Mobile working has become a crucial part of our professional lives. Businesses of all sizes face the same difficulties: secure access to data, anytime, anywhere. This problem is even greater for those working in teams where collaboration on a multitude of documents is a part of their activities. Another big concern is confidentiality and availability of data.

Though file sharing is not rocket science, it has its challenges nonetheless. A good solution is the key to efficiency and organisation; it is the infrastructure upon which many SMEs and digital nomads rely to do their work. Finding a fluid and simple way to share up-to-date documents and files with as much security as possible is an important choice to ensure a healthy business and a solid team force.

What is ShareFile and who is it for?

ShareFile is a hosted solution that allows you to create a custom-branded, password-protected area where you can exchange business files with colleagues and clients securely, and professionally. This is particularly appealing to those who deal with files that are simply too large to transfer by e-mail, need secure file transfer, or just need a collaboration space where project-related files can be posted. Typical users of FileShare are likely to include digital content creators, photographers, consultants, lawyers, architects and so on.

ShareFile can be accessed using any Web browser that can access the Internet and does not require the opening of additional ports or the installation of software to use it. Additionally, the software offers many value added features not available with most FTP applications, such as company branding, keyword searching of files and folders, configurable e-mail alerts on file uploads and downloads, and easy user management.

ShareFile has four standard monthly plans and billing is based on total employees and bandwidth used: Basic ($29.95), Professional ($59.95), Enterprise ($99.95), and Enterprise Gold ($499). The plans differ in the number of employees, amount of bandwidth and storage, as well as some other features. For example, files up to 10GB in size may be uploaded, sent, or stored on Professional or Enterprise plans. With the Basic Plan, individual files up to 2GB in size may be uploaded and transferred.

The Basic plan is also limited to 5GB monthly bandwidth and 5GB storage, whereas the Professional plan offers 10GB monthly bandwidth and 10GB storage, and the Enterprise plan accommodates 20GB monthly bandwidth and 20GB storage. Enterprise Gold tops out at 150GB monthly bandwidth and 150GB storage. All plans include unlimited accounts for clients and partners, custom branding, and telephone customer support.

Does it do it well?

Forget about FTP or sending large files as e-mail attachments. ShareFile makes it a snap to share documents, data, images and other business files with one person or with a hundred. A great touch is that when you sign up for an account, ShareFile graphic designers customise your ShareFile portal to match your company logo and Web site at no extra charge. The company even provides a snippet of HTML code should you want to put a ShareFile login box on your Web site to allow visitors to upload file(s) directly into your account. You can specify the folder that uploaded files get saved to, which file types are allowed, and what additional information to collect from the person uploading files.

Similar to Basecamp, your colleagues and clients will only be able to see folders that you’ve made for them. In other words, your clients will only see folders that you have explicitly given them access to. You also have the option of preventing clients from seeing other users who have access to the same folder that they do. You can build folders and organise your files according to different categories, so that other users will know where to get them. This adds to the efficiency of your company’s file management.

When it comes to crunch time, sending a file for sharing is a doddle. Just click on the ‘Send a File’ link on the navigation bar, enter an e-mail address and click to upload your file. An e-mail containing a download hyperlink is then sent to the recipient using either ShareFile servers or your own e-mail software (the choice is yours).

You can send to multiple recipients by separating their e-mail addresses using commas. You’re even sent an e-mail notification when the user has downloaded the file. Don’t panic, there’s no rush – files that you transfer are stored in your File Box for 30 days. For Outlook users, ShareFile offers an Outlook Plug-In as part of its Power Tools package to more easily allow you to send large files via e-mail without using e-mail attachments.

The process is very similiar for requesting files. FileShare sends an e-mail requesting that files be uploaded for you. Recipients receive a hyperlink in the e-mail that takes them to a secure page where they can upload files. Similar to receiving a file, the recipients do not need to be ShareFile users.

One of the most significant features is ShareFile’s AutoResume Upload functionality. The AutoResume feature navigates the uncertainty of Internet uploads, detecting network interruptions and pausing until the Internet connection is restored, then picking up right where the upload left off. This greatly improves the success rate of large file uploads compared to methods such as FTP or e-mail attachments. Written in Java, the tool is designed to work on all operating systems right from the Web browser, so no software needs to be installed to use the new AutoResume functionality.

For projects that require additional security or involve many files and users, you can set up password-protected online folders. Giving users access to folders is as simple as typing their e-mail address and you can set up as many different passwords and permissions as you need. The biggest productivity benefit is that recipients do not need to be ShareFile users. Another boon is the way ShareFile automatically creates thumbnails for all standard graphics files including JPEGs, GIFs, PDFs, PNGs and even Photoshop files.

In today’s unscrupulous business world it’s amazing how many sensitive files are sent unencrypted and open to theft by any hacker or cyber thief. Many people are not aware that all files sent by e-mail or FTP travel across the Internet completely un-encrypted. And even if files are not intercepted by hackers, many companies distribute the same FTP password to all clients because of the difficulty and inconvenience of managing users with FTP.

This creates a situation where one client is able to browse another client’s files simply by clicking into their folder. ShareFile uses 128-bit SSL encryption so you can send files to anyone with peace of mind. Your data is organised, protected and available 24/7/365, and Audit and History features let you view what files have been downloaded and when.

Where does ShareFile disappoint?

ShareFile does everything that it promises. It’s not the prettiest user interface, but the ‘automatic’ company branding saves you time and the minimal menu bar makes it impossible to get lost. Sending and requesting files is a breeze, but we’d have liked better integration with e-mail clients. Displaying file thumbnails is a great time-saver for organising files and folders, but it would be neat if you could actually preview the file before downloading it – especially if it’s an image file.

We didn’t like the fact that e-mails we sent to clients included self-promoting ShareFile advertising links, especially considering it’s a paid-for business service. But the biggest limitation with ShareFile is that it doesn’t offer document collaboration – users are limited to sending files back and forth and can’t add comments or make amends.

And you are limited on online backup space. In today’s competitive cloud market place we feel that ShareFile should offer unlimited backup space, even it it comes with a Fair Usage Policy to ensure users are afforded equal access. This would provide businesses with a single-source repository for managing files. Prettier reports wouldn’t go amiss either, nor would an iPhone app for managing files on the move.

Would we recommend ShareFile?

Sending large files or sensitive documents to clients, colleagues or vendors shouldn’t be a big hassle. And it generally isn’t as long as you’re not using a free e-mail service like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo! Having said that, security is still an issue and you’d be wise to make sure that all confidential business files are encrypted before sending.

Alternatively, a hosted service like ShareFile takes the hassle out of file sharing. And unlike traditional software, which releases new versions every year or two, ShareFile is on a rolling development cycle, releasing continuing feature improvements each month based on customer feedback.

The best thing about ShareFile, however, is that unlike FTP it can be accessed using any Web browser without the need for special software to use it. You don’t have to worry about security, managing files, or even backing up files – it’s all done automatically for you. The software’s a touch on the pricey side, but you should take a closer look if you have a regular need for e-mailing secure documents to colleagues and clients.