Can Dropbox go from consumer hit to business success?

Can a business-grade cloud storage service that doesn’t come from Google, Microsoft or Apple make it big in the enterprise? Here’s why Dropbox for Business makes a strong case.

Dropbox
Credit: Ian Lamont

Apple iCloud. Google Drive. Microsoft OneDrive. Box. Dropbox. Hightail (formerly YouSendIt). Online storage services have been a mainstream option for consumers for some time now. But as the business world wrestles with adopting cloud-based collaboration services, can a so-called independent company offer a competitive product to the business-centric offerings by Google (Apps/Drive), Apple (iCloud for Work) and Microsoft (Office 365)?

To answer this question, we take a closer look at Dropbox, arguably one of the most popular online storage services today, with more than 400 million registered users as of July 2015. Though it went through some security missteps in its early days, Dropbox successfully leveraged its popularity and success with consumers to develop a credible business-grade service – Dropbox for Business – that was launched in April 2013.

Despite being priced at $15 per user per month – compared to $10 per month for Dropbox Pro – Dropbox says the service now has 100,000 customers around the globe. (Unfortunately for power users looking to make the switch to Dropbox for Business, the plan starts at a minimum of five users. This means that small companies with fewer than five users will have to pay the equivalent of $150 per user, or $750 per year.) So what does the more expensive Dropbox for Business offer over the nonbusiness version of the product?

dropbox for business - webinterface

Administrators will see an additional "Admin Console" option added their minimalistic Dropbox Web interface. Note also the additional Dropbox for "CIO.com."

What you get is more than what you see

To be clear, Dropbox for Business builds off the basic Dropbox offering, which includes strong encryption, support for two-step authentication and the trademark simplicity of Dropbox. In addition, both “personal” Dropbox and Dropbox for Business accounts are supported by the official software clients – albeit separately; both can also be accessed from the Dropbox home page.

dropbox for business - appscreenshot

How the Dropbox app looks like on Android after signing in to Dropbox for Business.

This is where the similarity ends. Unlike Dropbox Pro, Dropbox for Business comes with a long list of capabilities that include unlimited storage (available upon request; users are initially allocated 1TB each), centralized billing, phone support and an Admin Console for administrators. The Admin Console is used to access a range of other capabilities and controls endemic only to Dropbox for Business:

  • Transfer files from a de-provisioned Dropbox for Business user into another team member’s Dropbox.
  • Initiate a remote wipe of remote Dropbox files on a specific PC or Mac – when it next comes online.
  • Invite new members, delete existing users or assign admin-levels rights.
  • Enforce mandatory two-step authentication for all Dropbox for Business users.
  • View organization-wide statistics such as the total storage utilized, links created and active devices used (across all platforms).
  • Force an individual or organizational-wide password reset.

Depending on industry vertical, some businesses may be more concerned about the possibility of data leakage due to “over-sharing” or accidental leaks. On that front, Dropbox for Business offers various ways that organizations can tighten the lid with such controls as the ability to limit the sharing of links to external parties, or the joining of shared folders outside of your organization.

[Related: When it comes to mobile apps, IT is ‘slow, poor and weak’]

In addition, administrators can also mandate that only one Dropbox account can be linked to each computer – though users would still be able to access their private Dropbox accounts from the Web. Ultimately, while the controls won’t stop a determined insider from leaking confidential data to competitors, they should go a long way towards preventing any unintended sharing of files.

Finally, organizations will be interested in such Dropbox for Business features as its comprehensive audit log, creation of groups, unlimited file recovery and integration with third party services, each of which are outlined below.

dropbox for business - activity screen

You can also specify a date range to download the entire Activity feed as a CSV file.

Access to detailed audit logs

Dropbox for Business maintains a comprehensive feed of various activities under the “Activity” tab, ranging from the sharing and un-sharing of a folder, and the creating and sharing of links. Similarly, activities including those related to passwords, groups, membership, logins, admin actions, apps and devices are also logged.

Audit logs brings increased visibility and control over sharing and access of company data, and could be inordinately useful to trace data leaks, as well as to narrow down misconfigured devices. By being able to track permissions and apps that are linked to the Dropbox for Business account, administrators could also potentially find successful phishing attacks, and even identify data that’s been compromised.

It’s important to note that individual file edits, deletions and additions are not currently shown in the Activity feed reports, though a running history of edits, deletions and additions of all files can be viewed from the main Dropbox Events page.

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