The outcome for the user is similar to what's promised in last week's rival announcement of Dropbox Smart Sync. But unlike the cloud-based Dropbox service, Egnyte's technology is likely to appeal to enterprises that aren't keen on moving files out of their existing storage into the cloud. Chief strategy officer Isabelle Guis, who briefed us on the announcement last week, says this is a key differentiator compared to cloud-based services:
We are not asking customers to migrate all their content like Box and Dropbox are doing. We're saying, 'Do it when you're ready.' If they migrate to the cloud, wonderful. If they don't, they're still our customer.
Egnyte Connect extends the reach of the familiar Windows Explorer or Mac Finder functions that people already use to find and open the files they need to work with. But instead of restricting the choice of files to what's available on the local disk or network, Connect allows the file system to show any corporate content available to the user when they're online. This means users no longer have to endure the time sink of searching across different systems to locate the content they need, says Guis:
We're solving all the problems embodied in the environment they are in.
When they look for information, workers have to look in multiple systems. You have to log into those different content silos to find that information ...
You may have to find the server, you have to connect to it. If it's all in the cloud and connectity is bad, accessing a large file takes for ever.
By hiding all this complexity of accessing enterprise file stores behind the simple, familiar interface of the desktop file manager, Egnyte believes its tool brings new freedom to IT teams and users alike. Guis explains:
Now IT can make those decisions where to store content, independently of the user experience. The user just logs in when they want, and IT can organize the content, track everything, without affecting performance.
IT has the freedom to do what they want, to manage it the way they want, and the user has the freedom to use it as they want. We're removing the tension between IT and the user, optimizing everything for them independently.
As well as seeing what files are available online, users can select files they plan to access when they're offline. The system will automatically download the content to the local disk, and if they make changes while they're offline, it automatically syncs the updated version when they reconnect. There's file locking to ensure that changes aren't lost if other people also make changes while a user is editing content offline.
The level of file-locking is dictated by the underlying storage application. Connect supports real-time collaboration in applications that have this capability, such as Google Docs or Office 365. But if the file comes from a system that can only lock content at the file level, then if two people both edit it at the same time, the Egnyte system will keep both copies and email the users to advise them to merge their changes manually. "We are limited by the capabilities of the applications you are using," explains Guis.
Egnyte was founded 10 years ago to provide enterprise file sync and share, and now claims 14,000 business customers. That pedigree means it believes it's more attuned to enterprise needs than the likes of Box and Dropbox, which started off targeting consumers before pivoting to focus on the business market. In particular, Guis cites Egnyte's willingness to support on-premise systems alongside cloud services:
We built on day one a hybrid solution that could integrate with on-premies and cloud and different business applications. The total addressable market we're looking at is very different.
A particular strength of being platform agnostic is that it leaves Egnyte's customers free to pursue a multi-cloud strategy, says Guis.
With us you can migrate your content from Google to Amazon to get the lower prices. Even after the cloud migration is completed, if you want to stay competitive you don't want to be in a locked-in situation.
Even in its partnership with Microsoft, which last October saw Egnyte name Azure as its primary cloud partner, it acts as "the glue" between different parts of the Microsoft ecosystem, says Guis. OneDrive isn't able to share large files, for example, which might instead by stored in Azure.
We don't really see ourselves as a Microsoft competitor. We're doing a lot more around content management.
Customers tend to use Egnyte to manage a content strategy rather than simply file sync and share, she adds, extending into activities such as migration, business continuity and archiving.
While this solution is not as fluid in execution as Dropbox Smart Sync, its reach is much broader, offering the potential to span file stores as diverse as IBM and NetApp right across to Azure and G-Suite. For enterprises that aren't ready to rip-and-replace their on-premise storage, or who are worried about lock-in to a specific cloud platform, you can see the appeal.
Having focused on the business market from the get-go, Egnyte has built up its market presence more quietly than its brasher, consumer-friendly competitors Dropbox and Box. But its solution to the challenge of efficient file sync and share is therefore well tailored to the concerns and requirements of enterprise buyers. That will give it a useful edge when buyers come to make their evaluations.