Why You Shouldn’t Use Email For File Transfer

LeapFILE, Inc. – Countless email messages are fired off worldwide everyday, and while the emails containing just text usually find their destination, things aren't so certain for emails carrying attachments. File-size caps, server hiccups, spam filters – all of these can derail an email as it tries to reach its destination.

The need to transfer business files will never go away; in fact, it will only become more critical. If a company wants to ensure safe and timely delivery of critical files, email isn't the answer. Here are the top five reasons why email shouldn’t be used for file transfer.

#1: Email can’t support large file attachments

#2: Updating email infrastructure can wreck IT budgets

#3: Large files mean slow systems

#4: Email systems aren’t secure enough

#5: Email transfer is unreliable, untraceable, and can’t be guaranteed

Reason #1: Email can't support large file attachments

The following scenario has played out in offices around the world countless times. At the end of the day, a dedicated employee finishes a large document or presentation, attaches the file in an email, and hits send. The file whisks away into cyberspace and the relieved employee goes home for the day -- only to see a bounce-back email in his inbox the next morning, along with frenetic messages asking where the file is. One company’s email server might have a different attachment size limit from the destination server; thus, even though an internal email server will accept a file, it could still bounce back due to target restrictions. That unknown variable can be a great risk to business, especially during crunch time.

Even if they make it through, large files suck up significant storage space in several ways: in the recipient’s inbox, in the sender’s Sent folder, and in Trash/Deleted folders. This leads to over-quota problems, creating a chain reaction of logistical problems:

* Once an inbox is over quota, it will bounce back any messages sent to it, thus preventing critical communication.

* During this time, frantic IT support calls spike.

* The removal of old messages to free up storage space can result in the deletion of messages/files needed later on. When that happens, more calls are made to IT support.

From bounced-back emails to storage issues, just about everyone in the company is affected when large files are emailed. In the end, this winds up hurting the bottom line and costing staff productivity – something no business can afford to lose.

Reason #2: Updating email infrastructure can wreck IT budgets

When email becomes the default method for large file transfer, the problems in Reason #1 become inevitable. In order to keep email as the preferred file-transfer method, IT departments can pursue one (or both) of two options:

1. The IT department increases its active monitoring of the mail storage server, addressing issues and contacting appropriate employees when problems arise. Because business is a 24/7 global environment today, this requires continuous observation and analysis, pulling valuable resources away from other core tasks for troubleshooting, problem solving, and monitoring.

2. The IT department can spend more to upgrade hardware for increased mail storage requirements. However, a complete restructuring of email infrastructure comes with its own budget-busting price tag. The following table is a typical breakdown of hardware/software costs to support a Microsoft Exchange mailbox system:



Server Hardware: $4,000.00

Backup Domain Controller: $2,000.00

Exchange 2007 Server License: $699.00

Windows 2003 Server (5 Licenses): $999.00


Exchange 2007 Server Standard User Licenses: $67/user

Windows 2003 Server User Licenses: $40/user

Outlook 2007: $129/user

Anti-Virus: $15/user


Backup Server: $2,000.00

Backup Exec Software: $1,000.00




That cost doesn’t include other additional security options, such as encryption and notification/tracking.

Any way you look at the numbers, there's no getting around the fact that an entire infrastructure upgrade will be costly. Even when it gets up and running, the problems from Reason #1 will continue to accumulate over time.

Reason #3: Large files mean slow systems

Picture a three-lane highway with cars and trucks moving along at a fast pace. Now imagine what happens if an oversized truck barrels down the highway, taking up two lanes while flashing emergency lights. The whole freeway slows down; in some areas, traffic will totally stop until the truck passes by. Why? Because the infrastructure can't support something that large without disrupting the regular flow of traffic.

In that scenario, cars and trucks are regular emails and that oversized truck is a large attachment being sent through the email server. Email servers aren't designed to handle large file transfers, and the process of delivering those files slows down network traffic. In a best-case scenario, things temporarily slow down while the large file moves from Inbox A to Inbox B. In a worst-case scenario, the infrastructure can't handle the overload and the email server crashes. Imagine the likelihood and the risk of this happening in medium or large corporations with hundreds if not thousands of users, where mail servers are handling numerous message transactions at any given point in time.

There's a reason why email systems have a cap on file sizes. Simply put, email servers weren't meant to be file-transfer conduits. File-size limits are meant to ensure that the infrastructure never encounters anything it can't handle. These limits can be one of the most frustrating issues facing end users. With files increasing in size as applications become more advanced and complicated, the file-size safeguard becomes a hindrance to day-to-day business users, slowing down communication – or even grinding it to a halt.

Reason #4: Email systems aren’t secure enough for today’s business needs

Emails are routed over the public internet in clear text without any encryption. It's similar to carrying confidential papers in a see-through briefcase; if the wrong people look hard enough, they'll see exactly what you don't want them to see. With online security becoming more critical every day, company risk and employee liability are very real factors when dealing with private data.

Beyond encryption, other issues demonstrate the need for further security features not provided by standard email systems. With confidential information, it's imperative that the right person gets the file. Using an email application, this is performed simply by entering in an email address - and when programs auto-fill the wrong sender from an address book, one careless mistake can be devastating to a company's and its client's proprietary data.

In a situation like that, how can you actually tell that the email was sent to the wrong person? You could call the intended recipient to check to see if they got it or you could check your Sent folder to verify the address. In other words, no automated tracking and notification process exists for the end-user to control this.

From an IT perspective, how can the IT department centrally control and manage corporate communication when it comes to sending proprietary information? With email, this remains in the hand of the end-user, leaving critical files to the whim of hurried employees under deadline pressure.

Taking a further step back, the needs for encryption and security are starting to come from the rapid increase in government-sanctioned encryption/security and data privacy requirements...such as HIPAA, SOX, GLBA and various state-level data privacy breach notification laws. Legislation such as these acknowledge the growing reliance on online communication to expedite business and information sharing; yet at the same time, these acts create rigid standards that must be met by IT departments in their respective industries.

Reason #5: Email transfer is unreliable, untraceable, and can't be guaranteed

How many times does the question "Did you get my email?" get asked every day? When emails fail to arrive quickly, there could be any number of reasons - files sent as email attachments can be delayed or blocked due to server issues, the files could mistakenly be considered as a security threat or spam and thus sent into the junk folder, or the email may have been simply overlooked by the receiver because of the numerous emails bombarding us every day.

There’s simply no way to tell when or if a file was downloaded, whether the download was successful, or when that download occurred. In addition, because email attachments have no tracking system to verify who receives them, proprietary information can be inadvertently exposed.

Each year, the size of application files grows bigger and bigger. At the same time, size and security restrictions increase due to a growing focus on confidentiality and protection. Ultimately, every passing day further antiquates the use of email for large file transfer.

Get this article in a downloadable e-book at http://www.leapfile.com/files/Resources/Top5ReasonsEmail.pdf.

This story, "Why You Shouldn’t Use Email For File Transfer" was originally published by ITworld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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