Over the past while, I've been trying to solve a business need with some file sharing technologies.Â There's some neat things out there for this purpose.Â The irony of the ones I've used, however, is that they are 3 distinct products, all made by Microsoft, and each of which treats things slightly differently.
Before I get into the software, here's the issue I've been facing:
In addition to being the Controller at Fairwinds, I'm also the only on-site IT guy.Â It's therefore up to me to make sure that I've got all the information, when needed, where needed, in order to restore the systems should they go down for any reason.Â And while I may call in outsourced techs to do the dirty work in restoring things, it remains up to me to be able to provide them with the information that they need.
I have a few really important documents that I basically need to be able to get to.Â While I have remote access to my system, the issue is that it's when the systems are down that I need the docs most, and I can't get to them.Â So basically, this meant that I need to create my Critical Info Document, save it (password protected) on my laptop, and save it to the server.Â When I go on vacation, my boss needs a copy, and it then becomes important to make sure his is up to date, just in case he's ever contacted because I'm unavailable.Â I also want to share a copy with my outside support consultants so that they can deal with issues without me, should they need to.Â (They are trustworthy and professional.)
So now I have several copies of the document that I need to maintain.Â Maybe it wouldn't be a big deal if the document wasn't as fluid as it is.Â But that's neither here nor there as the reality is that it gets updated at least once a week, and sometimes once a day.Â Saving and emailng copies of this document is not desirable from either a managment or security point of view.
So, enter the file sharing technologies.Â Here's the ones I looked at:
Groove has a bunch of uses including sharing calendars, sketchpads, and documents. Â You can also set up full File Sharing folders to sync up between PC's.Â I looked at this very quickly, as it costs to install Groove on each PC.Â In addition, because Groove is a big program, it feels a bit "heavy" if that's all you want to do.Â Of course, to access your files, you need to log on to a computer with your Groove account installed.Â I'm also not convinced that you'll get updates unless at least one user is online that you can sync to.Â I've been told otherwise, but haven't tested that for myself to date.
Don't get me wrong, Groove is a great program, but I wouldn't buy it if all you want to do is share files.
FolderShare is a Windows Live Beta technology.Â Pretty neat stuff, as you can create libraries to share between PC's, libraries to share with other users, and even use the internet to access the files on your PC from a remote site (if it is on.)Â What is cool here is that, when sharing a folder, you can invite others to it, and give them a variety of rights from read only to full editing.Â It seems pretty light-weight and works fairly well from what I've seen.
The drawback here is that, if you are at a remote site without your PC, and it doesn't happen to be on at home or in your office, you can't access your files.Â Maybe not a big deal to you, but if I need access to my Critical Info Document and all I have access to is an internet cafe...
This one is actually pretty cool, classified as a "Tech Preview", which I believe is before even Beta.Â It's got all the benefits of FolderShare, and adds a couple more components.
Mesh has 5GB of storage "in the cloud".Â (Read as on Microsoft's servers.)Â So basically, when you connect to the internet, your selected folders sync up to the storage in the cloud, then down to your other PC's.Â This means that you can access your files over the internet, even if none of your PC's are on.
And if one of your PC's does happen to be on, throught the net you can remote control it, just like you would using a program like LogMeIn.
Mesh also displays a nice little message that synching with a mobile phone is "coming soon".Â That will be a pretty cool feature to add.
Some of the drawbacks with Mesh, at this point:
- When inviting others to share a folder, you have to give them "Owner" rights.Â That kind of sucks, as it would be nice to be able to decide who should have Read Only rights.
- It's a little bit awkward to set up synching folders, IMO.Â Could be a bit cleaner.Â Once you get used to it, it's okay, but it's not really intuitive.
- "Non-US" customers are not eligible to sign up for an account, and they validate your email address to make sure it ends in .com
A Security Perspective...
One of the things that I found ironic about these technologies is that you can't share network drives.Â I'm guessing that this is probably designed around security concerns, as we wouldn't want all of our users sharing critical work files, would we?
Instead, we now push our users to save into non-network folders, which usually aren't backed up, and push the storage to personal computers outside the company control.
Things I'd Like To See
Now, thinking about my critical information document that I share with consultants, it would be awesome if these technologies could be set up to do the following:
- Prevent users (depending on permissions) from copying out of a folder that they have been given access to.Â (I wouldn't want them sharing with all their friends.)
- Allow for a way for the owner to revoke files from an invited user.Â (If I were ever to discontinue using these consultants, how can I assure that they lose access to my info?)