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Taking into account the reality that some countries have more strict data provisions than others, Box has launched a product that will allow customers to pick and choose where they operate their cloud services.

Speaking at Box World Tour 2016 in London, CEO Aaron Levie today launched a new service, Box Zones, which will allow customers to choose the location of their cloud data – with the intention of putting to rest customer worries about data sovereignty, regulation and residency.

The idea is that businesses which have to comply with stringent data regulations – and thereby host their data locally and securely – will be encouraged into taking up Box’s various offerings.

Box Zones will launch this May in four countries. Customers will be able to pick from Ireland, Germany, Japan or Singapore, with Amazon S3 AWS regions providing the locations. The service will function as an add-on for existing Box tiers.

A variety with IBM Cloud will follow, and senior VP of IBM Cloud Robert LeBlanc hinted to Computerworld UK that early locations might include London, Frankfurt and Tokyo.

There’s no indication of a partnership with Microsoft on the Azure platform yet.

This new service will spin locations with more stringent data privacy and security regulations as a potential positive – as well as allowing customers to keep their data local if they should so desire.

Several years in the making, Box decided on Ireland, Germany, Japan and Singapore because these countries had the blend of international traction and some of the largest hurdles in data privacy and regulation.

“We also wanted to choose areas that were fairly neutral to a lot of the different data residency requirements,” he told Computerworld UK. That’s what drove the first four locations – but he adds that there’s a “fairly extensive” roadmap to add more countries at a later date.

Levie said that there are swelling contradictions between the interests of global digital businesses and the countries they operate in.

It makes sense, then, to offer up services that allow businesses to pick exactly which jurisdictions their data falls under and to cope with other regulations.

Several years ago, Levie warned against the prospect of a 'balkanized' cloud, where individual clouds are siloed off on a national basis. 

“This idea that there are regionally specific, government specific, or country specific clouds – that’d be a very bad outcome,” he said at the time. “Not only does this not make technological sense, it’s just bad for where things are going from an economy standpoint.”

With data regulations and agreements notably varying between countries, there's still a stark contrast between the needs of businesses and the interests of nations. 

“We know in the digital world you don’t have boundaries,” Levie told Computerworld UK today. “With a couple billion people having smartphones and a few billion on the internet we have a very different global space we all operate and do business in.

“What is the meaning of a local law in global cyberspace? I think we are running into that friction on an hourly basis, between our laws and the digital world.”

He cited the EU’s attempts to hash out data privacy directives as a fitting example – with opinions differing between common or country-by-country approaches.

“For us, it’s interesting,” he said. “The more complex the world gets for our customers – if you’re a transportation or retail company and you’re doing business internationally – there’s this requirement that you get really good at all the international regulation around data and collaboration and technology.

“But that’s not your core competency. So we do see an opportunity where our job is to try and simplify that for our customers.”

Both Levie and LeBlanc added that a more unified approach to data regulation and standards in the cloud would be desirable, with LeBlanc citing OpenStack as a significant step in the right direction.

“It’s our belief that we need to make sure there’s a unified set of policies to ensure our customers can do business globally without having an impact on their use of technology,” Levie explained. “What we have done in the meantime is, we are bearing a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make sure our customers get as good a user experience, even though we don’t have standards from a regulatory standpoint.”

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