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How to compare enterprise file sync-and-sharing software options

When comparing and assessing file sync-and-sharing tools, buyers should focus on security, user experience, collaboration capabilities and file synchronization.

A well-run enterprise file sync-and-sharing system can improve collaboration, enhance user productivity and better secure file management. EFSS is a business tool that utilizes the cloud and traditional network systems to address today's complex content collaboration needs. Working alone or with existing information technologies, EFSS platforms transfer and store files in an encrypted manner where users can easily manage, monitor and audit them. Individuals and teams across the enterprise can use this technology to allow for secure file access, whenever and wherever, across traditional desktop systems, as well as mobile devices.

The bulk of the EFSS market is composed of a relatively small number of vendors. Some vendors are household names, while others are less recognizable. Before vendor selection, one of the most important aspects of any successful IT endeavor is to fully understand the enterprise's specific needs. There are five main areas where EFSS technology can help stabilize business processes and improve file sharing and collaboration among both traditional and mobile users.

Data security

Enterprise file sync-and-sharing software has strong security support for even the largest of enterprise needs. For example, OneDrive from Microsoft, as part of Office 365, offers data loss prevention technology that can properly protect intellectual property and personally identifiable information across a diverse user base. Google is well-known for supporting e-discovery and legal hold features through its Vault platform. Other vendors, such as Egnyte and Microsoft, have this capability as well.

BlackBerry Workspaces touts its digital rights management capabilities by embedding security directly into the files themselves. It can also integrate with existing enterprise authentication systems and mobile device management technology. Encryption of data at rest and in transit is a must-have feature that is well-supported across all vendors. Some vendors, such as Egnyte, provide full control capabilities for data protection by using existing on-premises encryption and key management.

The bulk of the EFSS market is composed of a relatively small number of vendors. Some vendors are household names, while others are less recognizable.

Compliance with industry and government standards and regulations varies among enterprise file sync-and-sharing vendors. If enterprises have unique needs involving the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, they'll want to make sure that the prospective vendors can meet these requirements. Small and medium-sized organizations with more limited IT and security expertise might recognize and appreciate the compliance and security investments made by some of the big-name vendors, such as Google and Dropbox. That said, it seems that all vendors have dedicated a tremendous amount of resources to ensuring a secure implementation and ongoing management of EFSS.

User experience

The user experience, especially as it crosses from traditional desktops to mobile devices, is an important feature to look at when considering enterprise file sync-and-sharing tool options. Currently, about 85% of Fortune 500 companies, as well as companies across industry verticals, use Microsoft OneDrive, which is likely due to its recognizable brand name and interface. An EFSS tool that meshes well with what people are already familiar with is a big part of what makes up a positive user experience. Google Drive is another EFSS tool that stands out in terms of user experience since it is also so widely used. The Google Drive interface, like most other Google services, is all about simplicity on the local desktop, as well as mobile. Dropbox and Citrix ShareFile are also popular because of their streamlined user experiences.

Egnyte Connect touts being able to embrace shadow IT, while still meeting the needs of IT. Whether shadow IT is shunned or supported in your organization, this type of approach can make for a more successful EFSS environment. When you can make enterprise file sync-and-sharing software accessible to users across all platforms, while utilizing it to solve your business and IT challenges, then you have achieved what's arguably the most difficult part of deploying or standardizing this type of technology.

Storage

In terms of pure cloud infrastructure, the big-name players stand out. Vendors such as Box, Google and Microsoft have impressive cloud capabilities that are both resilient and extensible to the largest of organizations. But it's more than just cloud resources and resilience -- there are three core storage options for enterprise file sync and sharing: pure cloud, on-premises and hybrid. For example, Egnyte Connect disintermediates its content creation and collaboration from storage infrastructure by allowing users of the EFSS platform to collaborate on content regardless of where it is located. This approach allows them to centralize policy management and enforcement.

Accellion's kiteworks hybrid EFSS platform has been well-received by users. Its single-pane-of-glass view can help manage common environments, such as SharePoint and Documentum, as well as additional EFSS products, such as Box and Dropbox. Hybrid tools are especially beneficial for global enterprises that are more complex or have specific requirements mandating where users can transfer or store certain types of files. For example, Syncplicity's PrivacyRegions feature allows users to seamlessly share folders and files with others and still adhere to region-specific protection and residency regulations.

Sharing and collaboration

Given its integration with widely used Office 365 applications, Microsoft OneDrive stands out in terms of collaboration. Additional vendors that support collaborative content sharing, both internal and external to the organization, include Citrix ShareFile through its Microsoft Office 365 coediting and Microsoft Outlook plug-in. ShareFile also integrates business workflows tailored to specific industries, such as accounting and healthcare, and simplifies the e-signature process. Egnyte integrates with Google Apps accounts, as well as Office 365, Active Directory and Microsoft Azure, and allows users to create and assign specific action items or tasks to maximize the collaboration capabilities. Similarly, AirWatch by VMware has something called Content Locker that provides a single access point to content across more than 30 content repositories, such as OneDrive and Dropbox.

File synchronization

An important aspect of EFSS technology that admins often take for granted is file sync. The chosen tool should ensure that content based locally or in the cloud is available anytime, anywhere regardless of whether the user is on a traditional computer, smartphone or tablet. Vendors with file synchronization capabilities that stand out in a positive way include Syncplicity and Dropbox. However, all EFSS vendors can meet basic file-sharing and synchronization needs -- hence their name and categorization. For example, Box allows for automatic updates on new file creations and file edits so that collaborators are always in the loop. Additionally, Box Sync allows users to access and share files from any device across their environment.

Buyers must ask themselves what they need this capability to achieve for them. Are they looking for basic file synchronization or for integration with existing internal and cloud systems, such as Office 365 and other platforms? Perhaps there are specific mobile requirements that necessitate one vendor over the other? EFSS vendors each offer a slightly unique twist on file synchronization features, so it is important to know what you require from it.

User experience, collaboration capabilities and good, old-fashioned file sync are big factors for buyers to consider when analyzing their options. There are plenty of enterprise file sync-and-sharing tool options to choose from in the industry. What matters most is that you understand your specific business requirements and then search for the vendor who provides the best match. Try before you buy, if you can. Vendors such as Intralinks, Egnyte and Citrix -- among others -- offer free trials. Take them for a spin, and try them on all platforms in which they will be supported. With a good set of requirements and the right people providing feedback, you'll quickly know what the best match is so users safely and effectively share and collaborate on the files they need to do their jobs.

Next Steps

What businesses can gain from file sync-and-share tools

Read what to look for when making an EFSS technology purchase

Learn what features to look at when considering an EFSS app

This was last published in June 2017

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Buyer's Guide

How to assess and select enterprise file sync-and-sharing software

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