File sharing beyond the firewall

Box.net brings together online storage and Web services to ease the burden of sharing files across the b-to-b divide

Conventional storage systems work well for local file sharing, but no system I can think of can help you share files outside your organization, unless you commit to cobbling together an in-house solution.

[ MarioApicella's column is now a blog! Get the latest storage news from the Storage Adviser blog. ]

Consumer-grade online services such as Flickr can provide a stopgap means for sharing files, but they lack the security and scalability necessary for dependable corporate use.

Enter Box.net, a startup that offers shareable online file containers to bridge that business-to-business file-sharing gap. The online storage provider offers several levels of service, with enterprise customers gaining access to online "boxes" with unlimited capacity.

That's right: Box.net doesn't price its enterprise-grade service according to capacity metrics. Instead, its fees are per user, per month, with no restrictions on file sizes or capacity per user.

The service enables administrators to configure user accounts to share the contents of folders or a single file with other users, making Box.net a viable alternative to legacy applications such as FTP. To access their box, users need only type their log-in information into a browser over a secure connection. As such, the service is useful not only for file sharing but also for remote access when traveling or telecommuting.

In addition to implementing secure connections, Box.net encodes the names of stored files and rejects scanning from bots and search engines.

Box.net has been around for a few years, but in December, it quietly released OpenBox, a new platform that integrates Box.net's online repository with Web applications such as eFax, EchoSign, Zoho, and many others.

With OpenBox, users can now edit a file online using Zoho or send it immediately via eFax without having to download it to their machine. Moreover, a new feature, released this week, gives users authority to share files without help from an administrator. Box.net uses Isilon storage systems in the background and has two geographically separated datacenters in California. The service backs up to a third site in Washington state using Amazon S3.

Of course, Internet access is crucial for tapping Box.net's service. Without it, files can't be reached. That caveat aside, however, the service provides an opportunity to reduce some of the burden of storage administration, freeing you up to tackle other mission-critical endeavors without having to invest in an in-house solution for sharing files across the business-to-business divide.

Take Box.net for a test spin and see for yourself.

Join me on The Storage Network with questions or comments.

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