Egnyte: using and sustaining Enterprise 2.0

Egnyte, in a nutshell, is a software as a service, cloud storage application. But it's a lot more than just that.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

Egnyte, in a nutshell, is a software as a service, cloud storage application. But it's a lot more than just that. It feels like your online home of files, storage and where you put your valuables.

Egnyte started out because the small business, which is roughly between 1 and 250 employees is a unique market and sensitive to investments, but generally there seems to be a low IT competence. With the advancements of technology and broadband getting faster, storage seemed less of a commodity. The world is getting more mobile with working from home, tele-working and commuting twice a day. The enterprise and small-medium market is accepting a more on-demand solution, and with this, Egnyte was created.

The service is an on-demand infrastructure with increased mobility, Web 2.0 sharing, virtual collaborative teams and on-demand storage. A unique solution is needed to support complex business needs and expanding business model.

If you read all that and thought, "yawn, you mentioned business related words, I'm switching off", it bores me too. However take this on board instead. It's basically Live Mesh but so much better and will probably always be better. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed using Egnyte, which is something I can not always say about every product I'm pushed.

Egnyte is primarily an on-demand file server. In an ordinary on-site enterprise you'll get sharing issues, backup issues and disaster recovery, security flaws which need patching, remote access violations and all other kinds of crap a workplace doesn't need.

Egnyte eliminates the need for:

  • physical servers
  • backups
  • added hardware
  • maintenance overheads, as after all, a small-medium business doesn't need these clogging up the workplace, as well as the financial impact.

It works excellently, if not specifically, for branch and distributed geographic offices, includes secure desktop and web access, has built-in disaster recovery, works incredibly well with sharing large files through direct transfer or hotlink sending and has a comprehensive auditing capability.

SaaS, security and file storage -->

Because it's SaaS, the storage, document collaboration and backup runs entirely online in the cloud. There is a Software+Services side which bridges the desktop to the Egnyte cloud, but it's entirely optional and just makes life a bit easier when working offline. Through rough estimation, it takes an ordinary SME around $7,000 a year for their own hardware and software, whereas Egnyte offers this at $15 a seat per month, which equates to $900 a year; but 3 seats or more comes with unlimited cloud storage. As always, academic and non-profit organisations get reduced rates.

The storage system is custom made from a reengineered version of the ext3 file system. Dubbed eFS, the Egnyte File System, supports file locking, versioning and permissions, caching and compression. The storage is fully searchable with split indexing, and provides a VPN style feel with a LAN across the Internet. In Windows Server 2003 and Windows Small Business Server 2003, there are roughly 17 different access permissions; in Egnyte there are four, significantly simplifying the whole area with read, read-write and read-write-delete.

Keeping on the security side of things, there are three kinds of users to simplify access:

  • the power user which has full-feature access for employees;
  • the standard user which allows consultants and associates access, with reduced storage space and no ability to backup;
  • and administrators which take care of user management and security.

Behind the scenes, the datacenter runs easily 300-400 virtual servers on each physical server, and if for some strange reason a calamity happens, everything is mirrored and backed up in another datacenter 400 miles down the road. With the unlimited storage plan, three or more users, there are no bandwidth or storage space restrictions. You have your own subdomain, so: https://your-company-name.egnyte.com, and the user interface is clean and simple with a Windows-esque feel to it.

The ability to upload your own company logo to the login screen and main interface adds a touch which most SaaS applications don't seem to have. The entire application runs through a secure socket layer, ensuring everything you view, upload, download and modify is encrypted. And for those in non-Windows environments, the S+S aspect is fully compatible with Mac, Windows and Linux, and the online application works just as well in Firefox, if not better in Internet Explorer.

File management and drive mapping -->

As mentioned before, Live Mesh is more of a concept created by Microsoft which is being leveraged across the Live products. Egnyte is very similar to Mesh in some instances, as it has centralised storage, connects your devices together, but the differentiating factor is improving access routes to the data. Egnyte have just introduced iPhone support, allowing a mobile version to those who use the iPhone, with RIM/Blackberry support on the way.

The searching within Egnyte is incredibly powerful; very Web 2.0 in terms of appliance, usage and results generation. You can narrow by file type, user, date range and type. There are some elements of natural language search - for example in the near future, it'll be able to differentiate between two meanings of the same word: "cricket" the sport and "cricket" the small insect which keeps me awake outside of my house every damn night.

Connecting the client to the cloud has long been an issue for people. Live Mesh does it with confusing results, erroneous synchronisations and settings as long as your arm. Egnyte will simply map your cloud storage folders to one single instance of a mapped drive in your Computer folder. The same access permissions apply, the same file names and works entirely seamlessly with the desktop.

Version tracking is automatically generated so you can see when something has been revised, with alerting features to ensure you are emailed the minute a file has been revised, by whom, when and even a link to the file to see the changes.

On that note, when a file is sent from Egnyte, you have the option of two different methods. Considering some servers have email restrictions, it's handy having these two:

  1. Send as a link: this way, an expiry date can be placed on it if the document is of a more sensitive nature, and an email gets sent to that recipient.
  2. Export them to a zip file at the touch of a button and they can be emailed directly.

Backup and iPhone integration -->

Backup is absolutely vital to a small business. The backup facility is continuous and not just a snapshot. Policies can be created and modified, and there is very little client code on the individual computers. You can either backup everything or individual things, whilst excluding certain files.

As you make changes on your mapped folder, the latest copy of the file is stored on your computer whilst all of the previous versions are stored in your web server cloud.

The iPhone support has now been released, and if you connect your iPhone up to your Egnyte server through the Safari browser, you can access the same sort of thing as you would do ordinarily. You can email out and download into as you could before. Showing a very simple interface, you can see shared and private folders, backups and admin controls for permissions. The tipping point is that you can still  browse files and folders wherever you are, whenever you want to.

40% of all Egnyte users use Mac's, and the iPhone support will almost certainly improve collaboration and seamlessness.

To round off, it's an excellent piece of software which would and can significantly improve branch/distributed offices, small-medium businesses and integration with external clients. It's certainly something to try out at very least.

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