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

© Dropbox & © Box
© Dropbox & © Box

Box unveiled a range of updates at the 2018 BoxWorks conference that put the pressure on its rival Dropbox

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Box and Dropbox are often described as arch rivals, but the two cloud storage giants have historically served very different customers, with Box focused on the enterprise and Dropbox on consumers. However, Dropbox has been ramping up its business product in recent years. In 2015, the company announced an enterprise tier of its product to compete with Box's more established cloud content management service.

So, with both vendors targeting the lucrative enterprise market, which storage option is the best choice for your business?

Features

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

The enterprise grade Dropbox includes domain management tools, greater admin controls for IT departments, granular collaboration insights for managers, a range of custom integrations, and deployment support, as well as setting up a team of 'customer success' managers.

Box has been equally busy upgrading its enterprise product. At the BoxWorks 2018 conference, the company unveiled public beta versions of the Box for G Suite integration and Box Feed, a new feature which provides personalised real-time updates, comments and recommendations about the files and folders on which a user is working, which are tailored to their relationships with the people and content in their organisation.

The company has also announced two new features that will be available in 2019: Box Automation, which automates repetitive file review, approval and publication tasks, and Activity Stream and Recommended Apps feature, which surfaces the latest activity and relevant context from other apps connected to Box - such as Slack, Salesforce and DocuSign - by making it visible in the file preview pane with comments, tasks and other Box updates. Users can jump to each record or thread directly from Box or take actions on the list of recommended apps, such as sharing a link with Gmail. This feature will be available in 2019. 

Tech giants Google and Microsoft offer similar products of their own, but with certain drawbacks. The advantage of products such as 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 tries to solve these problems for customers with the release of Smart Sync (formerly Project Infinite) and Paper. Smart Sync promises a means for accessing all of your 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.

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. Your computer will simply download these files when you need to access them, taking up less precious hard drive space. 

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.

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

Box now offers a range of machine learning capabilities known as Box Skills, which allow users to automatically structure their content with intelligent labeling, classifying, transcribing and other features. The first three skills are for audio, video and image intelligence, which together make it easier categorise and search for multimedia content within Box. Box Skills is currently available in beta and is expected to have an official release near the end of 2018.

From December 2018, developers will be able to use the Box Skills Kit to build their own custom skills, for example by combining IBM Watson's Speech to Text and Natural Language Understanding services to process customer service recordings and surface priority issues.

Read next: Box adds machine learning to cloud storage with Box Skills

The vendor also offers a workflow tool called Shuttle, which aims to solve the unglamorous issue of moving enterprise volumes of files from a complex legacy system into the cloud, and another tool called Relay, which allows users to create custom workflows for repeatable tasks like processing invoices or on-boarding new employees.

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/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. Both Box and Dropbox also integrate with Google apps and Salesforce.

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.

At Box World Tour Europe 2016, in London, Box announced Box Zones, taking advantage of current partnerships with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBM Cloud. Box Zones allows users to store content in numerous locations across the globe, namely, Germany, Ireland, Singapore and Japan.

Admin tools

Dropbox revamped its admin tools in August 2016, called AdminX, before adding new functionality in May 2018. The original admin console gave IT teams granular file event logging, down to individual edits, additions and deletions, which can be filtered into an admin log, so your boss can check if you have opened and read that TPS report. Now admins can manage membership down to sub-folder level to ensure that 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.

Then in May the company announced that AdminX was getting a bunch of new features. "With so many different kinds of teams, a cookie cutter approach to management, security, and deployment doesn't work," Rohan Vora, senior product manager wrote in the blog post.

The new features include simplified team management, allowing admins to export member data reports to CSV files to analyse roles, data usage, group membership, and two-step verification status, as well as the ability to convert individuals' Dropbox Business accounts to personal accounts when removing them from your team. This allows users to keep their unshared files and folders, and shared folders they own, while removing access to team-owned folders.

There are also enhanced sharing options, giving teams the ability to disable downloads of shared links, limiting access to a preview on dropbox.com or the mobile apps. Dropbox has also added directory restrictions to help protect the identities of people on your team when external stakeholders are accessing shared files.

There are two new features aimed at saving storage space too: selective sync and member space limits. Selective sync allows for admins to specify which team folders will be synced to users' computers by default. With space limits, admins no longer have to worry about individuals using up a disproportionate amount of space by setting caps.

Member data reports, individual account conversion, and directory restrictions were made immediately available, while team selective sync is available through the early access program.

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

For security, managers can unlink employees 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 members' 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?

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.

In terms of 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 companies 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.

Pricing

Both business products are priced similarly, Box at £12 per user per month and Dropbox is £10 per user per month for the basic level and £15 for unlimited storage and advanced admin controls. Both enterprise products are priced on a bespoke basis.

The numbers

It has been difficult to make an apples for apples comparison of Box and Dropbox over the years, as Box went public in 2015 and Dropbox only filed for an initial public offering in 2018. Now though we can start to compare the user numbers a little better, as both companies are obliged to report results.

For the fiscal year 2018 Box reported it had 82,000 businesses as paying customers, accounting for revenues of $506 million. Dropbox doesn't break out its paying users by tier, so individual users and businesses are lumped into the same figure, but it did report 11 million paying users averaging $112 per user in 2017.

Dropbox had $1.1 billion in revenues in 2017, with Dropbox for Business accounting for $300 million annually according to its S-1 filing ahead of a March 2018 IPO.

Dropbox priced its IPO at between $16 and $18 per share, valuing the company at between $7-8 billion. Shares then popped on opening day, up by as much as 35%, valuing the company at around $10 billion.

Box opened at around $20.50, far above its $14 IPO price, valuing the company at around $2.5 billion back in January 2015. It has a market cap of $2.8 billion at the time of writing.

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 in 2015, no mean feat.

Lindsay approached Box a year before 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," he said.

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" the uptake improved.

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

Case study - Dominic Shine, CIO at News Corp

Alternatively, Dominic Shine, former CIO at News Corp, felt a transition to Dropbox would be smoother than trying to educate 25,000 members of staff to use an unfamiliar product.

"The reason we chose Dropbox was because we already had a strong usage of the product amongst our employees," Shine said. "People were bringing 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 said 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 explained, "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 in 2013, Paul Saunders found that students and staff were already "using every possible file share you can imagine". Saunders was 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 explained, "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 scaleable 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.”

Dropbox did launch its Dropbox for Education product in 2014. This offers school- and university-friendly pricing and terms of service and allows staff and students to share course information, keep track of deadlines and submit work securely.

Conclusion

Dropbox ticked a lot of the requisite boxes with Dropbox Enterprise and is now better aligned with Box from a product standpoint. Although Dropbox will always have its evangelists that enjoy using a familiar product, when it comes to purchasing decisions customer relations remain integral.

If I was an enterprise customer, however, I would be concerned by Dropbox's recent focus on its image rather than functionality. Where Box is doubling down on making its product easier to navigate and leverage more file types using AI, Dropbox is busy changing its logo.

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