In the Cloud: Storage Meets Collaboration - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell
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Box.net does not offer online backup and storage capacity is limited – to five gigabytes for $15 a month – but it does provide true sharing and collaborative features.

You can assign collaborators permission to make changes to files in a shared folder. The system provides detailed reporting and e-mail alerts on any changes made. And it automatically retains and manages previous versions. You can specify a fixed number of previous versions to keep or the  length of time Box.net should retain previous versions.

The new Box.net Enterprise plan, designed for companies with three or more people, includes a console that lets an administrator manage individual accounts and permissions and place limits on storage capacity. The company also offers service level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee availability and safe retention of data.

“This is a very aggressive SLA for enterprise customers that provides for financial reimbursement if there’s down time,” noted Jim Herbold, the company’s enterprise general manager.

One differentiator for Box.net is its OpenBox initiative. The company partners with providers of Web-based software services. Box.net users, either subscribers or invited collaborators, can use the services to view and edit files without having to download them first. Some of the services are fee-based, but some are free, including Picnik, an online photo editor, and Zoho, an Office-compatible online word processor. 


Egnyte may ultimately be the most attractive of the three we looked at. It offers the collaborative sharing features of Box.net – permissioning to allow chosen collaborators to modify files, automatic versioning and version management, and e-mailed alerts of changes – plus continuous automatic backup. And the storage capacity is unlimited.

Egnyte can work literally as a virtual server that looks, and acts, like a server on your local network. You can access it from either Windows or Macintosh desktops, and it shows up as a storage drive. The dual-platform support is another key benefit for small businesses, the company claims. Jain says 40 percent of his customers have at least some Macs.

The price is $15 for “power” users and nothing for “standard” users. Only power users can back up files and access the server from their desktops.

The Egnyte backup system doesn’t let you specify which types of files to include or exclude, although that feature will be added soon, the company promises. In the meantime, if you select your My Documents folder to back up, Egnyte will backup orphaned temporary files in the folder as well as the word processing, spreadsheet and PDF documents you really want.

It’s not a deal killer, and on the plus side, after the first backup, the Egnyte client software you download and install on your computer automatically backs up files continuously, as you make changes.

Due Diligence

As attractive as these services sound, Sloan urged caution. He’s not saying, don’t use them, just be careful. “You’re entrusting your data to a third party,” he pointed out. “So at a minimum you’re going to want to know what kind of security [the service provider] has in place.”

Other questions: Where and how is the data stored? Does the service provider have redundant servers so that if one fails, you can still get your data? What about the company itself? Is it a brand-new start-up – what’s its track record?

“You certainly don’t want to be in a position where the company disappears. And if that does happen, what kind of guarantees do you have that you can get at your data?”

That said, choosing a big, name-brand service provider is no guarantee of flawless service. HP’s Upline did go down earlier this year, leaving subscribers unable to access their data.

One other concern specific to online backup services: how quickly can you restore data in the event of a disaster? “If [the data] is business critical data and everything comes to a halt [until you retrieve it], how will that fit with your downtime tolerance,” Sloan wonderd?

Creating a virtual enterprise with no IT infrastructure, or virtually no IT infrastructure, is more and more a feasible proposition. Services such as HP Upline, Egnyte and Box.net provide convenience, security and ease of use for small businesses that need to secure data and make it available to collaborators.

It just takes a little getting used to, the idea that somebody at the other end of a high-speed Internet connection has access to and is responsible for preserving your precious data.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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This article was originally published on June 19, 2008
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