The evolution of enterprise file sharing

I have just returned from the US, where I attended two different vendor events and a meeting with a representative from a vendor, all of whom have offerings in the enterprise file sharing space.

The first was Box.  BoxWorks was taking place in San Francisco as an end-user event, and over 3,000 people attended.  Box started off as “Dropbox for the enterprise”, a comparison I never really liked, and it is good to see that Dropbox was hardly mentioned during the event.

Aaron Levie, Box’s CEO, gave an upbeat and funny keynote and laid out his vision for the future of enterprise file sharing alongside where he believed Box had to go.  His view is that file sharing alone is not good enough – Box has to mature and evolve rapidly to show that it can be a platform for processes that involve information.  The partners at the event certainly bought in to this – speaking with them, each stated that Box’s API was easy to use and provided them with the functionality they needed, and that Levie’s stated plans would give them more to use as time went on.

Functionality that Box talked about was the inclusion of meta-data in its store, enabling contextual information to be used across a workflow engine that will also be included in the system.  A new product, Box Notes will enable teams to work together on files, with in-line comments against working documents creating a single repository for ongoing work.  Combined with built-in data leak prevention and the existing encryption of data on the move and at rest, the Box data store looks like it will become a good central place for organisations to use for information sharing and collaboration.

Alongside this was the announcement of the use of Crocodocs to speed up document preview.  Crocodocs takes any document and converts it to HTML5 to create a fast-loading set of different resolution images that work on any device.  The use of different resolution images allows the initial view to be served almost immediately, with the higher resolution image being loaded in the background.  Tagging and commenting can still be carried out against the HTML5 image, and this will then be carried back to the original Office, PDF or other host file.

Box has also increased the functionality of its iOS app.  This, for me, is the weak spot for Box.  As BYOD increases, not everyone will be using an iPad or other Apple device.  Box’s Android app is now the poor cousin, and any Windows mobile device has to work against the existing Windows capability.  Creating native apps for different devices will lead to differences in user experience and functionality which will have knock-on effects on the help desk as well as on Box supporting multiple different systems.  A move to an HTML5 app would look to be more sensible – we will have to wait and see what Box does in this space.

The next event was with Citrix, which has a file sharing system called ShareFile it acquired in 2011 and has since been working on integrating its capabilities into the rest of its on-line portfolio.  Unfortunately, much of what was presented to us at the event was heavily marked with a non-disclosure flag.  This is a pity – the NDA seemed to include much of Citrix’s future view as well as financial and technical information.  All I can really say is that Citrix has a well-rounded portfolio that can provide much in the enterprise file sharing and collaboration space – it is just unfortunate that Citrix decided to place so much under the NDA to the extent that I just can’t tell you much about it.

The last discussion was with Huddle.  Unlike Box, Huddle has always been aimed at being an enterprise file sharing and collaboration company – it has never had a consumer offering.  This has made it harder for Huddle to gain visibility.  Whereas Dropbox and Box have been able to ride the wave of individuals downloading personal apps from the various app stores to their personal devices, Huddle has had to battle for mindshare through enterprise purchasing departments.  That it has managed to be successful is a sign of its good levels of functionality.  It positions itself as an alternative to SharePoint, and points to its multiple security certifications to demonstrate its pedigree for ensuring that information remains safe from creation to secure deletion.

Each of the systems above provide high levels of security for organisations looking to provide a more centralised information repository.  At the moment, Citrix is the only one that gives a choice of whether the information store is in the public cloud or within the organisation’s own data centre.  Having data spread across different facilities can cause issues when trying to report against a totality of information using big data approaches – yet formal data base systems as used by CRM, ERP and other enterprise application systems will remain apart from file sharing information repositories held in the cloud. 

It is clear that enterprise file sharing is becoming more of an issue as the workforce becomes more mobile and BYOD becomes more widespread.  Each of these three vendors companies, along with some others in this space, can provide advanced functions to move file sharing into the collaboration space.  Quocirca advises that organisations look to how each company paints the future and to its partner ecosystem as to how rapidly and innovatively it will progress.

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