Wildebeests amassing on the banks of the Mara river.
EFSS migrations aren't always smooth and pretty. PHOTO: Max Handelsman

Enterprise File Sync & Share (EFSS) vendors are at a crossroads. 

They face many serious challenges, but the most fundamental in defining their future will be how they migrate new customers to the cloud.

Just like Microsoft SharePoint before them, Box, Dropbox, Egnyte, Syncplicity, Accellion and a host of similar vendors have had a massive impact. In doing so, they have provided the opportunity to access content anywhere, any time and on any device.

It has been revolutionary.

Today’s EFSS Vendor Challenges

But even so, today’s EFSS vendors now face the very same challenges their predecessors did:

  • How to get buyers to migrate legacy systems in the first place.
  • How to get those that do migrate to go beyond just "lifting and shifting."
  • How to get customers to take ownership of, actively manage and collaboratively use those migrated files.

Cloud Migration: Big Opportunity or Big Problems?

If EFSS systems can’t overcome those challenges, then they are no more than cheap storage options. And if that becomes the case, then EFSS systems will be abandoned and their contents eventually lifted and shifted to even cheaper locations as time goes by.

Today, the majority of digital files (our estimates say around 80 percent) remain on-premises in legacy file storage and document management systems. But migrating those typically poorly managed systems to the cloud can be far from straightforward.

Migrations Can Be Complicated

Though many cloud migration vendors (40 or so by our count) will tell you their solutions are as easy as downloading their low-cost migration applications, that is typically not the case. The reality for many enterprises is that migration projects are complex and often fraught with difficulty. 

Whether it be labyrinths of encrypted folders, complex permission mapping exercises, distributed locations or simply the sheer volume and dated nature of the files, migrations can be massive undertakings. 

Indeed, in larger migration projects there are only a handful of specialist firms like Metalogix, AvePoint, Tervela and SkySync with the experience and technology to effectively manage the process.

Image by Alan Pelz-Sharpe showing two types of EFSS migration.

Worthy Investment?

To continue to grow, EFSS vendors face four migration challenges:

1. Convincing enterprises that the investment is worth it

EFSS vendors must convince large organizations that the business case for moving their legacy labyrinth of difficult-to-manage, yet deeply-embedded file servers and document management systems to cloud storage not only exists but is worth the investment and effort.

2. Ensuring migrations themselves are fast and simple

Providing migration tools and services that are cost effective and fast are vital to facilitating enterprise moves. In fact, good migration tools and services do exist, and some migrations will be simple enough to leverage fully automated tools to do the job. Many, though, are much more complex, and the technology and professional experience to unravel and migrate legacy systems are limited.

3. Making file optimization part of the migration process

EFSS vendors must ensure that cleaning and optimizing files gets baked into the migration process. Very few migrations today do anything beyond lifting and shifting piles of junk data and files from one location to another. 

EFSS firms need to provide much more in the way of automated real-time analysis, best-practices advice and file-management expertise to help their clients determine what is really of value and what is just expensive junk.

4. Build ongoing business value into the migration

Ensure that enough ongoing business value is added for new customers at the point of migration and beyond so that they won’t immediately want to embark on a "cloud hopping" search for even cheaper options.

The Negative Impact of Cloud Hopping

These challenges are not new, but the urgency to address them has never been greater due to changes taking place in the EFSS industry and its business models. 

For example, vendors like OpenText Documentum and Microsoft SharePoint that sold legacy file servers and other on-premises file systems were traditionally paid handsomely up front via license and maintenance revenue deals. Sadly, that meant that, in many cases, they had little interest in what their buyers actually did with their systems once they were sold. 

Today, EFSS vendors have subscription-based pricing models but profits aren’t built in upfront and typically only come in later years. That means when an EFSS customer cloud hops early on to an even cheaper EFSS option, the EFSS vendors’ bottom lines suffer. And we are seeing exactly that behavior happen on an increasingly common basis.

Content Creation Platforms, Smart Migration

Recently Gartner began to refer to EFSS systems as Content Collaboration Platforms (CCPs) to better reflect the full ambition of EFSS vendors to enable business collaboration.

But for EFSS vendors to truly realize that ambition, there are some important bridges yet to cross. The most fundamental will be creating smart migration, aimed at squaring EFSS’s bold promises of simplicity and ease with the hard realities of legacy migration.