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February 27, 2006

Internet Resources

Korky Koroluk

Transfering big files just got easier

As soon as I finish this column I’ll send it to Daily Commercial News editor Patrick McConnell as an email attachment.

It’s an unremarkable process; similar transmissions occur in the tens of millions across the globe every day.

But it’s not especially secure, and it doesn’t work very well for really big files. These columns I write average about 37 to 38 kilobytes (KB) each. A brief business letter might be 25 or 30 KB. Even heavily formatted documents containing tables, or spreadsheets or charts don’t get especially big.

Things like photos can get quite large, depending on the format — two megabytes (MB) and up.

I mention all this because, while emailing a letter or a photo is a simple proposition, sending a really big file — like those so often generated by architects and engineers — can be a hassle.

A single file from a design professional can, and often does, run into the hundreds of megabytes. But email systems typically handle attachments of, at most, 10 MB. To send them to a client means having an extranet to which the client has been given access. Alternatively, you would have to have an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) site, which is expensive and complex enough that it’s not practical for a small or medium-sized practice. And FTP sites bring security worries with them.

That is where ShareFile comes in. It’s a new company based in Raleigh, N.C., and it offers a system for securely sending and receiving really big files and storing them online.

ShareFile offers its service on three levels — basic, professional and enterprise. All offer unlimited disk space, the ability to add an unlimited number of clients, and daily backups. They start with a bandwidth limit of one gigabyte per month for the basic service, climbing to six gigs for an enterprise account. Additional bandwidth can be purchased in one-gig increments.

There are a couple of things I really like about this service. One is that it is simple to use, even for non-technical people. The other is that your clients don’t have to have a ShareFile account in order to download or upload files. All they need is a username and a password.

That means an engineer with an account, for example, can post a detail which the contractor can download and examine. The contractor can ask questions, suggest changes, and post it back for further attention by the engineer — all without having a ShareFile account.

The upload and download speed depends on the client’s internet connection, although in these days of common cable or DSL connections, speed shouldn’t be a problem. And if you want to move several files, the company provides a zip compression feature that lets you combine and compress several files into one.

ShareFile can be a stand-alone service, unseen except by you and your clients. Or client access can be integrated into your company website in the form of a simple sign-in box. Entering a username and password then takes the client to the file transfer site.

Files of the sort I’m talking about are propriety, of course, so security is a concern. To meet these concerns, company uses 128-bit encryption on all files. That’s the same security level your bank uses on its web banking site.

Depending on the level of service you want, and the billing period you choose, a ShareFile subscription starts at about $20 (U.S.) a month. And if you don’t want to pay that much, wait a few weeks. The company is almost ready to launch a pay-per-use system for files of up to two gigabytes.

Depending on the level of service you want, and the billing period you choose, a ShareFile subscription starts at about $20 (U.S.) a month. And if you don’t want to pay that much, wait a few weeks. The company is almost ready to launch a pay-per-use system for files of up to two gigabytes.

The company’s website contains pretty well everything you’ll need to know to get started, including an offer of a one-month, cost-free introduction.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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