Fellow startup Dropbox is another competitor to Box. Dropbox is better funded but more focused on consumers, and launched its service for businesses only late last year. Third-party apps can make use of Dropbox storage in a similar way to Box’s OneCloud apps, but the company has been less active in promoting the apps that do (read an in-depth interview with Dropbox founder Drew Houston).
Levie says his company is also working on making its storage smarter. In the future, companies with data in Box will be able to take advantage of services such as in-depth search or virus scanning, or scan their files to enforce compliance with regulations, such as those that restrict some financial companies from making forward-looking statements.
Whether or not Box or similar services ever become as important as operating systems, it is clear that they can boost the efficiency of organizations, and there is a need for services that unite our many computers, says Derek Brink, an analyst with Aberdeen Group. Many people now use the free versions of Dropbox or Box to handle their work data. “Users take advantage of the consumer-oriented solutions because they’re trying to get their jobs done,” he says. “Until the enterprise provides them with a ‘sanctioned’ alternative, they’re going to find a way to use the best and most convenient solutions available.”
Brink adds that Box’s OneCloud could help businesses gain the control administrators crave over mobile devices, which are seen as a security risk. “Many enterprises I’ve spoken to express the view that their biggest concern is with the persistence of [business] data and applications on the mobile devices,” he says. “That is, if they could manage the apps and data, then they wouldn’t necessarily care about managing the devices.”
Brink notes, however, that Box isn’t alone in trying to bridge the divide between easy-to-use services for people struggling with multiple devices and the control that businesses want. He singles out Accellion, which recently launched a Dropbox-like service targeted at businesses, and says that even Microsoft could yet become a competitor.
Levie dismisses that last threat in the same way Dropbox’s founders have, saying that a “neutral” third party will be more successful at working across platforms operated by Microsoft and its competitors Apple and Google.