More than a storage technology, enterprise file synchronization products have become a vital collaboration tool that helps workers remain productive on PCs, laptops, phones and tablets, particularly when they're on the move. Here's what technology managers should know about file sync and share solutions and the role they play in your organization.
What is enterprise filesharing
Popularized by Dropbox Business, Box, OneDrive and other cloud-based products, enterprise filesharing, otherwise known as file sync and share solutions (EFSS), allow users to securely access copies of their business files using multiple devices or a web browser.
Generally, they take the contents of a designated folder, store copies in a provider's cloud storage systems, and distribute those copies to a user's other devices. When a change is made to a file on one device, a Word document for example, the solution automatically distributes those changes as well. This is the "sync" part.
In terms of fileshare functionality, these services allow work colleagues to collaborate on files without cluttering up one another's inboxes with email attachments. This helps relieve the strain on email servers and enables businesses to prevent multiple older versions of the same file from littering their systems and complicating workflows.
Typically, files can be shared by emailing, texting or messaging a URL generated by the service or by selecting from a list of contacts that appear in the service's sharing options, provided those users are also enrolled in the service. Given the appropriate permissions—more on that later—users can then edit shared files and have those changes automatically distributed to their colleagues, ensuring everyone on the team is working on the most current version.
What if some of those changes are ill-advised, or worse, if a file is accidentally deleted.
Worry not. Dropbox Business and other services offer file recovery features that allow users to restore lost files and folders. Likewise, they often keep a file history, taking snapshots of given file over time, allowing users to restore older revisions.
Security and privacy controls are another big factor.
Encryption is a given on the major enterprise file sync and share services, making it tough for potential attackers to glean any useful data. They also generally offer robust access management and offer integrations with Active Directory and other identity management and access control platforms. In addition to preventing data leaks, this allows organizations to extend strong or customized authentication capabilities to their users, along with time-saving conveniences like single sign-on.
The same goes for organizations that opt for an on-premises file transfer solution. The chief benefit here is that an IT department has full control over how storage and security is managed.
The difference between file sync and share and backup
Although similar in some respects, file sync and share and backup are not the same.
Sure, a file sync and share product can help you recover a file if hard drive fails or your PC meets an unfortunate end, but it does not provide the data protection capabilities of a full-fledged backup solution. On PCs and mobile devices, a backup can help users restore the entire device to its condition before disaster struck.
File sync and share products will help users recover their files in case of trouble, as mentioned above, but little else. Any files stored outside the folders used in by these solutions may end up lost. Essentially, these solutions are meant to enhance collaboration and productivity, and any data protection capabilities they happen to include are added perks.
In business settings, centrally-managed backup is the way to go. This ensures that the proper processes, policies and security standards are being applied. Enterprise file sync and share, while a nice safety net in some cases, often falls short of providing comprehensive data protection.
File sync and share implementation
Here are factors to consider before deploying an enterprise file sync and share product.
- Cloud or on-premises?
With little more than a valid credit card, businesses can set their users up on a cloud-based service with pay-as-you-go pricing. IT pros will want to ensure that they have the network bandwidth to accommodate the added internet traffic these apps generate.
Taking an on-premises approach will require some upfront costs, but they can exert total control over their file sync and share operations. This is an especially attractive proposition for businesses whose workers regularly collaborate on files involving highly sensitive or private information.
- Mobility in mind
EFSS is synonymous with mobile productivity. While it's a safe bet that the solution you're eyeing boasts a strong mobile app ecosystem, it's vital that its apps and integrations meet the needs of your business.
End users will want apps that will allow them to quickly access their files on smartphones, tablets and PCs. Features like built-in viewers, notifications and integrations with third-party apps that enable users to edit and save files on their mobile devices are key to keeping mobile workforces happy.
- Enterprise-grade manageability
IT managers, meanwhile, will want a product with enterprise-grade management and security features. It also helps if it works well with their organization's enterprise mobility management solution.
A good EFSS product will have a policy engine that helps organizations keep a tight lid on their data, preventing unauthorized filesharing or revoking access if a PC or phone goes missing. Features to look for include single sign-on support, multi-factor authentication and permissions that allow businesses to restrict filesharing to trusted users or remotely wipe data if a device mysteriously disappears or an employee goes rogue.
Coupled with a mobile device management solution, administrators will be able to centrally manage the solution, add more layers of security and assert control over their organization's data on personal devices. It also helps combat shadow IT, or the unsanctioned use of apps for work purposes.
Eye on security for filesharing
Since most fileshare activity involves data leaving the confines of one's corporate firewall, security is a major concern.
The good news is that save for a few early missteps, today's public cloud file sync and share solutions have world-class security and encryption. The same is true for on-premises solutions from the likes of Egnyte, EMC Syncplicity and Citrix ShareFile.
For the best of both worlds, many enterprises have adopted a hybrid approach.
On-premises offerings from Egynte, EMC and other providers often include a hybrid component that allows organizations to tap into the public cloud to extend their fileshare services to their global workforces and partners. Security, privacy and access controls also come along for the ride, allowing businesses to tightly control how data flows in and out of the organization for secure file sharing.
Multifactor authentication is another helpful feature, keeping unauthorized users out even if they happen to glean a user's password, although it can add a little friction to the login process if a user is in a hurry. Directory and identity services integration help organizations further control access to sensitive files.
Finally, don't overlook data privacy.
Make certain your vendor is compliant or helps ensure compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or other regulatory schemes that govern how private data is handled in your industry. Also helpful is data loss prevention (DLP) support. Integrations with leading DLP solutions will help block attempts to unnecessarily share files that contain social security numbers, credit cards or confidential information.