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

Dropbox has announced a raft of product news aimed at business users, including Smart Sync, which allows staff to drastically reduce the amount of content stored on their local device.


Dropbox is going to war with on-premise content storage in the enterprise with its latest product announcements.

Smart Sync, formerly known as Project Infinite, allows employees to minimise the amount of content they store locally, while the team folders feature and collaborative document creation tool Paper are now both generally available. 


“We’re redesigning Dropbox to be fundamentally designed for teams," Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said. "We’re reinventing sync, bringing a modern collaboration experience to all your files, and launching Paper, a new way to work together that goes beyond the document."

Dropbox Smart Sync

As any iPhone user will know the local storage on devices is becoming increasingly stretched as we store more and more content on our devices. This is a problem Dropbox has been working on for years, announcing something called Project Infinite at its Dropbox Open event last year and now releasing it under the name Smart Sync.

Similarly to Google Photos, this allows users to see all of their files as normal, but without them taking up all of your device storage.

In practice this looks like your normal desktop, except files and folders are each adorned with an indicator, either a cloud icon to signal that they're only available online, or a green tick which means they're synced to the device.

So if you are online you get access to all of your files in the cloud without taking up any space on your computer. Then, if you are planning on working on a file or folder of files while offline, such as on a plane, you sync the documents to your device and any updates will be registered as soon as you are back online.

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As Jeroen Roodnat, solutions architect lead at Dropbox, told Computerworld UK before the announcement, the key is for "users to see all of their content from desktop, without it taking up any space until they need it."

Dropbox team folders

Team folders is essentially the next generation of an old school company intranet. In short, it's a central hub for teams to share and work on documents. It is directly competing with old rival Box, as well as Microsoft's popular Sharepoint, which is part of Office 365.

Roodnat said: "Now by combining Smart Sync and team folders businesses can rethink their file server strategy and how teams want to work beyond the constraints of their devices."

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All documents stored in team folders are universally compatible going back to Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.9. Roodnat believes that put together, this will mean Dropbox holds the edge over its competitors. "The combination of that cross-platform, on-demand and cloud-based approach, we think no other company is offering this today," he said.

Team folders come with granular IT administrator controls called AdminX. This drills down to file event logging, down to individual edits, additions and deletions, which can be filtered into an admin log. Admins can manage membership down to the sub-folder level to ensure that people inside and outside the company can only access specific folders.

For device management, 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.

Smart Sync was made available for business and enterprise customers as of 30 January as an opt-in for team admins, they simply have to turn it on. Roodnat says the company is "exploring ways to get it to individual users in the future".

What customers say

Smart Sync could lead to major enterprises shutting down their on-premise content servers over time, and this will certainly be what Dropbox is setting out to do. Roodnat says that Dropbox has already heard from "companies with the ambition to move all of their data into Dropbox and are ready to shut down their file servers."

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Expedia's VP of IT Chris Burgess told Computerworld UK last year at the announcement of Project Infinite that the capabilities are “exciting" and that it "has the possibility" to replace all file share and storage.

“Having physical infrastructure in over a hundred offices and having to maintain that infrastructure, and manage complex file systems and permissioning has a cost associated with it," Burgess said at the time. "So if you can remove the physical side of it, and no longer rely on upgrades, you can focus your time and effort on providing other solutions.”

Media giant News Corp is also a big Dropbox user for storing content and could certainly be eyeing Smart Sync as another reason to go all in on cloud content storage.

Dropbox has reorganised its business plan tiers in light of these announcements. The new tiers range from standard (£10 per user, per month, starting at five users) to advanced (£15 per user, per month, starting at five users), with the latter including admin, audit, and integration features. There is also an enterprise tier for larger businesses, with pricing available on request. Previously there was no advanced tier and business was priced at nearer £9 per user per month. Rival vendor Box charges £11 per user, per month for its business plan.

Read next: Dropbox Enterprise vs Box: Which cloud storage platform is better for your business?

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