3 enterprise-strength file sync services to check out

Popular file-sync services are great for individuals, but can lack controls for access, encryption and other services that enterprises require

This should be the year your organization looks to dump its consumer file-sharing software. Don’t get me wrong—many of those services are great for individuals, but they’re not really suitable for enterprises. There are other products, however, that offer the file sync that Dropbox and Box and others do so well and so seamlessly, while also providing enterprise-level controls around access, encryption, identity, and more.

In this article, I will compare and contrast three prominent services so that in the new budget year, you and your IT department can make the right decisions.

A buyer’s guide

There are five key features that enterprises should keep in mind when evaluating products in this file sync space, and I’ve written this analysis with an eye toward these five characteristics:

  • Information rights management: An administrator should be able to control what happens to a file that is downloaded or uploaded from the service, especially when it comes from a user external to the company, and especially how that file can be distributed after it is downloaded from the service. (How many politicians from this previous election cycle might have wished for this protection?)
  • A robust set of security features: You want single sign-on and federation or directory sync so your users get populated (and more importantly, depopulated) automatically, your data is encrypted both at rest and in transit, the service’s data centers are compliant with HIPAA and all of the other industry-specific acronyms that ought to matter to you as an enterprise, you have granular file- and folder-level controls, and you have control over external sharing and collaboration.
  • Reliable synchronization: Those familiar with this space will note the conspicuous absence of Microsoft’s OneDrive for Business in this analysis, and that absence can be explained very simply: For a long time it was extremely poor at actually syncing anything. A new sync client has been released that has purportedly improved reliability by a wide margin, but there are plenty of other solutions on the market without the checkered past of OneDrive for Business. When it comes to the enterprise, you can’t put up with slow syncs that fail.
  • Licensing and storage flexibility: Not all of your users need equal amounts of space. Can you easily reassign storage quotas among the seats of the sync solution that you purchase? How accessible is additional storage, and how expensive is it? Can users or administrators granularly control what files and folders are synchronized, or is it an all-or-nothing approach? Can those controls be easily administered?
  • Deployment flexibility: While some smaller- to medium-sized shops will not mind an entirely cloud-first approach, enterprises want to be able to control where data is located. Can the service be run on a “private” cloud—in other words, can the service perform the synchronization only while letting the actual storage of files in a central repository happen on an on-premises server?

[ Further reading: 8 data storage and recovery tips ]

And now for the analysis.

eFolder Anchor

eFolder Anchor is an enterprise-grade file sharing and synchronization platform that operates both as a public cloud service and as a hybrid cloud offering. It lets enterprises synchronize files and folders from and to a variety of devices, including on-premises file servers and data stores. It can operate as a simple file synchronization service, sending and receiving files in folders stored on your local server up to the cloud where other devices can access them, and keeping them all in sync. But it also contains some rather advanced management features, including file and folder locking and block-level replication that cuts down on the bandwidth required for recurring synchronization runs.

Anchor can also now edit files over the web and save those changes back to the cloud (and thus later synchronize those changes everywhere), so it can also work in a pinch as a mobile office solution.

Of particular importance to enterprises are the user management and policy enforcement capabilities of Anchor. Devices can “subscribe” to team shares, and administrators can turn on and off access per device to these shares, making it more straightforward to prevent sensitive business data from being synchronized to devices that simply should not have it.

As far as users go, Anchor can import user data from directories like Active Directory, and you can also configure single sign-on so users do not have to remember multiple user names and passwords. Users can be placed into groups in the Anchor service, which can make quick work of assigning rights and permissions within the service to collections of users in similar roles.

From a security standpoint, all data within Anchor is encrypted with 256-bit AES keys, currently the gold standard in encryption. Transit-layer encryption is also enforced so data is never not protected. In addition, administrators can remote-wipe devices that are lost or stolen. However, many of the information protection and rights management features on individual files and folders require a constant internet connection to be useful; it would be nice if these features did not prevent offline access to files if a given user has the appropriate rights and role memberships to access them.

Interestingly, eFolder sells Anchor only through a channel partner, which means that (a) you have to do business with a middleman (and you know the middleman is being paid somehow with your dollars), and (b) the middleman you are paying is ultimately not responsible for the operation of the service. That said, many channel partners offer value-added services and deployment assistance, specialized knowledge, and implementation and usage help that make it worth the cost. (For what it’s worth, Anchor provides a feature where service providers and channel partners can disable their own access to their clients’ data stored within Anchor; this is probably worth making mandatory in any agreements you sign when purchasing the solution.)

Obviously, the opaque nature of the sales channel makes it difficult to quote prices on the Anchor solution, as each channel partner might choose to mark up or sell at cost a certain number of seats, and also the size of your deployment and environment will necessarily change the cost and discounts available with purchase. But for rough calculations, you can assume your channel partner is buying seats from eFolder at about $7 per user, and it is left to you to figure out what value you are getting for any channel-partner margin you might be charged above that figure.

Autotask Workplace

The product formerly known as Soonr, Autotask Workplace is a comprehensive offering that checks most of the boxes that an enterprise file sharing and synchronization offering should have. Security of course is paramount, and Workplace has all of the encryption at rest and in transit that you would expect. Also, Autotask’s data centers and service are HIPAA-compliant, making this solution attractive for medical offices, insurance carriers, and other businesses that make a living dealing with Americans’ health data.

Devices and users both synchronize with the service and, as a result, administrators can also perform remote wipes of synchronized files on lost and stolen devices without wiping out a user’s access to the service. There are also great controls for sharing a folder with those external to your company, including the ability to restrict invited team members to “create and modify,” “modify” or “read-only” permissions. (Contrast this with Dropbox, where if you share something with another user or email address, that person has full rights to do whatever.) The administrator can also restrict additional reshares and the creation of public links to further contain how far stored data can spread outside of your environment.

A particularly useful feature is the ability to use the mobile client to pull a file from a remote computer, great for those users who find themselves needing that last-minute PowerPoint deck that is located only on the local drive back on their office computer. This scenario might well happen in your environment because users can select which files and folders get synchronized via the service, rather than just pushing their entire My Documents folder to the cloud. This saves on precious storage space, while the remote-access feature is a great relief valve in case something gets missed.

One of the big misses for Autotask Workplace is the lack of a robust set of digital rights management tools—the ability for an administrator to be able to control what happens with a document in terms of viewing, editing, and transmission after it is outside of the storage service. The mobile app experience on Android is also a bit of a miss, too, but iOS users will be pleased to know that the Workplace client for Apple devices is indeed first rate. In addition, the inline editing features are very minimal, mostly limited to commenting on existing files, so this solution should not be considered for shops that need a more robust implementation of “mobile office” capabilities.

As far as pricing goes, Autotask Workplace is also not sold directly to end users and consumers; it too uses the channel model. Workplace is licensed on a per-user, per-month model, meaning you pay for each seat on a monthly basis. Each seat is given a set amount of storage (this is currently 50GB), but this storage in reality is pooled across all of your seats, so if you have fifty users, that’s two and a half terabytes of storage you have access to in your account.

You can control each user’s quota individually as well while still having access to the total pooled amount of storage. This is a nice way of allocating storage in an account, and allows users with minimal syncing space needs (like your typical knowledge worker, who might just need a couple of gigs for some photos, Word documents, and spreadsheets) to subsidize users with heavier storage needs, like designers and video and audio editors, without necessarily having to purchase extra storage, which is available in increments of 100GB for an additional monthly fee.

Egnyte Connect

Egnyte is an industrial-strength file sync product, and among the prominent solutions in this space, Egnyte Connect probably has the best “hybrid cloud” approach to file sync. This product takes a dual-headed approach. StorageConnect, which stores data entirely on on-premises machines, puts encryption key generation, renewal and management of the key, and encryption itself entirely in the hands of the customer. The other technology, called StorageSync, handles key management and encryption for cloud-stored data and is more like the other solutions.

One nice bit about Egnyte, at least from an implementation standpoint: You can seed your first synchronization over the good old FTP protocol at a pretty decent speed. The normal synchronizations work over other protocols, too, but it is nice to have a faster, more resilient option than staring at a webpage console for seven hours while you upload 50GB worth of data.

Egnyte offers several price points and options for purchasing, and is one of the few enterprise solutions that can be purchased directly by customers without having to go through a channel partner. (This alone may be worth the price of admission.) Plans and pricing range from 5TB of pooled storage up to 15TB, for somewhere between $8 and $15 per month per user—for up to 100 employees. For more seats, one can negotiate directly with Egnyte for more aggressive volume pricing.

The last word

Any of the three products profiled offers a huge step up in security and integrity from some of the more popular products. Depending on how mobile your end users are, what your storage needs may be, and how your budget is looking this year, there is sure to be an enterprise-grade file sync solution that is right for your business.

This story, "3 enterprise-strength file sync services to check out" was originally published by Computerworld.

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