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Continuing our review of Cloud-based document storage services, this week I review Box, again with these six variables in mind:

Security Disaster Recovery
Collaboration Tools Content Management
Document Mobility Compliance

Box (formerly known as Box.net) is another service that appears to have been originally designed for consumer and light commercial use, but has quickly expanded to meet the needs of larger organizations with more rigorous storage needs. Started in 2005, Box has attracted serious venture capital, along with “strategic investments” from some major-league IT companies (SAP, Salesforce). There are rumors that the company will go public with an IPO in early 2014, thus creating another infusion of cash.

Like Dropbox, Box offers a free plan with a limited feature set targeted at consumer-level users, and Business and Enterprise editions with enhanced administrative, collaborative and security features. Presumably due to its better financing (compared to Dropbox) Box operates its own multiple, redundant data centers with full data replication (Dropbox uses Amazon for its storage servers). Its servers are all based in the U.S, with additional storage facilities planned for London.

Box offers a bit more security and flexibility to its foldering system than Dropbox, providing a more granular approach to folder security via user “roles” (owner, editor, uploader, etc.). Security is still set at the folder, and not at the file, level however, as it is in Dropbox, so that a firm needs to be careful as to which files are stored in which folders. Box promotes the concept of a “virtual deal room” where documents to be shared/reviewed by both internal and external users can be centrally stored, redlined, signed, etc., facilitating document collaboration. There is an internal messaging and tickler system embedded in Box, allowing users to post “comments” to other users regarding a document, and to assign tasks and deadlines to users, with synchronization of dated tasks to Google (but not Outlook) calendars. These features could make Box a more attractive offering than Dropbox for some firms.

Box offers somewhat more document management capability than Dropbox, via the ability to assign “tags” to documents for later search and retrieval activities. The tag list, however, cannot be pre-populated (as it can be in a true document profiling system) and tagging cannot be restricted to only pre-defined tags; by careful planning and defining a “tagging policy” a firm could conceivably implement a rudimentary document profiling system via tags. Box also offers a fully searchable description field for each document, further facilitating search activities. These “document profiling” aids, common with most on-premises document management applications, cannot be made mandatory, however, underscoring the need for firm-wide policies and “best practices” if Box is deployed in a larger, multi-user environment.

Box supports a variety of application “add ons” to enhance the service’s functionality. There is an iPad app that allows Microsoft Office documents to be edited directly on an iPad, and an Outlook integration that allows simple sharing of links to Box-stored documents from directly within Outlook. There are also Android and iPhone applications available for viewing documents from a smartphone. Enhanced security for documents stored in Box (at extra cost) is available via collaboration with IntApp, a well-known provider of application-based security services for the legal and financial services industries.

Box appears to be a bit more “industrial strength” than Dropbox at this time. With an impending IPO in 2014, I expect to see even more “upscaling” of the Box service, and certainly a much more expansive, and sorely needed, marketing effort (where Dropbox clearly dominates at the moment).

Box, in either the Business or Enterprise Edition, could be a good choice for firms looking for a document collaboration tool that provides a fair measure of document security, selective sharing of files with different access levels for different users, and the ability to view and edit files on-line in their native format. Search in Box is not as strong as that found in some of its more “upscale” competitors (which I will review in coming weeks; e.g., no true document profiling, no email message storage). The (free) optional integration with Outlook is pretty basic, restricted to processing attachments only. With those caveats, Box can still be an acceptable choice for basic cloud-based document storage.

Next week I will move on to the “new kid on the block”; we will take a look at ShareFile, which has recently been acquired by Citrix, a very serious player in the cloud services arena.