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A tale of two boxes: Choosing between Box and Dropbox

Box and Dropbox are in the content and collaboration business, but the two cloud services have taken very different approaches

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: The file-sharing face-off: Box or Dropbox

As an organisation moves away from the inflexibility of file server shared access, should it adopt Box or Dropbox to share documents? 

Box is focused on the CIO and IT department, addressing the challenges brought about by IT consumerisation.

Dropbox, on the other hand, began life as cloud storage for consumers, but has gained a presence in business as people use the service to share documents between work and home.

“People have brought tools into the workplace and the CIO does not believe they will protect corporate data in the way that is needed,” said Whitney Bouck, general manager of enterprise at Box, speaking to Computer Weekly at the 2015 Box World Tour in London.  

The enterprise alternative to consumer tools needs to be easy to use and offer similar functionality to the consumer software, she said.

Since joining Box four years ago from IT storage systems provider EMC, Bouck says she has spent her time building the credibility of the service by creating a sales division targeted at the enterprise, and an implementation services group for integrating enterprise IT with Box. 

“Being close to the customer is paramount,” Bouck said, and as such, Box has established offices worldwide. 

“Box isn’t very complex, but there are complex problems, such as rolling out to 100,000 people, addressing how to set up integration with the Microsoft Active Directory and honour permissions around groups, and ensuring that Salesforce integrates with Box,” she added.

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The third prong in Box’s enterprise focus is product development, with Bouck saying Box is trying to work out the product gaps. 

Recent enhancements to Box's capabilities have included ISO 270001, compliance with HIPAA (federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and enterprise key management

According to Bouck, allowing customers to manage their own keys is offered to ameliorate some of the concerns people may have because the service has yet to open European datacentres.

Despite only running datacentres in the US, Box has a number of large UK public sector organisations as customers. 

Dundee University has deployed Box to 25,000 staff and students, enabling users to develop more productive and connected projects for assessment and research purposes. Another big Box user is Peterborough City Council, where it supports front-line council services.

Speaking to Computer Weekly in May, Richard Godfrey, assistant director of digital at Peterborough City Council, said: “Some people say you can’t use the cloud because it is in America. In some cases that may be true, but in a lot of cases it’s not. The rollout [of Box] is being done by the governance team, not by IT.”

The consumerisation of collaboration

Dropbox started life as a consumer product and has used this to break into the enterprise.

According to Dennis Woodside, chief operating officer at Dropbox, 300,000 applications are integrated with Dropbox. 

“Our model is fundamentally different to competitors'. Consumers love Dropbox, and that's bringing it to the workplace. We are enabling IT departments [to bring Dropbox to the enterprise] by providing a secure workplace through Dropbox for Business.”

The popularity of the free service among consumers has enabled the file-sharing service to grow to 100,000 paying customers. The subscription version offers more online storage, but consumer adoption has spread into the workspace.

“Consumers who are used to Dropbox at home are bringing it to work,” said Woodside.

The integration with Microsoft Office 365 in April is an example of how Dropbox is using IT consumerisation to get into the enterprise. 

“Some 35 billion Office documents are stored in Dropbox, with a billion docs saved and edited every day. Satya’s [Microsoft's CEO] strategy is to adopt de facto standards,” said Woodside. 

“Dropbox is a place where work gets done. So enabling people to create docs in a way they haven’t been able to in the past is the next wave in improving collaboration,” he added. 

When asked about Dropbox's datacentre expansion plans outside of the US, Woodside said: “Today, all data is stored in the US. Customers want to know data is secure and safe. We want to ensure we are at the cutting edge of security and we have world-class security experts to offer best -in-class ways to secure data.

“Over time we may evaluate whether data is stored outside the US,” he added.

Versatile collaboration for architects

British design firm Pipers began using Dropbox in 2009 to aid collaboration on thousands of architectural drawings of hundreds of buildings.

Matthew Quinn, a director at Pipers, started using the file-sharing service in a project for Abu Dhabi city centre. 

“I needed to reach 20 developers. There were 60 main projects and 100 additional projects. I was struggling because I was getting CD-Roms containing AutoCAD documents,” said Quinn. He initially used Dropbox on the iPad as a way to access and share these files.

In the second year of the Abu Dhabi project, Pipers began using Dropbox as a collaborative environment. Once business accounts for Dropbox were available in 2012, Pipers used the service to share videos of the architectural designs across large displays comprising multiple video panels. Each video panel used a Mac Mini with a media player connected to Dropbox.

The company has also worked with Transport for London (TfL) to enable architects to submit designs into private Dropbox folders that TfL could then assess.

“Its openness and versatility makes Dropbox attractive,” said Quinn.

Ticking the right box

Box has ISO 270001 and HIPAA certification, while Dropbox has ISO 27001 and ISO 27018 compliance, which is used to signify how providers safeguard users’ cloud data.

The two companies offer subtlety different approaches to cloud collaboration, which means IT faces a dilemma. Box reflects an IT-centric approach, providing controls for data security and compliance, while Dropbox is more consumer-focused.

Box hopes its approach, combined with user education, will enable it to win the hearts and minds of consumers at work. Dropbox uses shadow IT, where consumers drive business use.

Arguably both approaches offer a far easier and more flexible user experience over virtual private network access to shared folders on the corporate file server.

The lightweight approach of Dropbox could be used when document security is not a high priority, while Box could be used where tighter controls are paramount. 

Dropbox can potentially span organisations without the overhead of getting IT involved, while Box is a better fit when regulatory compliance and strict access controls are needed.

Ultimately, in the age of IT consumerisation, both have a place in enterprise IT.

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