This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Business Agility, sponsored by IBM. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Business Agility site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Industrial-Strength File Syncing and Sharing

The process of consumerization should not extend to bringing an insecure and unmanageable consumer-grade file syncing service into the enterprise.

Dropbox and its ilk are almost too easy to set up and use, and workers are employing these consumer-grade utilities on the job. That's risky; but enterprise-level alternatives exist.

People are bringing their own devices to work, and that trend is only going to grow. Agile employees are working from mobile locations and on the move; they are working from home and from the office. There is a real need to synchronize files across employees' various devices and operating systems: perhaps a PC at work, a Mac at home, an iPad, and an Android phone. Relatedly, there is a need to share files with co-workers and sometimes with outside parties, in the course of getting the job done.

Many people are familiar with free online services that meet both of these needs; Dropbox is probably the best known of these. It's a virtual certainty that people in your company are already using Dropbox to sync files among home computers and mobile devices. It takes only a moment to add a "Work" folder to one's Dropbox account and drag in a few work-related files. Voila, suddenly the files are available everywhere the employee needs them, with no further effort required.

Unfortunately the work files are also available on all of the employee's other personal computers at home, including the malware-infected one his kids play games on; on his wife's smartphone; and in the cloud on Dropbox's servers.

Data leakage has already occurred. The surface for security attacks has increased substantially. If the company is in a regulated industry, such as finance, healthcare, or pharma, it may already be liable for fines or sanctions, with the accompanying bad PR and damage to its reputation.

This white paper details the dangers posed when consumer-oriented, Dropbox-like utilities make their way into the enterprise. It's from Accellion, a member of the cottage industry springing up around file sharing and syncing tools with industrial-grade features such as rigorous security controls, auditing, and centralized administration. Here are a few worth your consideration.

Ipswitch and YouSendIt: These companies started out in the consumer file-transfer business. Ipswitch File Transfer now offers secure, automated, and managed file transfers and workflows. YouSendIt's Enterprise Management Services promise secure file sending, folder sharing, and document signing.

Sharefile: This fast-growing company, number 104 on the Inc 500 in 2010, was acquired by Citrix last fall. It offers Mac and PC clients for secure sharing of files [Note added 2014-02-10: link removed at ShareFile's request] up to 10GB. Mobile clients for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone allow mobile access to files without downloading.

Accellion: Palo Alto-based Accellion just secured a $12M funding round. Its Accellion Secure Collaboration provides a secure alternative for sharing files with versioning, comment management, and mobile access across iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android devices (there's an Outlook plugin as well). They host a cloud-based service for file storage and syncing, or you can run your own environment from a VMWare appliance.

IntraLinks: A public company listed on the NYSE, this "pioneer in cloud-based cross-organizational collaboration" (per Forrester) offers IntraLinks Virtual Data Rooms for exchanging critical information, collaborating, and managing workflow both internally and externally. The IntraLinks Courier product supports ad-hoc sharing of confidential or sensitive files between individuals and workgroups. It is marketed mainly to regulated industries.

What tools are you using to secure and control file sharing and syncing? How have you found the process of weaning employees off of consumer-grade tools? Please let us know in the comments.