This post is presented by Business Is Great Britain.
It’s easier than ever for businesses to go global—even small ones. The death of distance has also killed off paperwork: Faxes and FedEx seem hopelessly archaic when our work product is increasingly digital.
Cloud-based file sharing has gone from a pie-in-the-sky idea to an essential business tool for operating in a global economy. Yet settling on a common tool to use across a company is surprisingly difficult.
The first requirement: File-sharing services must be better than the venerable tools they replace, like email and file-transfer protocol (FTP) servers.
While email is near-universal and has no inherent size limitation, in practice, most providers set limits that typically range from 10 megabytes to 25 megabytes per message, as well as capping the total size of users’ inboxes. Setting up an FTP server, the old-school solution to moving large files, requires technical prowess and ongoing management that most businesses would rather avoid.
Cloud sharing needs to be as easy to use as email and as quick and efficient as FTP, with next to no set-up time. Add on additional features that email and FTP never allowed, and you’ve got a compelling case for adopting file sharing.
For Almost Anyone: Dropbox
The ubiquitous Dropbox tops the list of file sharing services in terms of popularity and users. Dropbox serves over 200 million users and 4 million businesses. That in itself is a factor in Dropbox’s favor: It’s likely that your employees and your customers already use Dropbox.
Crystal Richard, director of media relations at content marketing agency OnBoardly, says that her company deals with clients all over the U.S., Canada, and other parts of the world using Dropbox.
“Dropbox allows us to sync documents as we update them in real time,” says Richard. “We’ve always relied on Dropbox as our first choice because of widespread knowledge and use of Dropbox. It made the most sense for us because there was no onboarding required with our clients. Nearly all were already familiar with it.”
Dropbox offers users 2 gigabytes or more of storage space for free—enough for hundreds of PowerPoint files. You get a lot more when you start paying: An individual user can pay $9.99 a month for 100 GB of storage, while businesses pay $15 per user per month for unlimited storage, with a minimum of five users.
While Dropbox might be the most popular filesharing service out there, certain organizations may not be able to use it, like hospitals, clinics, and schools. That’s because the service does not comply with HIPAA or FERPA regulations that govern health and student records respectively.
Even so, it’s a good choice for most small businesses that deal with a lot of customers and contractors. Its familiarity and ease of use make it easier to settle on a common sharing tool.
For Google Apps Users: Google Drive
Google Drive is nearly as popular, with more than 120 million users. It’s gained most of those through its tight integration with Gmail and other Google apps. The service offers 15 gigabytes of free storage, shared with other Google services, so it can be deceptively small if you store a lot of email in Gmail or photos in Google+. For additional fees, users can buy more storage—100 gigabytes for $4.99/month up to 16 terabytes for $799.99 a month.
For businesses that already use Google Apps for email and other services, Google Drive is an even better choice. The $5 per user per month fee doubles the storage to 30 gigabytes. And since Drive serves as the replacement for Google Docs, it has a host of collaborative online-editing tools for documents and spreadsheets. It has also matched Dropbox’s offline features, letting you keep local copies of files and sync them to Google Drive.
Security, though, is an issue with Google Drive, because the service makes it difficult to share with people who don’t have Google accounts. You can share documents with these users—at the cost of making your documents available to anyone with access to a link. That insistence on being all-in with Google may turn some businesses off.
For Bigger Small Businesses: Huddle
Dropbox and Google Drive have a lock on convenience, especially because employees and partners will already be familiar with these tools. But at a certain size, managing access and controlling security become bigger concerns. We noted how not all businesses may be comfortable storing their most sensitive documents with Google. Huddle, a British maker of collaboration tools, doesn’t mind making this point itself.
But Huddle hasn’t won customers like Procter & Gamble and the British and American governments through Google-bashing. What’s attracted users has been a full suite of tools for collaborating around documents—for example, including the string of emails that surround an attachment. Add to that Huddle’s compliance with various security requirements imposed by governments around the world, and you’ve got an appealing business-oriented product.
Abdul Chohan, director of Essa Academy, says his employer chose Huddle over other offerings for precisely these reasons.
“Other file-sharing solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive do not offer the degree of data security we need,” he said. “Our overriding goal—besides supporting the welfare of students—is to adhere to the [UK] Data Protection Act. Huddle ensures we do.”
Huddle, has more than 100,000 businesses as customers—and the emphasis here is business, not user. Huddle starts its service at a minimum of 25 users, charging $20 per user per month, and goes up from there. As such, it’s not meant for smaller businesses, which often have simpler file-sharing needs.
Something For Everyone
If you feel a bit overwhelmed when choosing a file-sharing solution for your business, you’re likely not alone. These are just a few of the top services out there, but the space is crowded to an extreme. And we found that often there’s very little differentiation in the features they offer—which is why we put a heavy weight on familiarity in our recommendations.
Box falls somewhere between Dropbox and Huddle. It’s not as convenient and familiar as Dropbox, but it is loaded with advanced security features meant to appeal to businesses. Barracuda Networks’ Copy.com emphasizes pricing that undercuts both Box and Dropbox. LogMeIn’s Cubby lets you pick any folder on your desktop to share, unlike Dropbox and Google Drive, which limit you to sharing one particular folder.
Some more specialized choices include BitTorrent Sync, which relies on the distributed file-sharing protocol to offer free, unlimited storage. (Small businesses may find the lack of support a turnoff, though.) Hightail, previously known as YouSendIt, may be a good choice for people who primarily need to deliver large files; it has features like password protection, time limits, and download tracking.
Ultimately, your pick for a file-sharing service will have as much to do with what your employees and business partners are comfortable with as with particular product features. You’re as likely to run out of room for files as you are options for where to store them.