Recently I had a chance to talk to Jesse Lipson, the founder of ShareFile. Ever since Citrix announced they had acquired them, people been wondering what exactly they would do with it. While we don’t yet have a complete picture of what Citrix Cloud Gateway, Follow-Me-Data, and the new Citrix Receiver will look like when they’re all integrated (I’m sure we’ll have to wait for Synergy in May for that), I was able to learn a bit more about Sharefile.
Sharefile itself was founded in 2005, when file syncing pretty much just meant FTP clients. As the file sharing market evolved, so did ShareFile. Today they have all the typical features that would be expected—mobile clients, desktop clients, and folder syncing as well as features of enterprise document management systems.
Enter Citrix Cloud Gateway
After hearing about Citrix's Follow-Me-Data for a quite a while now, the ShareFile acquisition is starting to give us an idea of what it will actually look like.
A beta version of Citrix Receiver for iPad is available as “R1” (release 1) in the iTunes store. It’s pretty much the same, except it adds a “Docs” tab next to the Settings and Apps tabs. We saw this at Synergy last October, when the keynote mentioned that it does filetype association to open documents in XenApp-delivered applications. The new part is that documents from Citrix Receiver can be opened natively in iOS applications. File type association has been around for years, so maybe this isn’t that impressive, but it’s exciting that the Citrix receiver is accommodating post-Windows applications. (Because without a sanctioned way of opening documents in native mobile apps, it’s “Hello Dropbox!”)
All of the permissions can be controlled granularly. For example, if a user puts a .doc file in their ShareFile folder, when using an iPad, they would be able to open it with Word published as a XenApp application. The user would have a native iPad experience up until the point when they opened that document. If permitted, a user could also choose to use QuickOffice to edit their .doc, instead of the XenApp published Word, allowing for a completely native experience. Files can be stored locally on a device and accessed with a built-in preview function when the device is offline.
ShareFile is entirely cloud-hosted, with some of the control panel elements hosted by Citrix, encrypted storage on Amazon S3, and several ShareFile owned data centers, where data is additionally replicated.
A note about corporate versus consumer file syncing
We’ve been talking a lot lately about whether a “corporate version of Dropbox” will ever be able to replace...well...Dropbox. While I’ve written that it’s unlikely, because employee-created data has always been out of control, Jesse shared an analogy, comparing corporate file-syncing and Dropbox to iTunes and Napster. In 1998, we were all happy to be able to download digital music, even if it was illegal. Now, in 2012, we’ve accepted that we have to pay for digital music, but we also get benefits: iTunes has a huge catalog, we can be sure that all the metadata is correct, we can re-download our purchases if we want to, and we know that using iTunes won’t get us arrested or at the very least won’t infect our computers with viruses. So maybe we’ll grow past the “we’re just happy to have it” stage with file syncing and accept that our can be on all of our devices while still being controlled on the other end.
When it was announced that the new Citrix receiver wouldn’t integrate with DropBox, Brian tweeted: “Citrix Receiver for iPad will integrate with ShareFile, but not Dropbox. Awww.. so close! Understanding consumerization #fail.” On the other hand, I think this is a perfect understanding of consumerization! (Especially considering the Napster to iTunes analogy.)
By enabling corporate data to safely be on personal devices and by allowing users to interact with that data using native iPad applications instead of having to log into a Windows desktop, Citrix/Sharefile is doing exactly what we would want out of a corporate file syncing solution. Like any corporate solution, it will face the usual usability hurdles—but the fact that Citrix is responding to the demand for mobile, device native access to data is a good sign for consumerization.
So Citrix Follow-Me-Data is...
A remote desktop without a desktop? In case you didn't see last weeks article about Wyse PocketCloud Explore, I like this trend! For other examples, think of Nivio (cloud storage with RDSH sessions on a rental basis), Cortado (they refer to their mobile file-syncing product as a cloud desktop, even though there's no desktop involved anywhere), and PocketCloud Explore (the files live on a desktop, users just don't see it in the mobile app). But it's also useful that XenApp applications are right there ready to go when native apps aren't sufficient.
These types of solutions—Citrix Receiver with ShareFile/Follow-Me-Data included—are the solid step towards accommodating desktops that aren't Windows images, but rather collections of data, applications, and settings.