Small businesses, more than their larger counterparts, have really been able to take advantage of Software as a Service (Saas) applications to handle large parts of their technology needs. Salesforce and Highrise handle CRM. Basecamp handles project management. Recently, Microsoft and, to a much large extent, Google Apps are handling enterprise style messaging and calendaring.
However, no one has been able to replace that big server in the closet that serves up files and backs up the desktop computers.
Now a new startup is planning on putting that last bit of server hardware out into "the Cloud". Sunnyvale based Egnyte lets small businesses (read: 3-15 employees) operate their file server and backups outside of their local offices.
According to Egnyte’s CEO, Vineet Jain, more than half of their customers are Mac users. Of course, you’d expect to see small creative design shops using a tool like Egnyte, but he says he also sees a lot of people from the medical field that share, exchange and backup huge medical imaging files. He also sees video outfits who want to share large/HD videos with their clients in their original form, not compressed for YouTube or Revver streaming.
The company is small and nimble at this point but they have large ambitions. Just like the Basecamp and Google Apps crowd, they intend to service the millions of small businesses around the world that would like to offload some of their IT infrastructure to service providers.
How does it work? You sign up for a special URL on their webpage. The process is quick and you are ready to go in a minute. You can then upload files to the website like an FTP server. However, this is all web-based for those clients that can’t get their head around the FTP process. In a matter of minutes, I was able to upload a 350 megabyte video file from a web page using my hotel’s shotty Internet connection. I could then download the file quickly onto another computer. The Egnyte interface can also generate a public URL that you can pass along to your clients.
Although recent improvements to Egnyte’s web interface allow multiple file and folder uploads, most people want a more "Desktop-like Experience." Egnyte also has you covered in this area. You can download a 9mb application that creates a share in either Windows or Mac just like a server share using the secure WebDAV protocol. You can also set Egnyte to backup your desktop and servers this way.
The application asks you to put in your company URL name and your username and password. Once successfully authenticated, you can set up your machine to do a granular backup using the web interface. You will also see a mounted share that contains the same directories that the web interface shows. It is all really, really easy.
Testing from Europe the speed was blazingly fast. From my Paris apartment on 100mb fiber, I uploaded a 700mb video in under five minutes. From our firm’s New York Office, files were downloaded from the web even quicker. Egnyte compresses files using the web interface to speed uncompressed files.
The downside is that this service, like all web services, exists outside of your office and largely outside of your control. If the Internet goes down, you are separated from all of your files. Egnyte is working on offering an appliance to its larger customers that will be an rsynced duplicate of their cloud shares.
There is also the small, outside risk of this company going under. Egnyte hopes to quell these fear with a 30-day guarantee. If they are canceling your acount or going offline for any reason, they will give their customers 30 days to download their information off of the servers.
The performance of this service also depends largely on your company’s (and clients’) Internet speed. Normal DSL broadband will be a little clunky uploading and backing up files. You’ll want to be as high end as possible to get the best performance out of Egnyte.
Overall, this is a fantastic service for small organizations. If I had any requests, it’d be that Egnyte work with Basecamp and Google Apps APIs or my company’s LDAP server to authenticate users so two directories don’t need to be created and transparency to users could be implemented.