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Case study

Best practice UvA: SURFdrive is a valuable addition to other cloud storage services

The University of Amsterdam is an enthusiastic user of the secure cloud storage service SURFdrive. What does this service mean for the university? And where does the rapid growth in the number of users come from?

Data safely stored in the Netherlands

There are many commercial cloud storage services, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Up to a limited amount of data storage, these services are free. The big problem here for users is that they do not know where their data is stored. Chances are it is outside the Netherlands, on servers in America. It is also not always clear what the provider's business model is. For instance, does he perform analysis on your data and earn money with it?

To give researchers and other employees of education and research institutions certainty that the data are in highly secure data centres in the Netherlands and that nothing at all happens to the data, in 2014 SURF introduced SURFdrive, a service developed jointly with several universities and universities of applied sciences.

Institutions involved in development

One of those involved from the very beginning is Ed van Gasteren from the University of Amsterdam. He says: "We were able to give our input in the development phase of the service, which was at the end of 2013. In spring 2014, SURFdrive was ready. At that time, we immediately gave the faculties' information managers an account and asked them: try this out. How does it compare to commercial services? What works nicely, what could be better? In short, share your experiences."

Financial side well sorted out

Those experiences were positive from the very first moment. Yet it took some time before the University of Amsterdam could scale up. 'SURF was still struggling with the pricing (level; per user; minimum per institution, etcetera) - and we also had to figure out how we were going to incorporate this into our fees. Because SURFdrive is not free, and most cloud storage services we used are (at limited volume, initially), think Dropbox and Google Apps for Education. 'We think it makes sense to pay for a well-secured service and the assurance that your data stays in the Netherlands, but we had to agree internally on the financial side,' Van Gasteren says.

"In six months we grew from 50 to 1,000 users. We are now at around 1,500 users out of a total of 8,000 employees who could potentially use it."

Word of mouth

Once the discussion was settled in early 2015, things moved quickly. And that without the university having done too much promotion. Van Gasteren: "We asked the faculties' communication departments if they wanted to include a piece in their newsletter. They all did. Word-of-mouth advertising then did the rest. In six months, we grew from 50 to 1,000 users. We are now at around 1,500 users out of a total of 8,000 employees who could potentially use it.'

Stone in the pond

So there is still room for growth and this is mainly achieved by the stone thrown into the pond making bigger and bigger circles. 'Sharing a file with other users of SURFdrive is very easy, but if you want to share that same file with a non-user it is just a bit more cumbersome for that non-user,' outlines Van Gasteren. 'You then send that person a link to the document. If someone receives a file from you only once, they won't switch straight away, but if you work together more often, they will be tempted to use SURFdrive themselves.

On any device

The main reason for employees to switch is safe personal storage, in such a way that they can access their data anywhere and on any device. After all, SURFdrive is much easier to access from external locations than the university's internal storage systems. 'The researchers who work with privacy-sensitive information were among the first users. They are very aware of the importance of security and the fact that the data remains in the Netherlands,' says Van Gasteren. Another reason for using SURFdrive is document sharing. Van Gasteren: 'Our internal storage only facilitates document sharing within an organisational unit, e.g. a faculty. With SURFdrive, you can very easily share files with employees of your own choice at your own university or at other educational institutions in the Netherlands.'

Not yet for students

The service is not yet offered to students. They work with Google Apps for Education, which is free. In terms of costs, we cannot justify offering SURFdrive to all students at the moment,' says Van Gasteren.

Better to encourage than prohibit

The University of Amsterdam has considered whether it is wise to discourage the use of Dropbox and other commercial services and deliberately chooses not to. 'We think that motivating people to use SURFdrive makes more sense than preventing the use of other tools. Especially since many researchers collaborate in international projects with people who do not have access to SURFdrive. They do not always have a free choice of which storage service they work with. That is why we prefer to insist on the privacy and security risks you run when using a commercial service. SURFdrive does not have those risks.

"Such a close and intensive collaboration with a supplier is unique. That really adds value."

Cooperation SURF provides added value

He concludes by mentioning one final reason for using SURFdrive: 'SURF works closely with us in an ambassador community, which includes several colleges and universities. We regularly discuss together what, if any, additional requirements we have. If there is sufficient enthusiasm, SURF develops the functionality. Such a close and intensive collaboration with a supplier is unique. It really adds value.'

Rogier Spoor

Rogier Spoor


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