A lot of interesting and useful new cloud services have been developed in the last half-dozen years as subscription computing continues to gain traction. However, few of these have been welcomed so quickly and thoroughly by U.S. government agencies as relative newcomer Huddle, a company that offers a service that basically turns any connected device into a highly secure personal assistant.
Huddle on Sept. 12 extended its popular product offering—already in use by more than 100,000 business and government organizations worldwide—by launching what it calls the Connected Desktop. This browser-based service, an alternative to Microsoft SharePoint, enables a user to maintain a current desktop or mobile application set and deploy Huddle's next-generation content collaboration service to access those apps on any type of device.
Huddle's original cloud service consists of a highly secure, interactive app (not a virtual desktop) that not only presents a user's daily or weekly schedule for him or her in real time but automatically researches a user's content stores for PDFs, Word docs, graphics, spreadsheets—in fact, any type of relevant document—and attaches it to the calendar item. There is no need to use a search app; the app's intelligence already knows what is needed. Thus, a user is always prepared for a meeting or other event and pre-armed with the right collateral before the event is to happen.
Can Use Huddle to Collaborate with Insiders, Outsiders
The Huddle app can be used to securely store, share and collaborate on content with people inside and outside of an organization—not necessarily within a private cloud. Huddle can be accessed online, on desktops, and on BlackBerrys, iPhones and iPads.
Additionally, the fact that super-sensitive U.S. agencies—including the well-known secretive, three-letter-acronymed ones—already have vetted the application's secure cloud isn't a bad recommendation for any company.
Now, the London- and San Francisco-based Huddle has extended its service to make it into a sort of super-virtual desktop. Since most people want to use familiar apps whenever possible, the idea of merging tools they already use with a service that enables them to access them on any type of device—desktop or mobile—at any time via a browser can be an attractive one.
"In just the last 12 months, there's been a huge tipping point in the way businesses are adopting the cloud," CEO Alastair Mitchell told eWEEK. "It's becoming completely ubiquitous. We're right at the forefront of that, and we think we're reimagining how the world of work will be when the cloud is basically a computer."
Why Huddle Is 'Transformational'
Mitchell said that Huddle has spent a year on developing this new service, and that it is transformational enough to "move us from a point where we still use laptops and desktops and save stuff locally on a network to a world where we don't need any of that. We can work seamlessly in the cloud with anyone we want, anywhere we want, and we use the cloud as our network. The cloud is our computer and we're just accessing it from any device."
All Huddle needs is a browser, some productivity apps and a device—effectively one that serves as a thin client—to access the cloud, Mitchell said.
Huddle, founded in 2006, uses military- and government-grade 256-bit security, which has been vetted by high-security organizations that included NASA, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 80 percent of U.K. government departments.
Huddle Connected Desktop enables users to open, lock, edit and save files just as they would from a My Documents folder. Project teams can get their work done and move documents seamlessly between devices, as all content and conversations are stored in Huddle's secure cloud. If connectivity is lost while files are being edited via desktop applications, the latest file version is uploaded into Huddle as soon as connectivity is restored.
Extracts Items From Inboxes
Because 65 percent of office workers still use email to share files across the firewall, information is often lost or siloed in individuals' inboxes, Mitchell said. With a Huddle implementation, the integration, attachments and all related email discussions are saved into Huddle's secure cloud in a few clicks.
Email responses are then recorded as a series of comments against the file in Huddle, retaining the context of the discussion—including who provided feedback and when, Mitchell said. Anyone on the email chain who is not already a Huddle user is automatically invited into Huddle to continue the conversation, and all information is recorded, searchable and audited.
"As a result, teams no longer waste time searching for attachments and comments in inboxes, or establishing which document version is final," Mitchell said. "Organizations also have all the information required for compliance or auditing purposes."
Using Huddle's Viewer feature, images and videos can now be previewed in Huddle's secure cloud as easily as they can in a My Pictures folder. Users can locate the latest version of a media file and share it with colleagues. Files load as office workers scroll down the page, making the file selection process simple.
Huddle Dashboard consolidates all business activity into one activity stream, much like Facebook's, Mitchell said. The dashboard shows users their business activity stream and all the people with whom they are working; workers gain instant visibility of all activity and projects relevant to them. Files for approval, notifications, comments, tasks and actions are immediately flagged, and teams can easily see what progress has been made across projects.
Offices 'No Longer Just Physical Environments'
"The office of the future is no longer a physical environment, with a desk, chair and workstation tied to the network. It's a secure virtual environment that is accessible from anywhere via whatever device people wish to use," Mitchell said. "People's devices are now the doorway to their world of work.
"With our Connected Desktop, we've taken the focus away from the PC and given workers the ability to securely work with people in the cloud using the applications on their desktop, smartphone or tablet, regardless of where they are. This is the new way of working and the future of the workplace."
What Huddle does not offer are chat features for synchronous collaboration or deep reporting tools.
The Huddle business model is designed for the enterprise and is sold on a per-seat basis for a monthly fee. Baseline prices start at $20 per user per month for small businesses, and $40 per user per month for enterprises. Users can get a free 90-day trial, which includes 100MB of online storage space and a few other limitations. Volume discounts are available.