Let's define our goals and critical points that a suitable cloud hosting service must maintain:
- We need a cloud client on any popular platform (Win, Mac, Droid, iOS) that would connect to an office network and synchronize file share(s) granting employees with seamless access to their Home Directories inside and outside the office at a maximum speed.
- Synchronization protocol must take into account conflicts, file deletions, etc.
- A solution must be driven by an Active Directory in order to preserve "one username-password" philosophy and avoid any dualism in access rights as well as a clutter of usernames and passwords to track.
- Data transmission must be secure.
Surprisingly we have found only two suitable solutions.
- One is an Open Source system called OwnCloud which does the job but not quite ready for serious production with dozens of thousand of files. Nonetheless its development is very active and we firmly believe that it's just a matter of time before OwnCloud becomes mature enough. At the moment its next Version 5 is scheduled to be released in January, 2013. It would take 2-3 hours for an Allora tech consultation to deploy this solution on an SBS server or Windows server with an SSL certificate already in place.
- The second solution is a commercial product GoodSync. Each client license costs $30 which does provide a full range of control and capabilities outdoing Dropbox or Googledrive in our tests.
At this point the server side is done as it provides a Secure interface to file directories via native credentials driven by a Active Directory. It turned out that Owncloud client is the weakest link of the package. Owncloud's interface has nothing to boast compared to competitors. We had to address a number of issues via tweaking the server settings like handling UTF names or special characters like "+" sign in file names (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/942076/en-us). Owncloud's performance is slower than competition when it comes to syncing file changes (Dropbox only transfers bit-level changes - not a whole file). To offset the short comings there are plenty of additional functionality available - music streaming, public links (password protected and/or carrying expiration dates), picture libraries, etc.
Unless you're working on Windows Server 2008 R2 platform you would need to deploy IIS FTP 7.5. Natively FTP service would rely on Active Directory for logon information and retrieving home directory paths. The biggest nuisance with FTP is firewalls of course. There are typically two to deal with:
1) Firewall at the level of an NAT router
2) Native Windows server firewall
The easiest path is to engage a passive FTP mode and dedicate ~100 ports for this purpose (100 would surely suffice for a small business): 60100-60200 range per se. Microsoft' recipe is not exactly straight forward here (who knew?):
a) IIS FTP needs to be configured with a proper port range at the root Level of IIS (60100-60200 for example)
b) Windows firewall ports need to be opened for Passive mode as well (60100-60200).
c) The following commands need to be run to configure windows firewall:
netsh advfirewall firewall add rule name="FTP (SSL)" action=allow protocol=TCP dir=in localport=990
At this point Implicit and Explicit modes should be operational in Passive mode.
GoodSync's default configuration achieves the basic goal of synchronization. Here's an awesome article with illustrations on GoodSync's features and setup: How to set up a file-syncing dropbox clone you control. The software provides for more versatile configuration to regulate the process of synchronization: time based selection upon conflicts (newer files win), priority selection (laptop wins over desktop), replicating time modification dates vs copying identical files all over again, etc. These options are nowhere to be found among competition like Google Drive, SkyDrive, etc.
Both OwnCloud and GoodSync provide version control but it's much easier to use Shadow Copies and Previous Versions function built-in
We deliberately avoided the question of syncing up Windows Server Shares that are actively used by groups of people. Although it can be done with Owncloud and GoodSync, such file operations quickly become very expensive bandwidth-wise. To make things worse file-locks and conflicts contribute to nasty problems. Dropbox is no exception here in an SBS scenario, especially in view of an independent user-access control system. Allora recommends providing employees with SBS-based cloud hosting services exclusively for synchronization of their Home Directories.
It's clear that when it comes to cloud-based storage commercial offerings are priced rather expensively. If an organization is running a Small Business Server (or a Windows Server... or even a workstation dedicated for file storage) it'd take a competent IT consultant a couple hours to follow well written guidelenes and set up an alternative system for syncing up Home Directories of domain (network) users. Such solution wouldn't expose sensitive data to a 3-rd party and it wouldn't cost a hefty monthly fee for each user.