Dropbox: much more than storage and sync

Drew Houston, Dropbox - GigaOM RoadMap 2011

Drew Houston, Dropbox - GigaOM RoadMap 2011With 45 million users, Dropbox is a hugely popular cloud storage service. Consumers use it to store photos, documents and other material so they can access it from their PCs, phones, or other devices. But it’s much more than that, said Drew Houston, founder and CEO of the company.

Businesses can — and do — use it to offload chunks of IT infrastructure as needed.

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra, for example, had to cut its IT staff but still had a server running email and other apps in a closet. Instead of keeping that thing chugging away, they went to hosted email and put the rest of that server data in — you guessed it — Dropbox’s cloud, he said.

The company’s success has been greatly aided by the fact that consumers want the same nifty tools they use from home, in the office, Houston told attendees of the GigaOM RoadMap Conference on Thursday afternoon.

People’s work tools used to be better than their tools at home, but that’s no longer the case. So if they use Dropbox for their family photos, chances are they’ll start using it for their work documents.

It also helps Dropbox’s case that today’s connected world isn’t always all that connected. “My mom has her music in iTunes but her phone is a Droid. So even though all of her devices are connected, they don’t talk to each other,” Houston said.

Clearly he sees Dropbox as the mother ship for all his mother’s (and everyone else’s) digital cargo. The proliferation of mobile devices has only driven more demand.

That cloud-based repository can also alleviate a lot of the headaches around moving big chunks of data around for business users or consumers. “Big email attachments and uploads — that’s the kind of thing that goes away if all of your stuff is in the cloud by default,” he said. “We can preview it, transcode it.”

As for what’s next, he didn’t provide a ton of detail, but he hinted that Dropbox will get better at uploading and managing all sorts of files.

“The way we manage files on a computer is insane. We’ve had this system for decades, but there’s still no one button that says ‘put this online,'” he said.

Dropbox will also be able to store not only a person’s photos but the metadata about that photo, the location information. “All of these things become possible. We can index all that metadata in the pictures and then tel you where the picture is taken, and maybe give you all the pictures taken within ten mile radius.” This sounds like a lot more than storage.

Dropbox is not alone in this hot cloud storage market: it competes with Box.net, Carbonite, Backblaze and others that are duking it out for the cloud storage needs of consumers and businesses. But it’s clearly growing gangbusters. The 45 million users Dropbox now claims is up from 25 million in April. The company just closed $250 million in funding.

Photo by Pinar Ozger.

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