When Gartner released its inaugural Magic Quadrant for the Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing (EFSS) market, it predicted that by 2017 less than 10 percent of today's destination vendors would offer stand-alone products. That means that as many as 80 of those who are offering services today (there are well over 120), will have been absorbed into adjacent markets, such as collaboration, enterprise content management (ECM), mobility and storage.

What it didn’t articulate as clearly, as we see it, is how quickly the vendors mentioned in the study are raising their games, we reported on four different instances of this in the past week alone.

Who will succeed? Who will be acquired? And who will fade away? 

Making a List

While some vendors didn’t meet the criteria that Gartner was basing its ratings on when it did the study, some of them might today. Others don’t believe that hybrid and cloud-only is the way to go, Gartner does. Keep this in mind when you look at solutions for your company.

Here are the vendors that Gartner selected as Niche players.

Novell: Not everyone wants to store files in the cloud. Novell’s Filr might be a good choice for that crowd. Gartner says it keeps them behind the firewall to access file servers and NAS devices directly.

Its weaknesses, according to the report, are, in a sense caused by its strengths.  there’s no editing capability and documents are rendered through a viewer. There’s also no integration with Sharepoint which Gartner seems to believe is important.

We reached out to Novell to see what they thought about being labeled as “Niche”, they commented that while they were happy to be selected as a significant player, they felt that if different criteria had been used, they would have been called a Leader.

The criteria that would have won them a top spot? “If we defined the addressable market as large organizations who have a critical need to protect sensitive files,  while leveraging existing IT and security investments,  while delivering an easy-to-use mobility and sharing experience to end users, then Novell would be positioned in the upper right,” says Tom Scearce, senior product marketing manager for the Novell and Attachmate brands within The Attachmate Group.

Egnyte: Gartner calls Egnyte’s EFSS solution “a hybrid architecture that combines local on-premises storage with a public cloud repository.” It offers a public, cloud based solution, a cloud + on-premise continuous synching solution, and an on-premise solution that facilitates remote access and sharing

Gartner says Egnyte’s sole enterprise focus, its partnering with best-in-class companies like Jive and Google, and server to server encryption are its strengths.

Its weaknesses seem to stem from an unproven on-prem offering (that was made available just 3 months ago, so what would you expect?), its lack of certification for government markets (where it’s not looking to do business), and its European support services, which may need improvement.

We asked Egnyte what they thought of their Niche placement, and they indicated that since they aren’t aware of all of the criteria by which they were being judged, it was hard to answer.

Vineet Jain, the company’s CEO did offer this: “We have defined and led the market for hybrid storage and file sharing, having educated customers and offered market leading products in this category. This is evidenced by our significant customer wins, many against players listed as leaders or visionaries in the MQ.  We are continuing to make investments in R&D, partnerships and market expansion that will enhance our strengths further in the next year."

Intralinks: Intralinks has been rated first in Gartner’s Enterprise Collaboration and Social Software Suites for eight consecutive years.

The analyst says that its EFSS solution integrates nicely with other vendors’ products, that if offers specialized applications that are built on top of it and that DRM is among its strengths.

Weaknesses seem to center around overlapping products in the company’s product suite, making it hard to select one solution Vs. another, its contractual terms,  and that it doesn’t offer embedded content editing.

And while Intralinks is proud to have been selected for the quadrant, Doug Gordon, the company’s Senior Vice President isn’t sure an EFSS Magic Quadrant will be called for next year.

“We’ve long argued that FSS is a feature, not a complete solution,” he said. “Gartner also thinks that FSS functionality will be quickly absorbed into adjacent markets like enterprise collaboration, which is a core strength for us.”

Workshare: Gartner calls Workshare a document-centric collaboration platform used in regulated industries like legal, professional services, finance and accounting, and pharmaceuticals. It’s available in public cloud and hybrid offerings, offers security and collaboration, and works best when integrated with ECM offerings.

Its downside is that it’s provided by a small company that sometimes develops capabilities faster than it documents them, that it’s sometimes slow in providing support, and that it isn’t CMIS certified.

Its benefits, however, are substantial. So if it can improve on its weaknesses, it’s definitely worth looking at.

Workshare CEO Anthony Foy tells us that the company has 18,000 businesses and 2 million users all of whom are benefitting from “a powerful EFSS platform which in enabling secure collaboration when handling sensitive documents - from any device - helps to significantly increase productivity across teams.”

Keep an eye on them, they have a strong solution and problems that may not be too hard to fix.

OwnCloud: OwnCloud is the only Open Source solution in the Niche quadrant and both its completeness of vision and its ability to execute are reported as being limited. MDM capabilities, like remote wiping, rely on third party products and its experience with large projects seems to be lacking.

That being said, it integrates with SharePoint, Jive, and Red Hat and supports CMIS. If it gains some larger customers and raises its game it could, in time, be a contender.

Acronis: Go to Acronis’ website and you’ll probably need at least a few points and clicks before you know that they have an EFSS product/service to sell. But once you hit the Mobility button, you’ll find Acronis Access which was built by integrating GroupLogic's mobilEcho and activEcho into a single product.

Gartner says that Acronis is primarily an on-prem (it can be used in private cloud) offering that provides access to enterprise content servers with security and management. It appeals primarily to regulated companies who benefit from its compliance features and a rich ecosystem of retailers and distributors.

What’s its downside? According to Gartner, it’s not set up to play nicely with others (no CMIS back-end integration or for third party APIs), it’s not too social, and there’s no DRM—so if you’re tablet gets stolen your content could be at risk.

Airwatch, a VMWare company: If you haven’t heard about Airwatch yet, you will. Not just from this article, of course, but also by way of the innovations and partnerships (such as the one that it formed with Box to secure mobile collaboration) forming around it. As notably, there’s also the fact that VMWare purchased Airwatch earlier this year for a hefty 1.54 billion. VMWare will no doubt want a quick return on its investment and, in order to make that happen, will be incentivizing its salesforce to present it to its clients.

According to Gartner, Airwatch is best known as an Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) vendor and its EFSS product, Secure Content Locker (SCL), has been sold primarily with that solution, as well as to add simple EFSS capabilities to Airwatch’s master data management (MDM) solutions which lack basic EFSS capabilities, or to provide a secure EFSS capability for workers on managed mobile devices.

Gartner likes Airwatch’s international presence, the company’s maturity and the fact that SCL will be offered as part of VMWare’s Desktop as a Service (DaaS Horizon suite.) If the companies (VMWare and Airwatch) can get the sales pitch right and deliver as promised, the possibilities are enormous.

On the downside, Gartner said that Secure Locker wasn’t yet mature and wasn’t as user friendly as it could be.

In our minds, if VMWare invests in Secure Locker and gives it the same attention as it does to Airwatch’s EMM solution, we will see the company in the challenger’s quadrant next year.

Update: It will be interesting to see if the Apple/IBM partnership has an effect in the long term.

Hightail: If you’re not familiar with Hightail as an EFSS vendor, think of YouSendIT, the public cloud-based file synchronization and sharing solution. According to the company, it has more than 45 million registered users. Its product is offered in a freemium model that is available in five European languages. It also has an international presence which makes file sharing in countries with strict regulations easier.

Hightail’s advantages, according to Gartner, are its consumer-like feel and UI, which make adoption easier. It’s also HIPAA certified and offers other compliance and control features. It lacks social collaboration features, DRM encryption, and limited backend integration.

Interestingly, Hightail is the Gartner Niche player that’s closest to the Challengers quadrant. It‘s ability to execute ranks high, its completeness of vision does not.

Huddle: Huddle is a cloud-based enterprise content collaboration service geared toward productivity. It goes beyond cloud based file sharing and synchronization by offering tools around project management, social and mobile collaboration, and task management and so on.

According to Gartner, aside from its user-pleasing content collaboration service, Huddle leverages a recommendation engine that learns from workers' actions to pick and push relevant files to connected devices, potentially to simplify work.

The service has a good number of certifications and is available in 15 languages. Huddle claims to integrate well with Sharepoint.

Crowded Market, High Stakes

If you’re wondering what to make of all of this, it’s a crowded market and competition is high. This should be good for buyers because every player will be challenged to raise its game.

Startups like Box , Dropbox for Business and Accellion will benefit from this because the market valuation will rise- as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Vendors who have served the enterprise for a long time will have to ask themselves if they need a cloud to remain grounded.

And those who offer hybrid solutions will have to continuously check themselves to see if customers still want what they have to offer.

For now, we’re going to side with Gartner on one point. The near future will be hybrid. We expect that both Box and Dropbox will act on this through the development of their own on-premise solutions before the end of the year.

Title image by Aivoges / Shutterstock.com.