Accellion Delivers Enterprise-Class MFT

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2010-05-07

Accellion's managed file transfer solution is designed to support the needs of enterprises at all levels. It's highly scalable, appropriately priced and worked quite well during our tests. The primary differentiator between Accellion's product and similar products such as YouSendIt is that Accellion is designed specifically for the performance, security and compliance needs of the enterprise. It's not an outgrowth of a consumer product.

At its most basic level, Accellion resembles other secure MFT products. The Web-based interface is quite basic, there's an Outlook plug-in that handles large files or sensitive attachments, and you get confirmations of receipt and delivery as you do with other products. But the similarities are superficial. Beneath the surface of the Accellion product lies support for the largest of enterprises, with infrastructure that can be based in your data center or in the cloud.

The key feature of Accellion's MFT solution is that it's equally useful for enterprises of any size. A company with a handful of employees can have the same flexibility and level of security as the largest enterprises.

What's also important is that the solution is scalable, so it can grow with the company, while appearing the same to users regardless of how big it gets. That's a key to enterprise-class scalability: The only thing that changes is the size, not the user experience.

Accellion's managed file transfer solution is priced starting at $200 per user per year, with volume discounts that can bring the cost as low as $10 per user per year in very large deployments. Exact pricing will depend on the installation type and appliance location.

Location can be in data center or cloud

Most users will see Accellion as a Web-based file transfer system. Users fill out a form and browse to a file or folder they want to encrypt and send, add an e-mail address and a message, and send it on its way. What's unique about Accellion is that the user is communicating with an appliance that may be in the data center or in the cloud.  

For cloud users, Accellion provides and manages appliances, and can set up a managed file transfer solution very quickly. However, for companies that must keep the file transfer process in-house, the company can deliver appliances-either as an image for a VMware host or as a physical server.  

Enterprises that choose appliances for use within their data centers usually do so because of bandwidth or latency limitations, or because they need to keep their internal data systems separate from the cloud. Because Accellion is using the same appliances in both instances, a company can use the solution that works best for each specific location: Some offices can use a cloud-based solution, while others can have an appliance in the data center.

Regardless of where the Accellion appliance is physically located, administering it uses the same Web-based interface. Administrators select tabs for the functions they want to control, to set up users and to control what users can do, such as whether they can invite other users into the file transfer system. Likewise, users see only one interface, regardless of where the appliance is located.  

The automated interface that's available for the Accellion appliances is another feature that's mostly invisible to users. However, it performs a valuable service by performing regular, large transfers automatically between locations. You would want this for keeping a hot site up-to-date or for long-term archival purposes. It's a process (which I didn't test) that will be of use mostly for large enterprises with specific data retention requirements.

The Outlook plug-in is designed to automatically take over when attachments reach a half-megabyte. However this can be changed, and users can choose to use Accellion for any attachment. Likewise, the administrator can set the default settings so that files of any size are transferred using Accellion-or even to require all transfers to take place using managed file transfer.

Transfer speeds depend on the network

The speed with which transfers take place depends entirely on the speed of the network between you and the appliance. During testing, for example, I attempted to send Labs Managing Editor Jason Brooks a folder containing all eWEEK's photos from CeBIT 2008. Because of my Internet upload speed, the transfer would have taken five hours. Had there been an appliance on site, the time from my viewpoint would have been only a few minutes, although the time end to end would have been the same.

Internet speeds aside, I did find that file transfers between the test location and eWEEK's lab in San Francisco appeared to be faster than they were with other similar products I've tested. It appears that the process of creating the ZIP file prior to transfer is faster, and the actual transmission time is also faster, based on sending identical files. The ultimate performance limit remains the speed of the Internet connection, however.

When using the Web interface for transfers of large files and folders, the process depends on a Java applet. Small files can be sent without the Java applet, but folders of any size require it. But transfers initiated through the Outlook plug-in communicate directly with the appliance and don't require the Java applet.  

While Accellion puts the upper limit for transfers at 20GB, the company admits that some customers do perform larger transfers. At this point, the critical issue becomes network speed: Unless your network is really fast, there reaches a point at which FedEx provides better bandwidth than the Internet.

I found that during large file transfers through the Web interface or the Outlook plug-in, the process chugged along in the background, consuming bandwidth but not locking up Outlook or my browser. 

I'd like to see the Accellion software include an option for client-side bandwidth throttling, but no such feature is currently available.

Contributing analyst Wayne Rash is a veteran technology writer and reviewer.  

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