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11/28/2011
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Dropbox For Teams Addresses Business Needs

The file sync service is already widely used in business, but it's only beginning to address team collaboration and IT control.

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Dropbox users have already brought the cloud file sync service into more than 1 million businesses, according to the company, and now Dropbox is belatedly trying to make businesses happy about that fact.

Prior to October's release of Dropbox for Teams, the company had made little effort to court businesses with its service, which is first and foremost aimed at personal productivity.

"When Dropbox first started in 2007, our focus was on a pretty simple problem, which was how to get files between different computers and keep them in sync," said ChenLi Wang, team lead of business and sales operations at Dropbox. Now that mandate has broadened to also address smartphones, tablets, and other devices, as well as cloud storage as a backup. Still, customers appreciate Dropbox's focus on doing one thing and doing it well, he said.

"What surprises you about Dropbox is it syncs, it works, and that's it," Wang said.

As a flexible cloud-based file management tool, Dropbox is particularly popular with designers, advertising agencies, and others who need ready access to files and an alternative to sharing large files by email.

[ Learn How To Save Documents Directly to Dropbox in Windows 7. ]

"There are just a handful of services people need both at home and at work," Wang said, and Dropbox aims to be one of them. Just as most people have gotten away from carrying separate cellphones for work and personal use, to using one smartphone for both halves of their lives, Dropbox figures many people want one synchronization service to make sure they always have access to their most important files. "Maybe there is just one market for some of these basic services," he said.

With Dropbox for Teams, however, the company acknowledges that businesses want the service packaged differently. For starters, instead of paying for multiple individual accounts, a company can now be billed for one team account, starting at $795 per year for five users. An administrator can then add and remove users who have access to the team workspace and have more visibility into what is being shared through the service. Also important is access to phone support, Wang said. "We realized people are depending on this to run their businesses, so they need to be able to call somebody if they can't find the file."

Dropbox has "just scratched the surface" of enterprise needs, Wang said. While the company is not yet talking about managing accounts with thousands of users, "that's not beyond our vision at all," he said.

Dropbox's approach contrasts with that of sound-alike cloud service Box, which targets the enterprise market more seriously, positioning itself as a rival to SharePoint for document collaboration. Although Box offers a free version for personal use, it sells primarily to organizations, putting an emphasis on security and administrative controls. As part of its sales pitch, Box also talks about the need to provide an alternative to the spread of the uncontrolled and less enterprise friendly Dropbox.

In recent months, Dropbox's reputation for security has suffered from an authentication security failure in June and a security researcher's complaint to the Federal Trade Commission in May. Dropbox says it has tightened security procedures and clarified its terms of service to reflect the level of security and privacy users can expect.

"If people don't trust that their files are secure and private, they aren't going to use the service. We all know that is the number one thing, the most important thing for the company," Wang said. Yet Dropbox doesn't discriminate when it comes to security. The file encryption protections offered to business are the same as for consumers who sign up for the free version of the service, he said.

So far, most Dropbox for Teams reference customers are relatively small businesses, such as SusieCakes, a California bakery cited in a New York Times story on Dropbox.

Another is Italian Soul, a maker of designer plastic watches that markets through the website WhatIsThat?. Italian Soul founder Alessandro Zanatta said he uses Dropbox to collaborate with his designer, other business partners, and a manufacturing facility in China, even though everyone is in a different location. Using Dropbox together with Skype and Gmail, he has organized his business in the cloud and believes it makes him more efficient. Dropbox in particular allows him to always have access to the latest watch designs and plans by monitoring a folder on his computer, he said. "I have all the information I need, just by collecting the information the right way."

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

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