Review: ownCloud 6 Addresses Cloud Security FUD

When is a cloud not a cloud? When it’s called an ownCloud. At least that is how Lexington, MA based ownCloud would answer the question. The company has just released a significant upgrade to its ownCloud Enterprise Edition platform, now called ownCloud 6 Enterprise Edition, a software solution that offers cloud-like file sync and share services, all without the need for external cloud service providers or the cloud security risks they pose.

OwnCloud 6 Enterprise Edition is a software/hardware package that administrators can deploy on their own internal infrastructure for full control over a cloud technology-based file synchronization and sharing solution.

What’s more, ownCloud 6 incorporates a file firewall, SAML/Shibboleth authentication, full logging (for auditing), and support for a number of SQL databases. Those elements help extend ownCloud beyond the corporate DMZ and offer cloud-based file sync and share services to external or mobile users, in effect allowing those hosting an internal ownCloud solution to transform that solution into a true cloud services offering. ownCloud 6 further supports that ideology by including an unlimited license for mobile client software, which can also be self-branded.

Hands-on with ownCloud Enterprise Edition 6

When I last reviewed ownCloud Enterprise Edition, I was very impressed with the product’s capabilities and overall design. I only had a few nits to pick. And with this latest release, ownCloud has made some significant enhancements that should quell the protests of any ownCloud 5 Enterprise Edition evaluators.

The first thing I should mention is that the company has made it easier than ever to try out the product. ownCloud 6 Enterprise Edition is available as a fully functional virtual machine, giving potential adopters a 30-day window to fully exercise the product. What’s more, the virtual machine can be had in Hyper-V and VMware editions and is flexible enough to be used with Oracle’s VM Virtualbox, which was the route I chose.

Most of the install process deals with how you choose to set up your virtual appliance. Once that is accomplished, everything afterward happens via a browser-based management console. That said, I would like to have seen a native management console that could be run directly on the virtual appliance and that would allow me to monitor the status of the appliance and execute some configuration scripts and reports.

In reality, however, the lack of a native console is not a dealbreaker. Everything you need to do with the product can be done via the browser-based console, which accesses ownCloud 6 via an IP connection to the virtual appliance’s IP address. The lack of a native/local management app does make it more difficult to solve connectivity issues if you are unable to connect to the appliance via a browser or over IP, though.

Perhaps the most striking enhancement offered in this latest iteration of ownCloud is its improved interface design for both users and administrators. The new access paradigm offers a less cluttered interface and offers more space to work with files. In practice, I found the improved interface much easier to navigate, and I was able to find the content I had access to much easier.

ownCloud 6 file sharing

With that interface redesign in mind, ownCloud has also created elements that make it simpler to control and identify content. For example, new dialog boxes are available for conflict handling and previewing files. The conflict handling mechanism gives users the choice of what to do with duplicate file saves or duplicate file names and prevents content from being overwritten accidentally.

The preview dialog box offers thumbnails of the file contents, making it much easier to identify the file. Other enhancements include the addition of user avatars,  making easier to identify who accesses what, and the inclusion of an activity stream, which offers a logged activity view. In cases of accidental deletion of content, a new undelete function allows users to recover files that would otherwise have been lost forever.

ownCloud has also done a bang-up job on improving the functionality of previously offered features. For example, integration with external storage services, such as DropBox, Swift, GoogleDocs, S3 and others has been improved, while the ability to connect to external WebDAV servers has been added to the mix. Task list and calendars, available as integrated applications, are now easier to use, share and manage.

The product’s customization capabilities have also been enhanced. Users can now apply themes to change the look and feel of  ownCloud instances, further integrating the product into an existing web site. The product also now handles images a lot better with a galleries feature, which allows users to create image galleries based upon custom sorts, defined directories and additional share controls.

An integrated PDF viewer eliminates the need to use external PDF products to view stored content, while public APIs are now available, allowing developers to integrate applications of their own design.With add-on applications in mind, ownCloud 6 Enterprise Edition features an application store, where administrators can automate the installation of 3rd party applications from a constantly growing list.

Other enhancements to the product include:

  • File Firewall: To address enterprise cloud security, DLP, and compliance requirements, ownCloud incorporates a File Firewall, which gives administrators the ability to define rules for connections to the ownCloud server. Rules can prevent access if not met, such as preventing a connection during certain times of the day or from particular locations or even if the company VPN is not detected. Rules can also be defined to ensure that files cannot be synced to computers beyond the firewall or to mobile devices. The File Firewall offers extensive granularity and can define rules for most any connectivity circumstance.
  • Example Files: Administrators can now load user accounts with helpful files such as employee handbooks, holiday schedules, and user guides to facilitate the onboarding of new users. That capability makes it simpler for administrators to define a standard set of content for users.
  • Default folders: OwnCloud administrators can now create pre-configured folder structures, providing a standard for how users organize and interact with ownCloud from the outset. Standard folder structures can significantly improve help desk productivity and end user satisfaction.
  • Security infrastructure: A new LDAP/AD wizard enables administrators to quickly and easily visually integrate ownCloud with existing user directories. SAML Authentication enables organizations to drop ownCloud into existing enterprise environments and authenticate with established identity providers; SAML-based Shibboleth federated authentication allows single sign on across the globe. ownCloud 6 LDAP wizard
  • Jive Collaboration: Jive, an enterprise social collaboration solution, can be configured as a data storage location for ownCloud, which means files saved in Jive are automatically synchronized and appear in folders within ownCloud.ownCloud 6 Jive integration

All things considered, the latest iteration of ownCloud delivers a feature set that should be the envy of any cloud-based file sharing and collaboration service, while providing enterprises with the security features and absolute control over access needed today.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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