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Dropbox: much more than storage and sync

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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, 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.

8 Responses to “Dropbox: much more than storage and sync”

  1. Dropbox is lagging behind the likes of SugarSync and Box because of the limited features compared to those two services. It is sad because when it first came out it was a trailblazer and it’s recent attempt to lure in businesses with its 1tb of storage is utterly underwhelming!

  2. I like Dropbox, but I just can’t accept their business model. They buy storage and computing services from Amazon, who could easily undercut them and sell (and give away) the same service, if they were interested in it. Which they would be, if it was a big enough market. Yes, Dropbox has a very good product (I can’t believe it has taken this long for somebody to do something like that), but now that they have defined how shared storage should work, it will be much easier for others to enter this market.

    And another thing is the cost of memory. It’s going to drop, and drop a lot. If the memristor is half as good as HP says it is (ok, they don’t have the credibility they once had, but let’s say it is), every device could have 1 TB of non-volatile memory for less than the cost of 16 GB today, and they won’t even need DRAM. All anyone will need is decent sync software for all of their devices, not a $50 or $100 per year service. And it won’t have to be accessed via expensive, cap-limited unreliable services.

      • If cloud storage was priced appropriately (have you checked the price of a 1 TB drive lately, and compared it to a year’s worth of 50 GB or so cloud storage?), if internet access wasn’t pathetically second world, if I had guaranteed, 100% certainty that my files were not accessible to anyone else, and I had a 100% guarantee that there would always be someone on call who knew what they were doing when a router or switch got mis-configured and blocked my access, then I might consider a hub in the cloud. I don’t see any of that happening

        The irony of DropBox is that they have defined a great user interface for wherever access of your files, and that might end up providing competition for them. I would be happy to buy a server app from them that provided the same function on my hardware, and let me use their client apps to access it, but VCs have pushed the idea that all software companies need to have recurring revenue streams, and have forced what used to be software companies to be service providers. with ultra-cheap memory, all that will be needed to make cloud storage services unnecessary is great sync software – like Dropbox.

        Is Backblaze the company that de-dups your files along with everyone else’s, and keeps only one copy of what might be common? And it’s close to $50/yr, next to nothing for lots of people in the valley, but not in between the two coasts.

    • When kids start out after school they rent until they can buy their own home. Dropbox is making the most effective use of their resources at the start but now they are getting $250Mil in funding I’d be surprised if they continue to ‘rent’ space from Amazon. Honestly I’d hate to see them lose their space should Amazon become interested, but with my data living on each of my sync’d machines it would be no harm to me if they did.

    • Ken,

      You’ve described why DropBox is not worth it to you, but by your description I’d say you’re in the 1% of users who have serious concerns about DropBox (or the cloud in general). To be a bit cliche, what about the other 99%? Most average internet users can’t add a 1TB drive to their setup, have decent internet speed, are reasonably okay with the assurance that nobody else will access their stuff, and don’t need 24-hour a day guaranteed access to their files. They just want to backup their information, or make it easily shareable. Which is why they have 45 Million users. I think they’re doing okay without you.

      • CoosCoos, how many of those 45 million are paying? They don’t say. I am one of them, I just am using the free 2GB service, from which they won’t make any money. I haven’t read anything about them being profitable yet, so it might be premature to say they doing okay without me.

        Of the other 99%, I’d say most won’t pay, as in a lot more than 50%. And then there’s competition. They won’t have that subset all to themselves.

        And I will take exception to your claim that most users have decent internet speed. The average broadband connection in the U.S. is about 4 Mbps. That’s not decent for an alleged first world nation, it’s very second rate, and nowhere near as fast as accessing an attached or local network drive.