PALO ALTO, Calif. - Box, formerly known as Box.net, is on its way to transcending the standard consumer cloud-storage-service market and moving into a different category: that of enterprise cloud storage and real-time collaboration services.
To help it along this new path, Box has enlisted well-known partners: VMware, Samsung and NetSuite. The company that just a year ago had 65 employees and 2 million users now has 5 million customers- and that's up 1 million from only four months ago-and its headcount has nearly doubled to 125.
It's also storing upwards of 300 million pieces of content, superceding the number of volumes in the Library of Congress.
Box gives all those who sign up in a personal account a free 5GB of online space, a standard inducement in this sector. Business users (three or more users per account, free trials available) pay $15 per month for up to 500GB; enterprise users can get unlimited capacity, but they need to talk to Box about pricing.
The company also claims a 99.9 percent up-time guarantee and offers SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) encryption, available redundant storage and configurable permissions.
New name, new approach
At a Jan. 20 product launch here at the 5-year-old company's new Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, located conveniently in the same building as a Fry's Electronics store, 25-year-old CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie laid out Box's new name and approach: Adding home-developed collaboration features into an already-successful storage business that significantly enhances the Box value proposition.
"If you or your company is using even a new SharePoint or Outlook or one of these other solutions, it's already out-of-date," Levie told an audience of media representatives and business partners at the launch event. "That means Microsoft is already working on versions of the product you're not going to see for a couple of years.
"Because the cloud is radically different, as we do innovations in real time, people will get those updates. For example, when we update everything to HTML 5 drag-and-drop technology and roll it out two weeks later, you don't have to do any updates; you get that free with the services. That's exciting."
Levie, who founded Box.net while in high school in the Seattle, Wash., area, built the company with the simple purpose of making one's files available on any device, at any time.
"Enterprise technology today is too complex. The reason we've seen this viral adoption is that people are running into dead ends with the solutions they now have," Levie said. "We have a lot of solutions that can be used okay by IT, but not a lot that can be used easily by end users."
Designed specifically for users
Levie and his team have designed Box to cater entirely to users. Here are some examples of what the new Box enables users to do:
--Users can drag and drop a file, any file, from their computers into the shared Box application window, and whoever you designate (also using Box, of course) inside or outside the company also will get a copy in real time. The service is not relegated to folks within the company firewall; corporate partners or consultants can also make use of Box, if needed, depending upon the requirements of the work project.
--Box also has folders, synched up with its cloud storage, that automatically update files as they are changed.
--When you receive a file in the Box application, it automatically sends an e-mail notification to whatever device, desktop or mobile, that you designate. So you know the latest about what's going on with the project.
--Users can create an online workspace where they can share project files, manage files with version history, add comments, assign tasks or create new content.
--When files such as Illustrator, Adobe PDF, PowerPoint or Photoshop files are inside Box, a visual representation of the file (not just an icon) appears in the folder as a preview. Thus, entire presentations can simply be dropped into the application and displayed for sales events, project meetings and other purposes. This is part of Box's "secret sauce."
--Video and audio files are also supported in Box.
The new version of the storage service also includes an application marketplace that features other cloud-based applications, such as NetSuite and Salesforce, that also can sync up with Box. This is intended to spread the applications virally by using the notifications of co-workers (previously noted) to add applications and use them in each project.
Levie said Box is expanding its relationships with VMWare, NetSuite and Samsung to ramp up those applications.
VMware is partnering with Box because it is beginning to build out its new end-user-oriented Project Horizon initiative, introduced last fall at the VMWorld show in San Francisco.
VMware hasn't begun to tell the whole story behind Horizon, but it involves mobile-enterprise products and services using, for one example, Box's easy-to-use collaboration software for secure file and folder access.
The very mobile-conscious Box also has been busy building and updating versions of its application for specific mobile devices, including iOS and Android phones and tablets. For example, Box for Android (released in September 2010) covers most of the smartphones released last year, including the entire Droid line of devices from Verizon Wireless, as well as the HTC Evo 4G from Sprint and Samsung's Galaxy S series, available from all major U.S. carriers.
Box.net launched its iOS and BlackBerry versions earlier.
Box's iPad application already has been downloaded more than 250,000 times. Levie said the company is now working with Samsung specifically to further develop its application on Android tablets, such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab.
"The iPad is not just about e-mail and Web apps; it's really going to be about getting rich business tools on good mobile devices," Levie said.