By David Wierbiki
You may find yourself in a situation where you need to share files with a co-worker or a team member and for whatever reason, your organization may make it difficult to share those files easily and fluidly or make it difficult for remote teams to collaborate with ease. Maybe your organization has tight security around permissions to file shares and streaming services. Alternatively you, and possibly your entire team, may have been asked to reduce the amount of storage space you are taking up on a particular file share. Or, perhaps you are part of a small team working on a side project outside of your day job.
With cloud storage so readily available to us in moments and video conferencing becoming a non-event even in everyday family life, there is no reason to rely on email to transfer files. Nor is there any reason to rely on antiquated conference calling to pull teams together for the daily SCRUM.
We do not condone going behind your organization's back of course, but realize sometimes you simply need to get things done. In this article, we're going to talk about the file sharing and team collaboration that we do at Isos on the cheap or even free depending on the service. What we are not covering in this article is issue tracking, repository sharing, wikis or code repositories.
Remote, Cloud-based 3rd Party File Sharing
There are numerous file-sharing services available to us currently, and there will likely be more around the corner. A few things to weigh when choosing a service are ease of use, reliability, proxy settings and scaling. Isos employees are frequently onsite with clients and need access to files or have the need to send files to clients. More often than not, those files are too large for email.
Dropbox is the old standby. If you want to do it quickly and quietly, go with Dropbox. It is very user friendly and reliable. Sharing is as easy as right clicking on a folder or file and granting permissions via email address.
- Ease of use
- Proxy settings
- Set it and forget it
- Bandwidth throttling (so it doesn't take down the network uploading/downloading)
- Limited space unless you get the premium service (free 2GB with the option to expand by getting others to sign up)
- Costly premium tiers (500GB racking in at $500 a year)
Suppose you already have a Dropbox account you use for personal backups and either do not wish to share this specific account or you are nearly out of space. Out of the box, you cannot have more than one Dropbox account per machine, but here are some resources to send you on your way should you find the need to do so:
- OSX: DropboxEncore
- Windows XP (does not work with Windows 7): Dropboxen
- Windows 7: http://semi-legitimate.com/blog/item/multiple-dropbox-instances-on-windows-7
Bitcasa is a relative newcomer with a ton of promise. Only a couple of us are using it at Isos on a personal level for reasons I think will soon be apparent. You can share any file or folder via a link with anyone, just like Dropbox. One of the features of Bitcasa is mirrored folders. They are read only unless on the original computer (could be a pro or con depending on your outlook or need). Though sharing for any folder is not yet two-way, the mirrored folder can be used for access to files from other computers. From a personal backup service, this simply cannot be beat. As they roll out new features they should be able to offer more as a truly collaborative, two-way sharing solution.
- Ease of use
- Set it and forget it
- With one account, you can back up an entire family of computers via mirrored folders.
- Decent free space (10GB)
- Infinite file version history with a paid subscription ($99 a year)
- No proxy settings (Yet. They say it’ll be available in the Fall of '13.)
- No bandwidth throttling – it can take down your network with a large amount of files to transfer (They say this will also be available in the Fall of '13.)
Isos dove into Google Apps from the Company's founding. Prior to our migration to Confluence, all of our document collaboration took place here. You now have the ability to upload and share any file type. There is a 5GB cap on file storage space for documents that are not native Google Drive documents. The entire service is integrated with your gmail account. Signing up for Google Apps as a business or domain is no longer free, but if you and your fellow teammates each have individual gmail accounts, you can all share documents and collaborate very effortlessly and effectively.
Amazon's AWS has taken the server world by storm. Not only can you spin up a new server and configure it instantly, but you have total control over it. You can also set up file share buckets. Multiple clients are available to meet your needs, but the paid clients have the best performance and tools available to them. S3 can grow expensive quickly and without notice...unless you count the monthly bill as notice. Just storing 500GB of data (ignoring outbound data) will run you $47.03 (as of 5/1/2013). Make that 2TB and the cost jumps to $178.72 a month. However, when weighed against the cost of data centers, this could be rather attractive option for CIOs or Technology Directors.
Isos is a paperless and cloud based entity. As such, we are heavily bolted into AWS and we use S3 for file storage. Some of us use a Chrome extension to access S3 and some use 3Hub to access the buckets.
There are many benefits to using S3 beyond typical file sharing, but that will be for another post.
Peer-to-Peer File Sharing
This is a little bit different. You do not need to involve a third party server to share your files with a peer-to-peer sharing option. A strictly peer-to-peer network takes the files from your hard drive and uses your bandwidth to transfer them to someone else's hard drive. The only limit to storage is your own (and your collaborator's) hard drive space.
AeroFS is no longer in beta and is very useful, strong and reliable. The file sharing involves no outside servers and has no limits on size. It is free for a 1-3 person team and increases to a $10 per team member per month licensing model for teams of 4-50 collaborators.
This still places reliability on the end user's machine. If your hard drive goes, then all of your files are only on the other machine you are linked with. When I was test-driving this, I had it linked up between two of my machines and a home server. Consequently, all of my files were constantly synced between all three machines. A catastrophe did take place and I lost two machines back-to-back, meaning I was completely reliant on the one machine still standing. I recovered quickly and had additional backups in place, but I think the pitfall here is easy to see.
Even so, with the third party server out of the picture, there is huge potential here if privacy and security is paramount.
Isos uses multiple solutions to meet our day-to-day needs for file collaboration. S3 is our preferred file storage and client sharing solution, with Dropbox being our solid back up sharing service for clients unable or unwilling to use S3.
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