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Working in the cloud: How IT enables mobile productivity

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Cloud storage comparison: Dropbox vs. Box

Dropbox and Box can make mobile workers more productive, but features and prices vary. Both use a 'freemium' model that scales to business class.

Dropbox and Box are two of the most popular cloud storage and file-sharing services, and a close examination shows some key differences that IT needs to take notice of.

Being able to access and share files with anyone, anywhere makes a very compelling case for end users. The days of IT handing a mobile user a virtual private network client and a private mapped network share are essentially over. But the ways in which Dropbox and Box go about enabling this new era -- and how they charge for it -- can vary.

Dropbox and Box both offer a free tier of service that includes a set amount of storage, and you can pay for additional features that scale up to a business-friendly offering. These enterprise features can help IT impose some controls without minimizing the benefits of cloud storage and file-sharing.

For example, centralized administration consoles allow for simple user onboarding. Integration with Active Directory allows for single-sign on (SSO), which lowers the complexity for the user and IT alike. And permissions regarding access to specific files can improve security.

Dropbox vs. Box: Pricing and features

Free accounts: Box's free account includes 10 GB of storage, with a maximum file size of 250 MB. Dropbox gives a scant 2 GB, but there is a mechanism to earn a bonus 500 MB for every person you get to join the service. (The bonus space is capped at 16 GB.) Dropbox has no individual file size limit when using its mobile or desktop applications. When using the Web application, a file must be 10 GB or less.

Paid accounts: Dropbox Pro offers some additional features, such as priority support and higher bandwidth limits for sharing files, plus more space: 100 GB for $9.99 per month, 200 GB for $19.99 per month and 500 GB for $49.99 per month. Signing up for annual billing brings a 17% discount off those prices, and users can pay extra for additional file-versioning and recovery services.

Individual Box users can get 100 GB of storage for $10 per month, which also increases the individual file size limit to 5 GB.

Enterprise accounts: Dropbox Business costs $795 per year for up to five users, with each additional user costing $125 per year. Storage of 1 TB is included, and Dropbox will expand beyond that amount for free, upon request. Dropbox Business provides file versioning for up to 30 days, SSO via integration with an organization's Active Directory and centralized administration of users and their permissions. IT buyers also get remote wipe capabilities and an activity audit log to assist with compliance.

Both services encrypt data in flight, as well as data at rest.

For $5 per user per month, Box Starter Plan offers 100 GB of space for a maximum of 10 users. The maximum file size is 2 GB, and it adds file versioning that allows users to recover the past 25 saves. Box Business costs $15 per user per month, with total storage of 1 TB and a maximum file size of 5 GB.

This service offers a similar stack to Dropbox Business, with some enhancements. For example, it expands the number of versions per file to 50. A differentiating feature is full-text indexing of all content, which lets users search for documents based on the text inside.

Box also offers a full-featured Enterprise edition with unlimited storage space, and you have to contact the company for a price quote.

Dropbox vs. Box: Platform integration

Syncing local storage to the cloud is a commodity. Dropbox, Box and nearly every company competing in this market has it covered. Using the cloud storage platform to extend to other applications is where these providers can add value.

Box integrates with a long list of popular applications, including Salesforce.com, Google Apps, Microsoft SharePoint and NetSuite. It offers a unique FTP service that makes a bridge with legacy systems, where using the native client isn't possible or convenient. Box also allows IT to set bandwidth limits on synchronization activity -- a nice feature to avoid clobbering shared network connections with file sync traffic to and from the cloud.

A Microsoft Outlook plug-in for Box can help users bypass attachment size restrictions by sending a link to a file or folder via the Box website, as shown in this screenshot:

Box's Microsoft Outlook plug-in brings cloud file-sharing to email
Figure 1. Box's Microsoft Outlook plug-in lets users share links to files stored in the cloud, instead of having to send email attachments.

Third-party Outlook plug-ins exist for Dropbox, but most are not free. Dropbox is integrated into its Mailbox iOS app and the Yahoo Mail Web client, which lets users save attachments directly to the cloud or share a link to a file with others. Dropbox also has a handy built-in feature that allows users to quickly share screenshots with others.

Cloud storage comparison: Security and privacy

Relying solely on passwords or PINs for security is wholly inadequate. Adding an additional factor for authentication improves security, and both Dropbox and Box offer this feature, albeit in different ways.

Dropbox supports two-factor authentication using a one-time code delivered to the user via text message or an app compliant with a time-based one-time password, such as Google Authenticator. Box supports only text message delivery.

Both services encrypt data in flight with Secure Sockets Layer, as well as data at rest in the cloud. Note that files are not encrypted on endpoints unless you take other steps to encrypt the local sync folders.

Organizations embracing cloud storage and file sharing need to be cognizant of the types of data being stored in a cloud service and the regulations governing that data. For example, storing personal health information about an employee and having that data breached carries significant legal and financial penalties.

Dropbox does not have formal adherence to U.S. privacy laws such as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, whereas Box does formally support their tenets. Both services are SSAE 16 Type II- and ISO 27001-certified.

Next Steps

Time to find secure Dropbox alternatives?

Box Notes adds native content creation

This was first published in November 2013

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Essential Guide

Working in the cloud: How IT enables mobile productivity
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