What’s in a name? Analyzing ‘Dropbox for the enterprise’

We’ve been spending a good deal of time lately talking to vendors looking to deliver ‘Dropbox-for-the-enterprise’ alternatives.  By this, providers generally mean that they enable users to sync and share their files across desktops and devices, but in a way that is palatable to corporate IT departments.   I’d say we really started to see this activity in earnest about a year ago, when Box started getting serious about the enterprise market and I began to get a lot of briefing requests from the likes of Accellion, Egnyte and others about their enterprise file sharing and sync offerings.  Things really started heating up later in 2011, as we saw VMWare announce its Dropbox-for-the-enterprise in August, Citrix acquire ShareFile in October; open source play ownCloud set sail in December and we recently initiated coverage on another startup, Germany-based TeamDrive.

These are only a few of the movements in this emerging market. Things will only become more active in 2012. Perhaps one of the more notable features is the broad background of players entering this space – we see vendors from virtualization, security, storage, content management and mobiltity sectors all vying for attention. This is likely to cause an awful lot of noise, and consfusion.

Compounding the matter is that everyone in this market seems to be struggling with what exactly to call it.  “Enterprise-grade Dropbox” neatly encapsulates it, but it’s not really a viable way to refer to a market segment.  We put out a report on ‘cloud file sharing’ late in 2011, but that really is a broader focus and doesn’t really capture what is important and different about this segment in particular.  Dropbox is a obviously a cloud service and many of the players that want to offer Dropbox-like services are as well.  But while the cloud certainly *can* be enabling an enabling technology, it doesn’t have to be.  Indeed, a number of players, such as Accellion, Egnyte, GroupLogic, ownCloud, Oxygen Cloud and, presumably, VMWare when it gets to it, are offering private-cloud or on-premises approaches for file sharing and sync.

So we’ve settled on Mobile File Sharing and Sync Platforms as the way that we are going to refer to this segment, at least for now.   The mobility part of this, as opposed to cloud, is what is really new and disruptive.  That is what drives the need for sync and native apps for specific device types.  We also think it is important to identify these emerging products, including Dropbox itself, as ‘platforms’ since we suspect there will be ample opportunity moving forward for customization and plug-ins to these tools.  We are already seeing some of these in the areas of security, content management and collaboration for Dropbox specifically.

Calling a set of Dropbox-like capabilities a platform is interesting, though we can also flip the conversation on its head and wonder whether sync is really a feature, as others are doing.  The answer may well be that it is both.  In the enterprise, it certainly makes sense as a feature of content management, collaboration and even storage offerings, since business content is generally part of broader business processes and often needs to be retained for compliance reasons.   IT also wants to get the most out of existing investments. We are already seeing sync as a feature from the likes of OpenText and Huddle, and this is arguably Box’s approach as well.  We also have partnerships between the likes of Oxygen Cloud and EMC, to layer a sync service on top of storage infrastructure.

We take a more extensive look at the market for Mobile File Sharing and Sync Platforms in a recent report (login required) for 451 clients.  This report looks at user and IT requirements and provides more detail on the enterprise players we’ve begun to track. How this market plays out exactly over time remains to be seen, but we think it has the potential to be extremely disruptive. For that reason it’s a space we’ll continue to watch closely, and from multiple vantage points.

Vendors are lining up to get into the cloud file-sharing ‘box’

We recently published a spotlight report on cloud file sharing and sync, file backup and file-oriented collaboration in the cloud – and all the overlaps and intersections between these areas.  The full report is available here for 451 Research subscribers (link requires log-in).

The idea was to shed some light on this sector that often seems to be described by its two best known players – Dropbox and Box.  Despite the similar names, the services offered by these two providers have significant differences.  And each is after a different, though in some cases overlapping, target market.

Dropbox in particular seems to be gaining a lot of attention from enterprise IT departments — and it’s not all good.  As compliance, security, risk and IT folks in general try to get their arms around the fact that corporate data is moving to Dropbox (and other services), a number of providers have started to look at providing alternatives.  All of this largely driven of course by the widespread use of iPads and other mobile devices by business users and their need to access files from these devices and keep them in sync across mobile and desktop systems.  Box exploits this requirement as well, but offers more file-oriented collaboration capabilities, though not full-blown content management in the traditional sense.

Cloud file sharing, sync and mobile support for file collaboration will all be hot topics in 2012.  We feel we might quickly be inundated by the number of providers that want to offer some kind of alternative to Dropbox to appease IT departments and/or better mobile access to existing enterprise content systems, like SharePoint.  Below is our first-stab attempt to start to map some of this to the sub-sectors within this broader and rapidly shifting landscape.  And we know it’s not comprehensive, the players here are changing almost daily.

Cloud file backup, sharing, sync and collaboration providers

Source: 451 Research