Learn to love e-mail attachments again

* File transfer appliance from Accellion aims to ease e-mail attachment headaches

Documents are the lifeblood of every organization. Whether they take the form of text-based content, databases, spreadsheets or graphic files, we use documents to keep track of information and to share it with others. And in our world of instantaneous electronic communications, we expect to be able to send and receive our documents in the blink of an eye, usually routing them via e-mail.

Reality, however, often differs from our expectations. E-mail is not always the most efficient or secure method for moving documents around. Many companies are adopting the practice of blocking some e-mail attachments due to concerns about viruses and worms. Microsoft has enabled admins to block all e-mail attachments for some time http://www.networkworld.com/newsletters/techexec/2005/0530techexec1.html?rl

In addition, large e-mail attachments several megabytes in size often fail to make it to the intended recipients. And when they do get through, such large attachments sent to numerous people take up space in multiple in-boxes.

An FTP server is one alternative to e-mailing files around. This method, too, has its shortcomings, including lack of security, burdensome administration, lack of document versioning and tracking, and non-compliance with government regulations for certain documents. While FTP servers might fill the need for technical people who need to move documents around, they just aren't the ideal collaboration tool for regular business workers.

It is in this climate that Accellion http://www.Accellion.com has developed what it calls a secure file transfer appliance (FTA).  Accellion's Courier FTA product line includes a standard edition for single-site and medium to high volume users and an enterprise edition for multi-site and high volume enterprises. According to Accellion, sending files through the FTA can eliminate nearly 80% of the e-mail load that typically consists of file attachments.

Quite simply, here's how it works. An e-mail sender uploads his file to the FTA through a Web-based user interface. The e-mail recipient receives a message with an embedded secure link to the file. When the recipient clicks on the link, the file is downloaded from the appliance using SSL. The sender can specify a time period when the file will be available - say, a week - to ensure that files are not left on the appliance indefinitely.

Accellion Courier FTA has quite a few advantages over regular e-mail attachments or even FTP file transfers. For instance, you can share any file up to about 2G bytes in size. (File size is actually a browser limitation, not an appliance limitation.) The file download from appliance to recipient is secured with encryption and compressed, and the performance is quite good. No more waiting long periods for a large file to open or transfer. Furthermore, people on BlackBerries or slow dial-up connections won't encounter problems with lost attachments or system hang-ups when trying to open an e-mail with a large file attached.

The appliance is easy for IT to set up and administer, even in a multi-site configuration. There is no need to make any changes to your e-mail infrastructure or servers. The enterprise edition offers integration with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes and with your storage or storage-area network configuration. To end users, the process of attaching a file can be transparent and as easy with the FTA as it is with regular e-mail. And because large files will be removed from your e-mail system, e-mail performance will improve for everyone.

For your executives concerned with compliance with government regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Courier FTA offers file auditing and tracking, so that you know who is sending and receiving files, and when. In addition, the file sender gets a receipt every time a file is downloaded from the appliance. And there's one more feature that I like: you can specify that user authentication is required when the recipient goes to retrieve a file. This prevents an e-mail recipient from simply forwarding your files to unauthorized users.

Even companies that don't use e-mail to send documents around can benefit. If you routinely send electronic documents pressed to CDs or DVDs, you can reduce mailing fees and time by posting your large files on the FTA instead of using snail mail.

If your interest has been piqued, visit the Accellion Web site for a demonstration or Webinar. Once you see how easy this solution is, you may never want to send another e-mail attachment again.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at mailto:Linda.Musthaler@currid.com

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