File transfer solutions take pressure off e-mail

* We love e-mail so much that we might be killing it with overuse

If there’s one true “killer app,” it has to be e-mail. Everyone uses it for business communications as well as casual conversations. We love e-mail so much that we might be killing it with overuse. Or, make that misuse.

Sometimes we ask our enterprise e-mail applications to do things they weren’t designed to do -- like sending very large files from one person to another. By large, I mean anything over 20MBs, as that seems to be a common file size limit that many e-mail administrators set to prevent their system from getting overloaded and overwhelmed. The problem is, files just keep getting larger, and 20MBs is barely enough to accommodate your average graphics-laden PowerPoint slide deck these days.

There are several enterprise-class file transfer solutions on the market that are aimed at taking the pressure off your e-mail system for sending and receiving files that can range up to several gigabytes in size. To keep your users from turning to non-secure consumer-class file transfer applications, it’s time to investigate a secure file transfer solution.

Let me first make the distinction between “enterprise” and “consumer” tools for sending large files. Enterprise products are specifically built for business use. They include good security features, such as encryption, virus-checking and SSL. They have features like audit trails and private access to files in order to meet business regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA. They integrate with enterprise e-mail systems like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes and with directory systems like Active Directory and LDAP. They ensure complete receipt and delivery of files in the event of an interruption in transmission. In short, enterprise-level file transfer products are designed to protect your critical business information.

Products that I’d place in the enterprise category include Accellion Secure File Transfer appliance; Biscom Delivery Server; Tumbleweed Secure Transport; Axway Synchrony Transfer; and LeapFILE hosted solution.

Many of the consumer file transfer products, on the other hand, are just concerned with moving bits from one person to another. Those bits might travel on an unsecured peer-to-peer network or be stored on a file server over which you have no control. That’s OK for your vacation photographs, but definitely not OK for the draft of your quarterly financial statement or for private medical records.

Products that fall into the consumer-oriented category include YouSendIt, Pando, BitTorrent, and SendThisFile. To some degree, I’d also include consumer-grade e-mail systems like Gmail and Yahoo Mail in this category, since they can handle larger files that often are prohibited from moving through Microsoft Exchange systems. Because of an inherent lack of security, your user community should be discouraged (if not outright forbidden) from using these tools to send business files.

Of all the enterprise-class solutions, I am most familiar with those from Accellion and Biscom, which are actually quite similar. Both are designed to act as an integrated complement to your e-mail system, or to operate stand-alone as a Web-based file transfer tool. Accellion sells its solution as a plug-and-play appliance, while Biscom is a software-only product. Both tools are very easy to use and to administer.

With either product, your large file is placed on a secure file server within your infrastructure, where the file awaits downloading from the specific recipient(s) the sender designates. The file sender as well as the system administrator can determine how long a file remains on the server, and who can access it. There is an audit trail that shows who accessed each file, and precisely when.

Both the Accellion and the Biscom solutions can be used to communicate two-way with external users. This is especially nice when you have business partners, clients or colleagues who are outside your immediate network or e-mail system, and they need to send large files to your internal users. An external user can be invited to set up an account and become authenticated to use the file transfer system – without the intervention of a system administrator. This is an important distinguishing feature over FTP servers, which frequently require a systems administrator to set up new users.

Both Biscom and Accellion support integration with an enterprise e-mail system, so you can attach a large file from within, say, Outlook. The file then goes through the file transfer system rather than the e-mail system. This saves bandwidth and space for the e-mail system, but preserves the ease of use for end users; attaching and sending a file is as easy as it is in e-mail. Both the Biscom and Accellion solutions are great for organizations that send a lot of ad hoc attachments.

The Tumbleweed and Axway solutions seem to be aimed at companies that need to automate a file transfer process that is a routine part of a business process, such as sending a data file at the close of business every day. We used to call this EDI, or electronic data interchange. They also can handle ad hoc file transfer needs as well.

If you prefer not to buy a solution and host it yourself, there’s always LeapFILE, the hosted solution you access over the Internet. It, too, has enterprise features, so you don’t need to worry about your file traveling through some peer-to-peer network that completely lacks security.

Your users need to send and receive big files to do their work. Isn’t it time to give them a file transfer tool that meets your enterprise requirements?

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