If you are collaborating with your co-workers, friends or anyone else for that matter then file sharing is a very common requirement. There are many file sharing platforms out there that allow you to share, and work on, files with other people. This is useful in many different scenarios including:
- Working on files with other people – often you may have a file, or group of files, that you need to work on along-side one or more other people, such as your colleagues. File sharing enables you to do this effectively even when you are all working from different physical locations.
- Sharing large files that cannot be sent via email – This is another very common use of file sharing platforms. Many people need to send files to other people. Although this can often be achieved by simply emailing the file, this means of transfer becomes ineffective when the file is beyond a certain size (Typically the limit is around 25MB). With files above this size it makes sense to move them to a file sharing platform and then either share them with the recipient, or just create a download link which can then be sent via email, regardless of the actual file size.
- Sharing personal files with friends and family – Often people have personal files such as photos that they want to share with their friends or family. If you have a large number of photos it can be very difficult to share those files with others and file sharing offers a simple way of doing this. With a file sharing platform you can have all of the files and photos uploaded and then provide access to the account for your friends and family. In this way you can all access the same files easily, from different locations and via different platforms.
- Backing up important files – Although file sharing platforms should typically be used as a backup for your important files, they do offer a way to mitigate the risk of file loss. For example, if you have all of your photos on your computer and this is the only place they are stored, then you risk losing those photos if your computer were to crash. If, however, you have the photos synchronized with a file sharing platform, then they will be safely stored in the cloud and won’t be lost in the event of your laptop crashing, failing or otherwise being damaged.
Using a file sharing platform when working remotely from home
File sharing has always been a vital tool for anyone working remotely or in any type of distributed working environment. However, in present times, when a large percentage of people are now working from home, file sharing has become even more important.
For companies whose staff are now working either from their homes, or from other remote locations, file sharing platforms offer an easy way for those staff to continue collaborating with each-other as if they were still in the same building.
Of course there are additional collaboration platforms that will be required for workers to effectively get tasks done as a team – email being an obvious one – but the use of file sharing takes away a big part of the problem, allowing those staff members to work on the same files together.
Using a file sharing platform instead of a traditional server
Sharing files with workers who are in physically independent locations is one obvious use case for file sharing platforms, especially in a corporate environment. However, there are also less obvious reasons why companies are moving to file sharing platforms. One of those reasons is to replace traditional server setups.
With a traditional server setup, a company would store all of their corporate data on a physical server, situated in the office building. This would be known as a file server and acts as a central location for all company data storage. This type of setup does make sense as it keeps all of the companies critical data in one place allowing it to be managed, shared out and backed up effectively.
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However, there are downsides to this type of system including the high cost – both the initial investment cost, renewal costs and also on-going maintenance costs. In addition to these costs of ownership, this type of system also tends to be quite rigid in terms of how it can be used. Offering remote access to files stored on a local fie server, for example, can be quite tricky and often expensive.
In times like these, when companies are setting everyone up to work from home, they may find that having one of these traditional server setup becomes a considerable disadvantage.
The alternative to this, and something that many companies have already implemented over the past few years, is to have company data moved from traditional storage into cloud storage – aka the file sharing platforms that we are discussing in this article.
There are many advantages to this solution including:
- File storage is very flexible and can be expanded without any major upheaval
- The storage system itself is fully managed by the cloud provider and doesn’t need regular upgrades or maintenance
- The storage system tends to be very secure and has measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) in place as standard
- The system tends to be extremely flexible, offering remote access and collaboration as standard
Hopefully you are at least interested in the technology, and providers, behind these file sharing platforms now. So without further ado, lets move on to our list of the top 5 file sharing platforms that are available today as well as a rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of each platform.
Dropbox has to be mentioned first as it is an extremely popular file sharing platform, one of the best known platforms in fact. Dropbox offer file sharing capabilities in both free and paid forms as well as offering services tailored to both home and business users.
The most common Dropbox platform is definitely the one for home users. This platform is offered on a free basis with a limited amount of storage. Even with the free platform, you can increase the amount of storage space that you have, but doing various tasks such as promoting Dropbox, registering your email address and even simply downloading the Dropbox application.
If you need to increase your storage space then you can subscribe to Dropbox Plus for a small monthly fee, which then gives you a massive 2TB of space and some other cool features.
If you want to use Dropbox in a business environment then its better to look at the business options. These plans are more expensive, charged at a per user rate, but they do provide a lot more features. In particular, with business plans you have the ability to control access to files for each of the users on your plan. This provides system administrators, and company owners, with similar control and management features that would traditionally come with legacy file server setups.
These features are important in a business, especially when moving to the cloud, as they allow you to maintain a clear level of control over your staff and the files that they have access to.
Dropbox works across multiple platforms including Windows, Mac and mobile devices and can be accessed via the web or via native apps available for each of these devices and platforms.
Livedrive is another file sharing platform that is very similar in nature to Dropbox, but definitely not as well known. Livedrive provide accounts direct to the end user, they also provide business plans, reseller plans and white-labeling. Over in the UK, Currys PC World offer a white-labelled version of the Livedrive storage platform via their tech support arm “Team Knowhow”.
The personal version of livedrive is similar to Dropbox in the features provided, however, it does come as a paid only platform and there is no free version. One of the big benefits of Livedrive when compared to Dropbox is that they also offer a file backup platform, which is integrated into their apps.
This backup platform allows you to back up the files and folders on your computer, or your mobile device, to the cloud in real time and it comes with a very intuitive setup wizard making it very easy to enable these backups when you install the software.
As well as a personal version, Livedrive also offer business accounts which, similar to Dropbox, come with a per user licensing cost. The business platform is similar but with additional features such as management of folder access and user management via a dedicated business portal.
Box is another file sharing platform that has similar features to Dropbox and Livedrive. Box also offer file sharing and collaboration through their web portal as well as a range of native apps. Box is definitely more geared towards enterprise use. Box is a premium only platform with no free version; although it does come with a free trial. The plans to go up in price fairly quickly but there are some really good features on offer from box, including:
- Granular access control
- SSL and at-rest encryption
- Active directory and SSO integration
- HIPAA/HITECH-eligable, FedRAMP
WeTransfer is another file sharing platform similar to the others that have been mentioned so far. WeTransfer is geared more towards sharing large files that can’t be sent via email. This was sort of the starting point of file sharing, which in turn paved the way for all of the fully-featured file sharing platforms.
WeTransfer is very easy to set up and really handy if you just want to send files to people, on a regular basis, and you can’t do so via email – perhaps because the files are too large to send in the traditional manor.
WeTransfer is ideal if you want to send these files simply for the other person to gain access to them, and download them onto their own file system, as apposed to actively collaborating on those files with you.
Our final platform up for review is Owncloud. This one is definitely not as commonly spoken about as the others. In fact, if you look up file sharing providers you might not even come across this one. However, its definitely one that deserves a mention.
Owncloud is an opensource file sharing platform which comes as a free version and also an enterprise version. The difference with Owncloud is that it is opensource, meaning anyone can see and contribute to the code and also, importantly, anyone can use the software to install in their on hardware environment.
This is really interesting because it means that if you have your own company, and perhaps have an in-house IT department, you can actually set up your own, cloud based, file sharing and collaboration platform. This platform has been built with security in mind, offering features such as encryption at rest, but you can also install it on your own hardware. This might mean installing it on your local server hardware, or renting your own cloud computing environment on which to install Owncloud.
This is great news for the most security conscious users because it takes away the issue of having your data stored in someone elses cloud – with Owncloud you can be in full control of the data, whilst also having all of the features and benefits that typically come with cloud based file sharing platforms.
If you want to use Owncloud without the added responsibility of managing the platform by yourself, you can also visit their website where you will find various registered providers who have already done the grunt work of installing and setting up the Owncloud environment. These providers will rent out space to you in a similar manor to the services offered by other traditional file sharing providers.
If you want the best of both worlds – your own in house file sharing platform but with the support and backing of the provider themselves, then there is also an enterprise version available that does come with a hefty price tag, but offers email support, optional branding and various other features.
More recently, owncloud have also launched a cloud-based premium version of the software, which is very close to Dropbox and other well known providers in terms of what’s on offer. This has been branded “Owncloud Online” and is very affordably priced.
So there you have it; the 5 most popular file sharing providers reviewed all in the same place. Of course there are many other sharing and collaboration tools out there, but the ones we have listed are the most popular and, in our opinion, the best on the market in terms of features.
If you have not already set up one of these platforms, then you should consider it today. Especially if you find yourself working from home as you will be much more able to collaborate with your staff, friends and family if you are able to share, and jointly work on, your files.