Aug 31 2018

Key Considerations for Your Next High Ed Cloud Storage Solution

As cloud storage options increase in higher education, keep campus users on track with a solid institutional strategy.

Cloud storage is ubiquitous, inexpensive and feature-rich. Yet choosing the right platform and rolling it out consistently across an entire campus can be challenging. Employees expect consumer-grade access and abilities, while IT leaders require enterprise-grade controls. 

Choosing a single solution that meets everyone’s needs is a tall order and, depending on institutional requirements, may be impossible. Once IT does pick a winner (or winners), staff must then ensure the implemented configuration matches the campus security posture — an effort that is never truly finished. 

To reap the maximum value from your investments of time, expertise and money, I recommend unifying cloud storage options under a clear, cohesive approach. Thinking through pertinent questions and issues before you deploy a solution can help to make your solution a success for all stakeholders: campus users, IT staff and the institution.

Higher Education Users May Need Multiple Cloud Storage Tools

The simplicity of a single cloud storage platform may be on the institutional wish list, but trying to enforce “one to rule them all” can be a futile effort. In addition, individual users will continue to receive “free” or “included” cloud storage from vendors, even if the institution doesn’t support those one-off deployments. 

Private-sector businesses may mandate the use of a single service, but colleges are more likely to offer multiple solutions to meet the varying needs of their campus communities. Even if many staffers need only one platform on a regular basis, faculty and researchers may need multiple services to meet their needs. In the end, users typically gravitate to the service that works best for their use cases, regardless of any direction or advice from IT staff.

Today, cloud storage platforms tend to be synonymous with cloud collaboration platforms. Google Drive and Box are not simply storage locations, though they can act like it. Configuration and administration of each cloud storage platform are never-ending efforts, thanks to constantly evolving feature sets. 

Cloud storage doesn’t follow the same slow upgrade schedule of traditional on-premises file storage. Continuous delivery models and rapid incremental releases are great for users, who always get the latest and greatest features. But this puts a burden on administrators, who must keep up with each new feature in order to enforce appropriate technical controls. 

Institutional Risk Tolerance Guides Cloud Storage Policies

Every institution is willing to accept a specific amount of risk, and that stance will inform cloud storage policies and procedures. For example, what are the highest-level permissions that can be granted on a particular platform? Can users share files with people outside the institution? 

Can a user host a file publicly, with no login required for access? What ownership models do the platforms support, and how will IT handle data disposition when users leave the institution? 

It’s also important to evaluate existing cloud storage solutions on campus. Do users gravitate to unsupported services because the supported service is locked down too tightly? Do users report that they are confused by which service to use for what task, resulting in unnecessary data sprawl?

As new features are added, and as IT staff observes actual user behavior, it is vital to reevaluate the platform configuration to determine if the intended effect is being realized. 

Educate Users About Cloud Storage Compliance for Sensitive Data

In higher education, collaboration across departments, divisions and schools is common. Users work on multiple types of data as part of various projects. Employees routinely handle sensitive data that may be subject to compliance requirements, including those of HIPAA and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

It is critical to educate users on the applicable institutional policies, rules and regulations that govern all data types. It’s also important to offer cloud solutions that support and encourage the intended correct behavior with regard to access and storage of sensitive data. In the absence of effective and user-friendly options, users will store files wherever they want, outside the purview of compliance staff and IT support. 

To illustrate the point, when considering storage of sensitive data, does the configuration of the cloud storage platform unintentionally force users to download files and email them to colleagues in an office across campus? 

Would it be better to allow file sharing within the cloud platform, giving administrators, compliance teams or auditors a single log of who accessed a file and when? Does your chosen cloud platform enable advanced controls to restrict printing, downloading and copying, or does it merely provide simplistic access controls?

Interactivity Among Cloud Solutions Elevates the User Experience

As new cloud storage solutions roll out features that allow interaction between platforms, users are no longer locked into a single universe. Google Drive lets users edit natively formatted files without converting them to a Google Docs format.

Box lets users create files via integrations with Google and Microsoft Office Online. Allowing cloud platforms to talk to each other through natively supported methods gives users a smooth, consumer-grade experience. Such integrations also serve to increase user adoption of officially supported platforms, while reducing the instances of unsupported or unofficial platforms. 

Mobility Trends Drive Cloud Storage Configuration

Meeting users where they are can be a valid and effective approach. Many users have been using mobile devices and apps in their personal lives for a while now, and more employee work is happening in the mobile space, too. 

Selecting mobile-friendly services initially, then configuring cloud storage to remain mobile-friendly, is important. Allow, enable and encourage use of native mobile apps — every cloud storage service has them. 

Educate employees about which workflows fit into a mobile context and how to take advantage of the features of each service. Equally important: Show users the default security controls for files and folders on each platform, together with how and when to change access for enhanced collaboration.

Multiple Solutions May Be the Best Cloud Storage Strategy

The move to cloud storage is no longer something you have to wait for. It’s ready for you, and it has been ready for years for the vast majority of use cases. Selecting a single platform may be difficult, but then again, limiting your institution to one platform may be unnecessary. 

Identify the services that check all your boxes for compliance and security, and then figure out how to make them play nicely together. Don’t assume you need to put up walls between Google Drive, Box and Microsoft OneDrive. 

Take advantage of native abilities, feature-rich mobile apps and default security settings. Then realize that the ubiquity of cloud storage might require IT staff to spend more time focusing on best practices and getting the most out of the platform — and less chasing down inappropriate use.

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