What Is Enterprise File Synchronization?
Enterprise file synchronization (EFS) is a maturing area, and one that is crucial to many modern software deployments—particularly those that involve any form of desktop virtualization. In the past, solutions like Microsoft’s offline files were used to provide this kind of requirement, but it was a technology that was neither particularly reliable nor popular with end users.
Recently, consumer-level file synchronization solutions have made their way into general use, and users have—often against the wishes of IT departments—started to use software of this type for business purposes. Mindful of the benefits that have been observed from file synchronization solutions, businesses are now looking to deploy similar software at an enterprise level, rather than simply blocking users from utilizing these solutions. A victory for “the consumerization of IT,” perhaps? But what do we mean, specifically, when we talk about enterprise file synchronization software?
According to the people over at Gartner, EFS is:
“…a range of on-premises or cloud-based capabilities that enable individuals to synchronize and share documents, photos, videos and files across multiple devices, such as smartphones, tablets and PCs. File sharing can be within the organization, as well as externally (e.g., with partners and customers) or on a mobile device as data sharing among apps.”
Some refer to it as EFSS (enterprise file synchronization and sharing), but I prefer the shorter EFS acronym. Which isn’t to say that EFS doesn’t do the “sharing” part: really, collaborative capability should be at the heart of it, as with most business software these days.
Classification of EFS Solutions
It’s important to divide enterprise file synchronization into some distinct solutions. EFS products generally work on the principle that there is a local and a remote copy of the data (dependent on the device, obviously). However, the remote data either can be held on-premises by leveraging enterprise storage, or it can be based in “the cloud,” or maybe even both. Therefore, we will divide EFS into the following categories:
a) Cloud-based: The solution keeps a local copy and synchronizes it with public cloud-based storage.
b) On-premises: The solution keeps a local copy and synchronizes it with private on-premises storage.
c) Hybrid: The solution can be configured with local/public/private storage as required.
What Matters Most in an EFS Solution?
There are four major factors that matter when it comes to EFS software:
Security is paramount to EFS implementation: it’s the first word anyone will mention when even considering moving data into this type of solution.
Reliability will be a close second. When you drop files into the software, you want to know that they’ve been synchronized reliably, quickly, and without error. If the software doesn’t work quickly and seamlessly—as it does in the consumer implementations—then users will quickly reject it.
The third is Accessibility. Does the solution work across all available platforms? As far as this comparison is concerned, the major platforms required will be iOS, Android, Windows, and OSX. The minor ones will be Windows Phone, Linux, and Blackberry. Anything else will be considered out of scope.
Finally, there’s always Cost. There’s never any getting away from it as a factor!
Within each of the first three categories above—security, reliability, and accessibility—there are a number of additional items to consider:
- Does the solution have a remote wipe capability, to protect business data in the event a device is lost or stolen, or a user leaves the company?
- Are access control lists (ACLs) supported? Can these ACLs be integrated with Active Directory or used in the same way as NTFS permissions?
- Is the data, if cloud-based, encrypted? If it is encrypted, who owns the keys?
- Does it have a rollback provision, such as that provided by Microsoft’s Volume Shadow Copy Service? This will be invaluable in the event that ransomware like CryptoLocker is encountered.
- Can you segment personal and business data?
- If the software is cloud-based, can you specify a particular geographical location in order to maintain regulatory compliance?
- How fast does the software synchronize?
- How does the software synchronize? Is it on a schedule, or a trigger event?
- Is there a limit to file sizes and file types that are supported?
- Is there a limit to storage (if cloud-based)? Can storage quotas be enforced (if on-premises)?
- If the client software has to be reinstalled, do all the files need to be re-downloaded to the device?
- Is previewing of files supported, especially in instances in which the client device does not have the required software?
- Is there a web-based interface for accessing the software, or is a specifically installed app or client required?
- Is customization and branding of the solution supported?
Which EFS Vendors Will We Assess?
There are hundreds of EFS providers out there, but we are going to try to restrict ourselves to a particular subset of common and not-so-common providers, in order to prevent this comparison from becoming too big.
The list of vendors we have chosen to compare, below, mixes the bigger, more established players with some of the smaller, independent vendors:
Google Drive – Citrix ShareFile – Microsoft OneDrive – Dropbox – Box – eFolder – ownCloud – AppSense DataNow – Sookasa – Overland Storage Snap Enterprise Data Replicator – Acronis Access
In the next part of this comparison series, we will look at the performance of each of these solutions against the factors we have defined above.
In the third part, we will summarize the findings and see which of the solutions are most suitable for enterprise deployment.