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Summary:

Last year around this time we introduced you to Egnyte. With some new features revealed today, Egnyte is trying to pull away from the pack by offering a broader one-stop-shopping product for small businesses, incorporating data storage, collaboration and desktop backup. On first glance, Egnyte appears […]

Last year around this time we introduced you to Egnyte. With some new features revealed today, Egnyte is trying to pull away from the pack by offering a broader one-stop-shopping product for small businesses, incorporating data storage, collaboration and desktop backup.

On first glance, Egnyte appears to be yet another online storage site. Stop there, and you may be missing out on what could be a very usable service.

Egnyte Founder and CEO Vineet Jain took me through a demo of the service, explaining why he believes his software is a strong value for small businesses working in the cloud. Truthfully, there’s nothing Egnyte offers that is profoundly unique standing alone. What makes it interesting is the straight-forward way a variety of features not typically seen under the same roof are assembled to help small businesses keep its assets organized.

Jain sees Egnyte as an answer to three critical problems facing small businesses.

First, it’s about file storage. Originally offering 1 GB of storage for free, Egnyte now charges a company $15 per month per user for a “power” account with unlimited storage. This account gives full access to all site features through a URL unique to the organization.

Egnyte envisions that each employee in a small business will have a “power” account, while they can offer as many free “standard” logins for people outside the company as they want. Standard users can only access files through the web interface, while power users can use the web interface or a desktop sync client. This is similar to something like Basecamp, where a company can have multiple outside vendors or clients with controlled access to files on the intranet.

Here is one area where Egnyte stands out: The entire product package is truly cross platform. The desktop client is offered for Mac OS X and Windows XP. A version for Vista is currently in beta. The web interface is optimized for Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer. My testing proved that the interface works well in all three browsers, although there is a bit of a lag due to its reliance on Java to accommodate large file uploads.

The desktop client serves private and public folders through a WebDAV server, making it more accessible for those who may be adverse to working with files in a web browser. Jain tells me that many users never have a need to visit the website. Those that do visit the site have access to features such as a tagging and file search.

Second, it’s about backup. Rather than use a dedicated online backup client, Egnyte power users can use the service to automatically and continuously back up files on their local drive. These files are saved on the site in an area separate from those files that are on the shared storage server.

There is also the ability to backup email from a POP email account. I’m not sure how useful this is.

Finally, it’s about file sharing and collaboration. The service offers automatic file versioning, retaining an audit trail for each new version of a file. You can set how far back data is saved in the preferences. When a file is changed, everyone with access is notified via email or RSS. Large file uploads are resumable if the user loses Internet access in the middle of the upload.

Egnyte doesn’t currently offer online editing or comments on files, but Jain hints that those features are on the roadmap. Rather than create its own editor, it would probably be better if Egnyte offered editing through a site like Zoho, similar to Box.net’s services.

When I first looked at Egnyte a few weeks ago, I wasn’t impressed with the speed of the site (or lack thereof). However, since then the site’s responsiveness has picked up.

If you want to try Engyte, the company offers a free 15 day demo. If you use the code GIGAOM when signing up, the demo period increases to 45 days.

The combination of desktop backup and in-the-cloud collaboration might just be worth giving this one a try.

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