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Aaron’s blog on Networking, and Enterprise Technology

Email as a File Transfer Medium?

It is getting out-of-hand. Users are treating email as a file-transfer medium. Even if the other person is sitting 3 desks down. Rather than saving their files to the network, they "feel" it’s easier to just attach it, and send it to the other person’s mailbox.

It’s getting worse. Nowadays, Marketing files are getting overwhelmingly (is that a word?) large. We are now using email to transfer Marketing campaigns, video’s, and Magazine layout files. Where did we go wrong? And don’t get me started on the oversized 5MB photos of someone’s mom’s birthday with those 7 megapixel cameras.

I’m guessing it’s because everyone is so used to using email, it just became second nature. Now, of course I’ve implemented the size-restriction policy. Most of the medium/large-sized business have. BUT, you also can’t stop business processes either.  If they gotta have it, they gotta have it.

If Company A has a critical financial spreadsheet that Company B must have, and it is 25MB in size, do you just tell them they are out of luck? Unless you want to lose your job, you temporarily give them access.

Of course, you have the other alternative, which is setup an FTP server. That way, you can give your user’s access to their own "folder", and drop files in there for the "outside" user’s. But, what if an outside user shouldn’t see another outside user’s data, from the same internal user’s folder?

Now, you are back to heavy administration. You’ve alleviated the database size problem from email, and moved over to an administrative overhead of maintaining user accounts and permissions.

Really, the best option is to setup a web-enabled file transfer application. This type of application allows end-users to "upload" the files they want to transmit, and type in the recipient’s email address. An email is then submitted, on the user’s behalf, with a link to download the file. Now, you’ve moved from a push (synchronous) technology, to a pull (asynchronous) technology. AND, if the user doesn’t want it, you are not forced to use up the bandwidth.

A perfect solution. I haven’t found many products to do what I want, though. Either, they are too expensive, or they don’t do what I want. So, I’m half-way thinking just making our own web application. Jeez, it can’t be that hard?

Anyone have any suggestions on products they use, to alleviate using email to transfer files, but still use email to notify users of the files?

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9 responses to “Email as a File Transfer Medium?

  1. Jon Chase March 7, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Hey Aaron –

    What is it about the current line of file transfer web sites that is missing? Specifically, where are they falling short for your needs?

    I ask because I’m one of the people that runs and develops one of them – http://www.sendalong.com. Right now it’s in its infancy, but I’m adding more business friendly features all the time. If all of the other sites are missing the features you need, let me know about them and I’ll see what I can do:).

    Jon Chase

  2. Aaron Paxson March 7, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Hi Jon. Here are a couple off the top of my head:

    1). Privately hosted – Our business sends sensitive materials that we do not want stored on a 3rd-party server. Especially a “Public-facing” server.

    2). Integration into our existing Active Directory structure. This maintains authentication, and can automatically pull the sender’s email address based on the login.

    3). Integration into our existing LDAP Address Book Directory.

    There are more… but this is off the top of my head. Probably the most important, and falls short from there (i.e. archiving, etc).

    Sorry. I don’t think Sendalong is what we are looking for. But thanks for the discussion!


  3. jk March 7, 2008 at 9:00 pm

    google ‘file upload’.

    There are tons of third party options now. If you don’t mind using your bandwidth for it, do so. It’s often good in a customer/provider relationship (here, please proof these or here, the pictures we took are here)

    If it’s local and it’s not data that will end up being mission critical all the time, perhaps one of the new NAS devices would work. They can be made pretty open. “Hey, I put your file up at NAS://foo/bar/baz – go get it”

    Or, if you want something more local, find an intern coder and have them write one. I’ve seen these written in one day. There’s gotta be some packages out there you can use, but I can’t find one in the immediate search.

  4. hot carl March 8, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    like you, i’ve been searching for the same thing (with the same requirements you listed in your response to jon). i’m convinced i’ll have to write my own in order to get exactly what i want.

  5. Zaki Usman March 10, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Hi Arron, we hit exactly this issue back in 2003. This lead to Files2U, a web application to do what your talking about. Files2U was marketed to enterprises, and was doing well. But the files being transfered started getting bigger and bigger and corporate employees wanted them faster and faster. So we integrated our file acceleration algorithms (called FileCatalyst) into the Files2U web application. And now its called FileCatalyst Webmail. And not only does it allow users to upload large files and send email notifications to these uploads, it also does it using acceleration. The results for some of our clients are very encouraging. Have a look here at http://www.filecatalyst.com/products/fcwm-overview.html

    Hope this gives you some ideas on how you can tackle your problem.

  6. Aaron Paxson March 10, 2008 at 8:26 am


    Your product was the primary reason for writing my post. I had a few thoughts on the File Catalyst product:

    1). The demo did not work correctly. I was able to upload the files fine, and the emails were sent out. However, when the recipient would click on the link, an error would be generated, because the link being sent was incorrect.

    I then spent approx 20 minutes troubleshooting this with a software developer. Too much trouble. I feel that if Quality Assurance was bad for demos, imagine what it would be like for the actual product.

    2). While FileCatalyst DOES, in fact, do LDAP authentication (I had Active Directory authentication setup within 5 minutes), FileCatalyst does not do LDAP searches against a common Address Book. Everyone would start from scratch.

    3). It was just too expensive for what I wanted it to do. With a price point between $10,000 – $18,000USD, I’d rather just buy another Email server dedicated to just attachments.

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  8. James March 10, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I’ve run into this before. I have yet to find a good working solution.

    We usually setup an FTP server as you’ve described. We’ll setup a task to delete the file after 48 hours or so. That’s our makeshift method of ensuring only the proper person/people access the file.

    If you find a good solution, please post. I’d be interested!

  9. jk March 11, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    On techcrunch, I saw a colleague of mine write up something on these folks:



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