Citrix announced its acquisition of ShareFile back in October and has recently allowed partners a free, one year, 20 “employee”, 20GB of space trial offer. I’ve been kicking the tires on ShareFile for the past few weeks and wanted to share my thoughts.
What is it?
If you’re familiar with solutions like DropBox and SugarSync then you already have a pretty good idea of what ShareFile is – an online file sync and collaboration tool. Unlike these other solutions, however, ShareFile is designed to be used by businesses. ShareFile provides you with SSL encrypted storage and allows you to add users and assign permissions to particular folders and the ability to add additional administrators to help manage your data and users. You’ll get configurable email alerts on file uploads and downloads and can even control the amount of bandwidth allotted to particular users in a given month. ShareFile provides you with a customizable web portal (yourdomain.sharefile.com) that allows you to brand the website with your logos and corporate colors. This web portal can be used as an alternative to FTP and even gives you the ability to search the site for particular files. Other items of note:
ShareFile is hosted almost entirely out of Amazon AWS and its services are spread across all 5 major Amazon datacenters.
-Desktop Widget: Basically a fat-client that is built on Adobe Air that allows you to upload and download files to ShareFile without having to launch a web browser.
-Outlook Plugin: Allows you to link to existing ShareFile documents and upload and send new files to ShareFile. Administrators can even set policies that dictate that files over a certain size are automatically uploaded to ShareFile instead of attached using the corporate email system. I’ve found this to be the most used ShareFile feature for me.
-Desktop Sync: This gives you the ability to select folders on your PC to be automatically synced to ShareFile. There is an “Enterprise Sync” as well that’s designed for server use and allows for sync jobs to be created under multiple user accounts.
-ShareFile Mobile: A mobile website designed to be accessed from a tablet or smartphone. In addition, there’s a ShareFile app for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone.
ShareFile has more features that you can read about on their website.
What does this mean for the enterprise?
Citrix is incorporating ShareFile into what it’s calling the “Follow-Me-Data Fabric”, which is comprised of ShareFile, Follow-Me-Data and GoToMeeting with Workspaces. Citrix has long had the goal of allowing you to access your applications anywhere, from any device and they’re now attempting to extend this philosophy to your data as well.
In all honesty, it was initially hard for me to see this adding much value to the Citrix portfolio. After all, doesn’t XenApp, XenDesktop, Netscaler, et al. already give me the ability to access my applications and data wherever I’m at? My virtual desktop is accessible from almost any device already and all the data I work on is either saved on that desktop or accessible on corporate network shares from that desktop. As I began to think about the future of IT though, and the shift to public and hybrid clouds, the strategy here became much more obvious. While almost all the data I work on now is stored in one centralized location, the push to public and hybrid clouds will create a dispersion of corporate data across different cloud providers. Corporations may be utilizing CloudCompany-A, B and C for SaaS applications and CloudCompany-D for portions of their infrastructure. Even if you’ve only chosen one Cloud provider, most companies aren’t ready to dump all of their data and applications into the Cloud yet and may not ever. This will obviously create a de-centralization of data that could get messy if not managed properly, and that’s where ShareFile comes in.
Working in conjunction with StoreFront and Follow-me-Data, ShareFile would give you the ability to centralize all the data stored in any private and public cloud infrastructures you’ve invested in. You’d have StoreFront on the front-end tying your internal and SaaS applications into one unified interface and Follow-Me-Data and ShareFile on the back-end allowing you to access dispersed data in a centralized fashion. That, at least, is the vision. The key here will be integration – something Citrix has historically not done very well (e.g. VDI-in-a-Box, management consoles, etc). To the user, ShareFile needs to go almost unnoticed and be seamlessly integrated into the Citrix product stack so that it does not feel like a separate technology. Doing this will just make it natural for the user to store their public and private cloud data and access from anywhere. If it’s seamlessly integrated into the products the user is already utilizing for their job then I think it will go a long way to securing corporate data. After all, why would I put my corporate data on DropBox or SugarSync when it’s so much easier to get this same functionality with tools that are already integrated with the work I do? And that too, will be a key factor in how successful this will be – corporations can’t lock this down to such a degree that it’s not easy for users to work with or else it will drive them to more “open” solutions.
In the end, I think this was a smart move that’s success will ultimately be dependent on the ever increasing push towards the public Cloud and Citrix’s ability to integrate this seamlessly with their already existing products. It will also be interesting to see how DropBox and other similar companies respond to this. Whether they want to define themselves as competitors or not, the bottom line is that there are currently tons of corporate data on DropBox and SugarSync and a well-integrated ShareFile means less data on these type of solutions. Whether they add more “business-friendly” features to their products or are content with “personal” data remains to be seen. And if they do add more features that allow companies more control of the data that is stored on them, how will Citrix respond? Citrix has generally been very receptive to utilizing their services from multiple platforms (e.g. XenDesktop on ESXi/Hyper-V) so they might look to just provide integration with these other online file shares from Citrix Receiver as well. And will this service always be hosted in the public Cloud or will there be an option in the future to host a ShareFile-like service for your company within your own datacenter?
There’s a lot that remains to be seen but overall, this appears to be a “win” for Citrix and a trend that other companies have already adopted as well. End-user computing was a huge component at VMworld and Synergy this past year and I anticipate and look forward to even more rapid development in this space!