Texas A&M's Cloud Offers Secure Collaboration

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-07-31 Email Print this article Print
Texas A&M collaboration

One of the nation's leading universities adopted a secure collaboration tool to sync, share, access and collaborate on documents on any device at any time.

Universities and major research facilities face enormous challenges when sharing data, files and content securely and effectively. Email is inefficient and lacks security. Services such as Dropbox and Box.net sometimes lack critical features and protections. And many social business tools aren't appropriate.

That was the situation facing the Texas A&M University system. "We have a lot of different constituencies—researchers, professors, students, staff and visitors—and it's critical that they share content," says Danny Miller, the university's system chief information security officer. "In the past, we were not able to do this in an effective and secure way."

Miller and other leaders at the university realized that they had to take a more sophisticated approach. Texas A&M is part of a statewide network of 11 campuses with more than 131,000 students. In addition, its faculty researchers work on more than U.S. $820 million in research projects.

"We were concerned about how we store, manage and exchange files because we are becoming a much larger research organization that interfaces with large research arms of the federal government," Miller explains. "There is a significant amount of intellectual property residing in our systems, including work on an Ebola vaccine. So we had practical and security issues to address."

Providing Flexibility and Convenience

For a solution to this complex problem, Texas A&M turned to Syncplicity, which allows students, staff and faculty to sync, share, access and collaborate on files on any device—including iPads and smartphones—at any time. IT staff can effectively control access and data accessibility, while providing a high level of flexibility and convenience for users.

A two-tiered approach enables the university to store confidential and highly sensitive data locally, while storing less critical data in the cloud using more conventional security protections. "We couldn't put a pure cloud-based solution in place because of security issues," Miller explains.

The new environment makes it easy for groups and teams to share documents, while ensuring that they are constantly in sync. What's more, if someone is lacking a specific app—say Microsoft Word or PowerPoint—Syncplicity automatically displays the file.

"We have students who are pretty tech-savvy, and we have administrative people who aren't used to anything more than a green screen, though they know how to use a smartphone," Miller reports. "Because the interface is simple and easy to use, it works for different groups equally well."

The solution also offers a geofencing feature that prevents users from opening classified documents when outside the United States. Finally, the platform offers fast provisioning and deprovisioning of accounts and services, as well as recovery for files that become damaged or are accidentally deleted.

The university went live with the solution in early 2015 and is rolling out the technology in phases. It started with its health science center, which is where a lot of the school's high-end research happens.

"In the past, we had to play whack-a-mole with security," Miller acknowledges. "Today, we are able to use the platform proactively to manage and secure data across more than 200,000 seats. We have tamed a chaotic situation and taken a huge step forward."

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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