Businesses looking for cloud-based file sharing and collaboration services can be forgiven for thinking it a two-horse race, with Google Apps for Business and Office 365 from Microsoft the only runners. That, however, is far from the case with plenty of lesser known alternatives to choose from, including SkyDox which, since its launch in 2009 has been busy winning customers with its no-nonsense approach to sharing information.
Sharing is caring
While Google, Microsoft and other big hitters have gone for all-singing, all-dancing, collaboration platforms with a multiplicity of built-in tools such as e-mail, calendaring and instant messaging, SkyDox concentrates purely on document sharing. OK, it also lets you setup and host online meetings, but it’s still a very focused and, as a result, very easy to use solution, particularly suited to organisations with a geographically distributed workforce.
No special software is required, just a Windows, Mac or Linux PC equipped with a Web browser and Internet access. Moreover, just about any type of file (up to 2GB) can be uploaded to SkyDox where they can then be opened and viewed by others using built-in document viewers capable of handling over 200 different formats.
All the usual suspects are there, including PDF plus the various generations of Office and some pretty obscure legacy formats. Documents can also be organised into easy to understand folders into which, for our tests, we threw a variety of Office documents, PDFs, and other files. All could be subsequently opened and viewed with impressive ease and with few of the performance issues generally associated with early implementations of this type of online sharing platform.
Naturally a fast broadband connection helps, but even over a relatively slow mobile link we found it a workable solution. That said, there are no Android or Apple iOS apps available which meant having to use a browser on tablets and smartphones which we found a little cumbersome.
On the plus side, managing what users are allowed to do with SkyDox documents proved very straightforward with tracking tools also available to keep an eye on who’s being doing what. Indeed with some applications you can track access right down to the page level.
Other nice features include the ability to customise the Web interface by specifying your own wallpaper and company logo. However, unlike Google Apps and Office 365 it’s not possible to edit documents from within a browser which meant either having to manually download, edit and then upload documents back to SkyDox or use a special SkyDox app to do all this and more, for us.
There are currently two types of app available, the most useful being a set of plug-ins for Microsoft PowerPoint, Word and Excel. Designed to work with Office 2007 and 2010, these plug-ins enable users to save and update documents direct to SkyDox storage using their familiar Office front end tools. The plug-ins also allow users to work on documents together, at the same time, although it’s worth noting that the PowerPoint plug-in is the most functional of the three with the Word and Excel implementations still shown as in beta.
The other apps are more generic desktop utilities which do little than mirror the Web interface with implementations for Windows, Apple Mac and Ubuntu Linux environments. On the plus side, SkyDox users can also publish documents to social networking sites while organisations with SharePoint can deploy the product to address issues relating to external sharing and simplify the process of collaboration within the Microsoft platform. SkyDox also claims to be able to integrate with other document management systems, including IBM FileNet and EMC Documentum.
As with similar services a free 30-day trial of SkyDox is available with no restrictions on functionality after which a standard Business subscription will set you back £10/month per user. Targeted at companies with up to 200 users, each user is allocated up to 500GB of online storage with the core software hosted on servers located in secure datacentres managed by SkyDox. Security is assured by a mix of user authentication, SSL encryption and by the storage of files in a proprietary, binary-fragmented format.
Larger organisations are steered towards an Enterprise license. Quoted on an individual basis, this edition delivers unlimited storage plus Web conferencing tools, support for SharePoint integration and other extras. For customers more worried with security and data ownership the Enterprise product can also be implemented as a hybrid cloud behind a corporate firewall or as completely private cloud solution. According to SkyDox customers cone from a variety of sectors including finance and healthcare with, in this country, a large number of NHS trusts having recently signed up to use the product.
Good but a long way to go
As already mentioned, we found SkyDox easy to both deploy and use, enabling us to share a variety of different documents between users and manage collaborative access with ease. Meetings and presentations were equally easy to setup and run and overall performance was good. We were, however, disappointed that we couldn’t edit documents from within the browser, by the relative immaturity of the applications available to get around this limitation and the complete absence of mobile clients. And that’s a shame as SkyDox works well as far as it goes, with further development needed if it is to compete against the heavyweights in the market.