Dropbox vs Box: What's the best cloud storage for your business?

dropboxoffice800
© Dropbox

Dropbox has entered the world of enterprise-grade file sharing and collaboration with Dropbox Enterprise in what it believes is a step change from its existing Dropbox Business offering, but is it any good?

Share

Dropbox Enterprise is a fairly minor update to the Dropbox Business product when it comes to features, but a significant one as the company looks to compete with cloud storage rival Box.

The enterprise-grade offering includes domain management tools, granular collaboration insights for managers, custom integrations, and deployment support, as well as setting up a team of ‘customer success’ managers.

Box is the more established product when it comes to file sharing and collaboration within large organisations. The company has always been business-focused in both product features and customer relations, so Dropbox is essentially playing catch up after dominating the consumer market.

With both vendors targeting the lucrative enterprise market, which storage option is going to be the best choice for your business?

Features

Dropbox’s entry into the enterprise space puts it into direct rivalry with Box. Both offer unlimited file storage, secure access to files across devices and collaboration tools as standard.

Tech giants Google and Microsoft offer similar products of their own, but with certain drawbacks. The advantage of products like Google Drive and Microsoft OneNote is that employees are working with these systems and apps already, so they can stay in the same environment.

The drawback is that these apps can be unresponsive when it comes to storing and collaborating on non-native file types, so video files or text documents that aren’t Google or Microsoft documents can be tricky to work with.

Dropbox continues to try and solve these problems for customers with the release of Smart Sync and Paper. Smart Sync allows staff to access all of their files, whether stored locally or in the Dropbox cloud, from Windows File Explorer (Windows 7 backwards compatible) or Mac OS X Finder without the lag of a network drive and without taking up valuable device space.

Read next: How Dropbox plans to eliminate on-premise content storage with Smart Sync and team folders

In practice this means files saved locally will display with the familiar green tick and files stored in Dropbox will appear alongside but with a grey cloud symbol. Users can sync documents to the device if they need them offline or work on them as normal when connected.

Paper is essentially the Dropbox version of Google Docs in that it is a native app for creating and collaborating on documents in real-time, either in-browser or on the standalone mobile apps. Paper became generally available on January 30, 2017.

Box released its own document collaboration tool, called Notes, on January 24, 2017.

Read next: Expedia supports global workforce collaboration for 18,000 users with Dropbox cloud file storage, eyes Project Infinite

Box's major feature announcement in 2016 was Shuttle, as the company takes on the unglamorous issue of moving enterprise volumes of files from a complex legacy system into the cloud. Shuttle promises bespoke migration plans to customers, meaning governance, metadata and permissions remain in place during the migration. Shuttle was made generally available in December 2016.

Both companies have been focusing on team folders too, allowing employees to share and collaborate on up-to-date documents in dedicated hubs, with granular admin controls for IT to manage access. Speaking in January 2017 Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said: “We’re redesigning Dropbox to be fundamentally designed for teams."

Integrations

Dropbox introduced Microsoft Office integration back in November 2014 and Box followed suit by partnering with a newly open Microsoft in June 2015. As members of Microsoft’s cloud storage partner programme, both Box and Dropbox announced a new string of integrations in January 2016.

Users of both services can now co-author Microsoft documents and have changes saved back to Box or Dropbox in real time. A new iOS integration means documents can be created, edited and saved back to Box or Dropbox via the popular Microsoft apps for iOS. Finally, customers can attach content saved to Box or Dropbox into emails in Outlook, instead of having to tediously save items to your desktop beforehand.

Dropbox Basic, Pro and Business users with a paid Microsoft Office 365 licence can use these integrations immediately. The same applies for Box personal and business users.

Box was the first of the two companies to launch a Windows 10 app (compatible back to Windows 8), allowing customers to integrate their box files with the Windows file picker. This means users can work on a Microsoft Office Word, Excel or Powerpoint file and have those changes saved back to Box without leaving the Windows 10 environment, whether on mobile, tablet or desktop.

Dropbox launched a free Windows 10 app (compatible back to Windows 7) in January 2016. Similar to Box, users can access and work on files saved in Dropbox seamlessly within the Windows 10 app. Users can also utilise Windows Hello access controls instead of a password to unlock their Dropbox.

Both Box and Dropbox integrate with Google apps.

Box announced a new set of integrations with the popular Salesforce CRM platform due for summer 2016, following the initial partnership back in 2009, and Dropbox has integrated with Salesforce since October 2014. Employees are able to integrate either platform with Salesforce in order to access files and connect these documents directly to records, users and groups within Salesforce.

Box announced Box Zones at its Box World Tour Europe event in London this year. The product is designed to take advantage of current partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBM Cloud, allowing customers the choice as to where they store content. As of spring 2017 the eight available zones are: UK, USA, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and Canada.

Admin tools

Dropbox launched a revamp of its admin tools called AdminX in August 2016.

Dropbox rebuilt the admin console from the ground up. The company added granular file event logging down to individual edits, additions and deletions that can be filtered into an admin log – so your boss can check if you have read that TPS report. And now admins can manage membership down to the sub-folder level to ensure people inside and outside the company can only access specific folders.

Device management has also changed so that IT can limit the number of linked devices an employee can have for work documents. This capability is built to complement, not compete with, existing enterprise mobility management (EMM) offerings. And new sync management lets admins control which content automatically syncs to save hard drive space.

Read next: Dropbox team folders gives Silicon Labs the confidence to move files to the cloud

For security, managers can unlink employee devices and even perform an online wipe if a device is lost. Admins can also enable single sign on, two-step verification, password resets and sharing options for all groups and individual member documents. When it comes to off-boarding, admins can remotely suspend or delete an entire account. They can then move all of that employee’s files onto a new team member or remotely wipe the account.

Read next: Dropbox for Business security explained: is it enterprise ready?

For analytics, managers can drill down using the desktop version of Dropbox by pulling business reports. These download as a CSV file and include data like name, timestamp, IP address and even activity by external members, so that external link sharing can be monitored. These business reports can easily be integrated with an analytics platform like Splunk, so that mangers can get a visualisation of their data.

Box has a similarly robust set of admin tools across its products. Managers can download detailed audit reports, manage usage and permissions, even on mobile, and control corporate content.

To strengthen compliance, Dropbox has made sure that its enterprise product is in line with governance standards and regulations. This has traditionally been a strength of Box, but now both comply with the likes of HIPAA/HITECH, ISO 27001, ISO 27018, SOC 1 and 2, PCI DSS, US-EU & Swiss Safe Harbor, and are Cloud Security Alliance members.

Plans and pricing

Both business products are priced similarly: Box at £11 per user per month and Dropbox is £10 for the standard tier and £15 for advanced, which includes admin, audit, and integration features. Both enterprise tiers are priced on a bespoke basis.

Box and Dropbox both operate as software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors, therefore there is no upfront cost, contracts are flexible and renewed monthly or annually.

Box charges for premium support whereas this comes as standard at the enterprise tier for Dropbox customers.

The numbers

Dropbox announced that it has over 200,000 paying business customers. Box on the other hand has 62,000 businesses, as of August 2016.

The discrepancy in these numbers could come down to the size of the businesses signing up, with Box boasting 59 percent of the Fortune 500 as customers.

Box did claim to have 275,000 businesses signed up to the platform as recently as January 2015, before it went public and started reporting its numbers to Wall Street.

Case study - Jim Lindsay, Integration Specialist for Faber & Faber

Freelance systems technician Jim Lindsay was tasked by historic publishing house Faber & Faber to move the organisation into the cloud and start employees using online tools to collaborate on documents, no mean feat.

Lindsay approached Box a year ago to discuss rolling the product out for Faber & Faber’s 140 or so employees, explaining: “Dropbox just weren’t very forthcoming. Their approach wasn’t very professional. They seemed more keen on my signature than meeting my needs as a project manager,” says Lindsay.

Lindsay found that it wasn’t the document collaboration or the interface that was the problem, but rather forcing employees to start saving in the cloud rather than on their hard drive. Once he explained “where their data was and that it is safe” uptake improved.

There were employees that wanted to carry on using Dropbox though. “Around 70% of employees had Dropbox accounts already but now “the creative teams have taken to [Box] fantastically,” Lindsay says.

Case study - Dominic Shine, CIO at News Corp

Alternatively, Dominic Shine felt a transition to Dropbox would be smoother than trying to educate News Corp’s 25,000 staff how to use an unfamiliar product.

“The reason we chose Dropbox was because we already had a strong usage of the product amongst our employees,” says Shine. “People were brining their personal Dropbox into work. We already had 7,000 employees using it, and since rollout we have half the organisation taking it up.”

Video file sharing has been particularly successful, as Shine cites the example of Wall Street Journal journalists “using Dropbox as their entire solution for creating video in the field, sharing, commenting, previewing, editing and storing the final cut there.”

Shine was personally responsible for moving News Corp into the cloud and using Google Apps, however “we found [Google Drive] wasn’t strong for collaboration for all sorts of other content files that aren’t Google docs. We found people don’t enjoy using Drive for that experience and started to use other tools. So the employees voted with their feet essentially.”

Shine says he opted for Dropbox because of its superior user experience (UX), paired with the improved administration capabilities around permissions and security. “We wanted to have our cake and eat it,” he explains, “to have the scaleability and the security, but also the agility for the end user, who is on the road, enjoying using the product.”

Case study - Paul Saunders, CTO at the University of Dundee

When he joined the University of Dundee two and half years ago Paul Saunders found that students and staff were already “using every possible file share you can imagine.” Saunders has been tasked with modernising IT at the University from top to bottom, starting with the introduction of Office 365 and Box for file sharing and collaboration.

Saunders is a self-professed fan of the Dropbox platform from a UX perspective, so why did he opt to take the University to Box? “It’s nothing about the product,” he explains, “everyone recognises that but, and this is my personal opinion, I feel they [Dropbox] came in with a little bit of arrogance, as in ‘why wouldn’t you pay all this money for us, we’re the best?’ but when you don’t have the money it becomes a vanity argument.”

Saunders contacted Dropbox in September 2013 and maintained a dialogue for a year, but when he asked if they could offer the university a scalable product he was told: “‘We don’t have any offering for universities, we can give you Dropbox Business,’ but that was cost prohibitive at our level.”

Verdict

These two tech giants continue to go toe to toe on product announcements as they look to win over the enterprise file storage and collaboration market. They continue to compete on price and features and neither company appears to have a clear edge at this point.

Although Dropbox will always have its evangelists that enjoy using a familiar product, when it comes to purchasing decisions customer relations remain integral.

If Dropbox can improve this side of the business alongside its much-loved product then it will be able to capture some of the coveted big business its more established enterprise competitor has traditionally won over.

Find your next job with computerworld UK jobs