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The only things everyone seems to agree about when it comes to hybrid cloud computing is that it’s going to be around for a long time to come — and many vendors have many ways of approaching it. For M-Files, the unique selling point is a system that can manage all your content without repositories.

That sounds like a big claim … and maybe it is. However, M-Files has been developing this for years, first in Europe and now in the US, and the proof of its claims are clear in its continued and staggering growth rates.

Growing With Metadata

Companies like Alfresco and Accenture are all making strong moves in the hybrid space. But M-Files has a unique selling point in that it offers enterprises the possibility of managing content using metadata only.

In fact, M-Files can attribute at good portion of its success over the past few years to its ability to convince enterprises that this is an effective way of surfacing all the content that is stored within the firewalls. In late November, Greg Milliken Vice President of Marketing for M-Files, estimated that overall growth for the year would be in the region of 80 percent.

We recently sat down with Milliken to discuss hybrid computing and how M-Files is helping enterprises manage hybrid and cloud computing.

Agile, Flexible

The key to M-Files development has been its flexibility and agility. It has an option for companies that want on-premises ECM, those who want to do it all in the cloud and even those who want to move between the two. Milliken says M-Files’ architecture makes that easy. "We ensured early on that our system could be deployed very flexibly fully on-premises or fully on a public cloud," he said.

As a long time Microsoft partner, M-Files also invested in Azure early on. "The result was deep integration with the Microsoft stack with things like Active Directory support. This allows for smooth integration and connection with a company’s existing user set-up and groups and things like that,” he said.

However, it’s not just about Microsoft. It’s about all the other systems that operate across the enterprise and work across many verticals. M-Files offers an enterprise a faster and simpler way to manage documents and other information, he boasted.

He added that M-Files improves productivity and responsiveness by giving employees instant access to the information they need to do their job, when they need it and from any device through a flexible set of deployment options.

"In terms of systems and deployments we’re really agnostic. We don’t say, for example, that you have to stay on-premises if you are in life sciences. We listen to the needs of the customer and try and support them in that decision," he said.

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From Microsoft Research,Hosting and Cloud Study 2014, Hosting and Cloud Go Mainstream

Cloud, On-Premises Content

Because M-Files has maintained this system agnostic position, it can easily provide connections between content that is stored in the cloud and the content that is stored on-premises.

This, Milliken argues, is pretty much the reason for the development of hybrid cloud computing in the first place. The result, he said, is that M-Files is now moving from the small-to-medium (SMB) sized business space to take on the bigger and more complex enterprise space too.

"We find that many enterprises have made substantial investments in SAP Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, for example, and they are not going to change that and get rid of it because of the amount of money they have invested," he said.

Using Metadata

However, it would be inaccurate to think of M-Files in the same terms as traditional repository-based systems. Over the years of its development in Finland to its current expansion in the US, M-Files has made much of the fact that it has successfully broken down the need or use for repositories.

Milliken adds that its architecture enables it to build and organize information based on what the information is rather than where it is stored through the comprehensive use of metadata:

We have focused on organizing information by what it is and not where it is stored so as part of its intake into the system it is gagged either manually or automatically. So now I classify it by metadata rather than sticking it in a folder. The result is that the location becomes irrelevant. Apply this across your system and all your content and you develop a situation where the content rather than where it is locate becomes important.

That's not to say that there are no repositories. It just means that as far as the person who is looking for data is concerned, the location of the data is irrelevant.

Where specific repositories are required in situations where, for example, it is necessary to keep content in a geographically specific locations for compliance reasons, then the development and management of repositories is not difficult:

Say the enterprise has operations in Europe, then the content that is generated replicates to a US-based vault for better proximity and performance. Likewise for enterprises in Europe that generate US content."

M-Files Progress

The development of this kind of ECM has pushed M-Files into the top leader board of many of the independent research bodies’ reports. Only recently, it was placed in the Leaders” Quadrant of the Nucleus’ ECM Value Matrix for the second half of 2014.

In that research, Nucleus described M-Files as a document management system that uses metadata to search, process and achieve content adding that the system of using metadata for content management is “efficient, prevents document duplication, and allows for an intuitive interface.

It also points that M-Files has developed partnerships with 18 vendors including Salesforce and Epson to improve system functionality and the end-user experience. Furthermore, it points out that it is generally cheaper than other ECM vendors.

Last year, M-Files was listed in Gartner’s Niche Quadrant for ECM it is Magic Quadrant pointing out that it has evolved its cloud and on-premises hybrid architecture to reflect clients' needs, using "multi-vault cooperation and replication to control many aspects of security, processes, sharing and other functions.

However, it also noted that there remains “a disconnect between its marketing message and its product road map, “ adding that “ it needs to clarify its direction and focus on specific use cases."

Milliken counters by pointing out that it has had a 50 percent average growth rate year-on-year for the past six years (a rate Gartner acknowledges) and that it has built its product on money earned from sales.

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From Microsoft Research,Hosting and Cloud Study 2014, Hosting and Cloud Go Mainstream

In 2013, M-Files broke its longstanding refusal to accept venture funding by taking $7.8 million from investors to spur growth and boost its expansion in the US.

But there are some potential obstacles ahead. The hybrid space is getting more and more competitive. At the beginning of December, Microsoft and Accenture teamed up for a hybrid play after; research carried out by Microsoft showed that nearly half of the 2,000 respondents surveyed had already deployed a hybrid cloud of some kind.

The survey showed 60 percent used a private cloud along with a hosted private cloud while 42.1 percent combined an on premises private cloud with a public cloud. SharePoint users are also said to be eyeing hybrid clouds.

There are many others that are setting themselves up to compete in the hybrid space with other agile vendors like Hyland or Alfresco, also longtime players here.

Ultimately, enterprises vote with their pockets — and have been voting for M-Files for quite some time now as its growth figures show. How the others fare remains to be seen, but it will all depend on what differentiator they can bring with their products.