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Why ownCloud's CEO isn't worried about the death of Safe Harbor

Katherine Noyes | Dec. 18, 2015
The file-sync and share provider doesn't do storage, so in many ways it sidesteps cross-border issues.

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Data sovereignty has become a hot-button issue ever since the Safe Harbor agreement was struck down. Credit: IDGNS

Data sovereignty has become a hot-button issue ever since the EU's top court struck down the Safe Harbor agreement in October, and for many users of file-synchronization and sharing services, it poses a considerable problem. OwnCloud CEO Markus Rex sees it as more of an opportunity.

That's because OwnCloud -- which in many ways competes with the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive -- does file sync and share a bit differently from many of the better-known contenders. Most notably, it doesn't provide the storage: Customers can use whatever they want for that part of the equation.

What OwnCloud delivers is software giving users access to their data through a Web interface, sync clients or WebDAV while providing a user-friendly platform for viewing, syncing and sharing across devices easily.

It's essentially a self-hosted file-sync and share service, and it focuses on giving users control. Permissions, access control lists and compliance requirements are respected and can be met or configured at the file, object store or user level. Users have full control of their encryption keys, which are kept entirely separate from storage.

"We're really an abstraction layer," Rex said. "You get access to all your on-premises and off-premises files through an easy-to-use interface, and it's all under the CIO's control."

Europe has long had strict data-protection laws, and the Safe Harbor agreement was an attempt to ensure EU-level protection for European data processed in the U.S. It was deemed inadequate by the Court of Justice of the European Union, however, leaving many companies scrambling over cross-border issues.

Whereas providers such as Dropbox have been racing to set up European storage infrastructure in response, OwnCloud hasn't had do to any of that since it doesn't provide the storage component to begin with.

"It's very explicit: You own your own storage," Rex explained. "Companies just run our software behind their own firewalls."

Because OwnCloud is open source, the software is even available for inspection, should the need arise.

OwnCloud may be set apart to some extent by the fact that it's open source, but it's not alone in its ability to use on-premises storage as the central repository for enterprise file sync and share, noted Guy Creese, a research vice president with Gartner.

Citrix ShareFile, Egnyte, Novell Filr and Syncplicity also offer similar capability, Creese said.

Such services have been providing enterprise-class products for some time already, so "any concerns have long since been vetted by their users," noted Rob Enderle, principal analyst with Enderle Group.

 

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