Enterprise file sync and share is all grown up—including Dropbox

Dropbox and EFSS went from being a controversial consumerization issue to a rapidly maturing enterprise IT tool in just a few years.

Earlier this summer I had a realization when Alyssa Wood, the editor of TechTarget’s Modern Mobility e-zine, asked me to write a piece about enterprise file sync and share. The realization? Over the last two or three years, at BrianMadden.com we’ve barely written about EFSS!

For a while EFSS was one of our cornerstone issues. In 2011 and 2012 we cited the “Dropbox problem” (where users setup their own unapproved consumer file sync and share to avoid clunky network file shares) as a typical example of the consumerization of IT and the idea of “FUIT.” Soon after that we started talking about EFSS, which we described at the time as a “corporate version of Dropbox.” We closely followed the progress of EFSS products from Citrix, VMware, and others. (Interestingly, about half the products we covered in those days don’t exist anymore.)

But in the last few years the issue has faded a bit and our attention is elsewhere. What happened? File sync and share stopped being controversial, and EFSS became widely accepted. In a way, it's one of the biggest and fastest successes of the mobile and cloud era. (Even TechTarget has had a corporate-deployed EFSS for over a year now.)

A closer look at Dropbox

While we were describing EFSS as a “corporate version of Dropbox,” Dropbox itself was busy making just such a product.

This is actually old news. Dropbox for Teams, which was the first version they considered a business product, came out in 2011. Dropbox for Business arrived in April 2013, with SAML-based SSO as the headline feature. Dropbox Enterprise came in November 2015, with many more controls and features.

The result is that in today’s environment of widely-accepted EFSS, Dropbox is far from the renegade it used to be. Instead, they’re one of the leaders in the space, and they’re doing a lot of interesting things that are worth taking a look at.

First, they have many of the standard enterprise security and management features we would expect:

  • Partnerships with many identity, security, DLP, rights management, and EMM vendors. (They use the device-based MAM approach and are part of the AppConfig Community.)
  • Support for side by side work and personal accounts in their mobile apps and desktop sync agents.
  • Sharing controls and remote wipe for Dropbox data.
  • Plenty of APIs for customers and partners to integrate on their own.

Dropbox also has an excellent relationship with Microsoft, resulting in integration with Office 365 and Office mobile apps. I remember being somewhat surprised when this was first announced, but it’s a testament to both companies’ strategies. Tons of other enterprise apps also integrate with Dropbox (iOS 8’s document picker extension helped make this easier, too).

Their enterprise strategy has always been to entice end users first with a good product, and then add features for IT as needed. (As a user of several EFSS products, I can still say that Dropbox has the best user experience.) They say that this ensures that Dropbox licenses don’t just become shelfware. Another interesting part of this strategy is their account capture feature, which can find rogue accounts created with corporate email addresses and bring them into the fold.

All of this has netted them 200,000 business and enterprise customers, and while they’re not yet profitable, they’re getting close.

Recent Dropbox news

Recently I talked to Robert Baesman, the head of products for Dropbox Pro, Business, and Enterprise, to learn about their latest IT-related announcement. (Many of our readers will also know Rob for his years working on desktop virtualization at VMware.)

One of the big new features is team folders. They evolved from the previous shared folder concept, but they’re designed to better serve as central repositories for departmental and institutional content. Team folders are managed by administrators, who have granular and nested control over all the access and sharing permissions you would expect. Administrators can also manage whether or not users automatically sync content from the team folders.

The other part of this announcement is an initiative to improve the administrator experience. Dropbox built a new admin UI; added more in-depth file-level event logging; created a new company-managed user group concept; and soon they’ll be adding the ability to limit how many devices users can sync.

Conclusion

While it feels to us like EFSS is becoming a standard, established tool, Robert said that their view it’s really just starting to come into its own right now.

What’s next for the EFSS space as a whole? Besides just satisfying the total addressable market, there are plenty of other issues coming up, like how the vendor landscape is shifting and how EFSS is going into adjacent areas like collaboration and platform as a service.

We’ll be keeping an eye on these issues, as well as catching up with with some of the other major EFSS vendors over the next few months.

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Jack, this reads like an add for Dropbox. 

Like most other
people I know, I have a Dropbox account for personal use.  But it is
still not in the same ballpark when it comes to tighter security, audit,
reporting and flexibility of storage options like Citrix ShareFile or
Accelion.  An article with a title like this should at least reference
some of the other vendors opinions / features that feature in the
Gartner Magic Quadrant or other industry reviews.

Please, please, please don't let BrianMadden.com become a platform for vendor spokespeople and press releases....
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It didn’t come across so much as an add for Dropbox as it did an endorsement, which is OK.
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@SteveCabrera -- Any experiences deciding between Dropbox Enterprise and other EFSS that you can share?

Certainly there are other EFSS products with more security and management features, including on-premises storage options. But going by Dropbox’s business/enterprise customers so far, there are a lot of companies that are happy with what they provide, or that value their sync/share/collaboration features enough to be okay with having to go out and get other partners to augment security, EMM, and auditing features. So I don’t know that I agree with your assessment that Dropbox is not in the same ballpark, but again, I’d always love to hear about other experiences.

And no worries, I promise I will never let BrianMadden.com become a platform for vendor spokespeople or press releases :) I chose to write about Dropbox because of their interesting approach and story transitioning from consumer to enterprise. Doing a feature comparison between different vendors wasn’t my intent --  my title references what I wrote about the changes and successes of the EFSS industry in general.

Thanks for commenting -- I’m hoping we can keep things lively around here!
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