Document management in the cloud: a painless option

Advice David Cartwright Dec 14, 2012

Document management is something many organisations consider at the last moment, but cloud is an attractive option

Document management is something that many companies are beginning to realise they need – but only because they've now realised that they have little or no control over the various repositories in which they store their documents.

It's always been common for companies to implement document management retrospectively, but whether you're taking this enforced approach or are being proactive, the cloud's an obvious consideration for your implementation.

It's common for companies to implement document management retrospectively and the cloud's an obvious consideration for implementation

When you're implementing a document management application you have some very simple considerations:

  • Storage: you'll need some robust, backed-up disk to store the data on.
  • Servers: you'll need some server infrastructure to drive the storage.
  • Application: you'll need a document management application to provide the interface between the clients and the servers/storage.
  • Client: there may be some kind of specific client software requirement for interacting with the repository and/or to create and edit documents.

The first three of the above are, of course, bread and butter for cloud operations – and so there's no surprise that there are so many companies out there offering it. The offerings can be split roughly into two types: SharePoint and “not SharePoint” - but whatever the offering you'll find a similar set of core features:

  • Document storage, with access controlled by some kind of directory; always choose a service where the latter can be integrated with your own, as it's a huge pain having to maintain a separate user database.
  • Version control, with check in/out functionality that allows you to roll back and forward between versions and lock files so they can't be updated simultaneously and changes unwittingly over-written.
  • Read-only viewing without the need for custom apps (e.g. magically converting a document into a common format such as PDF so it can be seen by people who don't have the right proprietary editing app).
  • Guaranteed robustness through storage resilience and backup.
  • Secure access from anywhere, not just via (say) a fixed IPSec tunnel into your office but wherever you are, preferably via secure means such as two-factor authentication.

Depending on the relative importance you give to these factors, the decision to move to a cloud-based document management system will fall into one of two categories:

If you're primarily concerned with robustness, directory structure and access control, you're in the "cloud is a very attractive option" category. If portability, remote usage and document sharing (particularly with parties outside your organisation) are the priority, you're in the “Why would I do it any other way than cloud” category.

Attractive option
Storage, servers and apps are all expensive to run internally. Document repositories grow quickly and benefit hugely from SAN-based storage which can implicitly de-duplicate at block level whilst not affecting performance. Big document repositories can benefit from the economies of scale available to large companies that can afford a vast SAN infrastructure, but particularly (though not entirely) in the SME market the most effective way to benefit from the economy of scale is to use someone else's.