New Dropbox for Business features aim to get skeptical IT on board

More IT-centric features are realized in a revamped Dropbox for Business. But will it whet the whistle of IT in a competitive cloud storage market?

Dropbox continues to be viewed as a consumer product and struggles to make headway in the enterprise file-sync and -share market, but the company took steps recently to entice IT with some important Dropbox for Business administration features.

The most significant update for users, of which the company says there are 275 million worldwide, is the ability to access a Dropbox for personal use and a Dropbox for enterprise use from any device. Users can link each Dropbox to view the files in a more consistent fashion.

Doing this required a rebuild of not just Dropbox for Business, but of Dropbox itself, said Drew Houston, CEO, at a press event where the new features were unveiled last week.

If there's one misstep and a million usernames are stolen, obviously no enterprise is going to take you seriously.

Michael Oh,
IT consultant, Tech Superpowers

Administrators now have the ability to remove and reassign Dropbox for Business user files when an employee leaves. IT can also conduct a remote wipe of a Dropbox for Business folder if data is compromised and sharing audit logs show where the data is accessed.

Dropbox also gave information about an anticipated collaboration feature, dubbed "Project Harmony," that lets users edit the same file in other native applications, engage in conversations and sync wherever it resides. The company expects the feature to be available later this year.

Project Harmony will start with Microsoft Office product compatibility. At last week's event, Dropbox demonstrated Project Harmony on Microsoft PowerPoint. The feature is expected to extend to other applications in the future, according to the company.

And Dropbox didn't stop with the product updates; the company came to an agreement this week to acquire document-editing and collaboration startup Hackpad. Hackpad specializes in collaborative note-taking, file sharing and synchronized commenting on documents, similar to what Dropbox presented with Project Harmony.

Whether the new features can attract IT buyers is an open question, given years of concerns over Dropbox's security capabilities, especially in a hot market like cloud storage and file sync and share. But any company that boasts 275 million users will have an enterprise impact, whether IT administrators want it or not.

Comparisons can be drawn between the IT impact of Dropbox and that of Apple several years ago when iOS devices began to dominate the business landscape, according to Michael Oh, president and founder of Tech Superpowers, an IT managed service provider based in Boston.

More iOS devices handling company data meant administrators had to react by implementing mobile device management controls on the devices, and now those same administrators must react to data traveling through something like Dropbox.

"If you have hundreds of people that have Dropbox accounts, which really is the case within a large organization, then companies really need to seriously look at Dropbox for Business or something similar to that," Oh said.

Dropbox is also showing an enterprise commitment with several new hires, bringing in Ross Piper, a former senior vice president at Salesforce.com, and more recently, Robert Baesman, a former senior director of product management at VMware.

Dropbox has more ground to make up

But what Dropbox offers for business has to be up to snuff for IT. A lack of focus on the enterprise has caused Dropbox to fall behind competitors like Box and Citrix's ShareFile, according to Matt Kosht, IT director for a utility company in Alaska.

An important aspect for IT is holding control over the data that may be stored in the cloud, and without that, the proposition can be a tough sell, Kosht said.

"If I stuck trade secrets up in a cloud, I'm going to want to encrypt that with my own keys," Kosht said.

Dropbox encrypts files at rest using 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard protection and the Secure Sockets Layer protocol during data transfer. But the company was one of many impacted by the "Heartbleed" bug, and was criticized for posting an update on its blog rather than alerting users directly and immediately.

In today's IT environment, a company like Dropbox can't be careful enough when it comes to security and vulnerabilities, Oh said.

"If there's one misstep and a million usernames are stolen, obviously no enterprise is going to take you seriously," he said.

Box, generally viewed as Dropbox's top competitor, recently introduced several enterprise-centric features including Box View, a cloud-based document viewer for PDFs and Microsoft Office documents that also converts files into HTML for Web and mobile viewing.

For more information on file sharing

Cloud file-sharing services features, price comparison

Box invested time over the last several years into its product features to make it more appealing to enterprises, Kosht said.

"[The new Dropbox for Business] can give you an audit trail and remote wipe, but otherwise it's still pretty much Dropbox," he said.

Numerous other companies are vying for this market, including mobility management vendors like AirWatch by VMware's Secure Content Locker and MobileIron's Docs@Work. Other companies like Accellion, Acronis, AppSense, Soonr, WatchDox, FilesAnywhere, Biscom and Novell, among many others, offer alternatives to Dropbox. Microsoft recently updated its similar product, OneDrive.

Dropbox for Business is available for a 14-day free trial or in two pricing models: $15 per user per month for a minimum of five users, or $795 per year for a five-user team; an additional $125 per user per year is charged for additional users. Plans start with 1,000 Gb of space.

Dropbox did not provide comment.

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