT leaders that were using online file sharing services found strong support for hybrid solutions. The main reasons cited by respondents included the need to comply with regulations, the belief that data could be better managed in-house than by an outside provider and the desire to better leverage existing infrastructure. More than two-thirds of them were interested in trying out a hybrid product.

This level of attention is likely attributable to the fact that almost all organizations impose limits on how at least one type of data is handled. In other words, they're not comfortable with moving it out of house and entrusting it entirely to a provider. It makes sense for these security-minded companies to seek solutions that provide options for storing data on-premises or remotely depending on its requirements.

"Cloud-only file sharing used to be the only option, but as hybrid solutions have emerged and gotten more attention, IT groups realize that they have alternatives that may better meet their need for balancing control,security and leverage of existing assets," stated ESG senior analyst Terri McClure, one of the authors of the study.

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