Who will be the ‘Dropbox of the enterprise?’ The race is on

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Drew Houston, Dropbox - GigaOM RoadMap 2011It seems like every cloud storage company really, really, really  wants to be the Dropbox of the enterprise when it grows up.

It’s easy to see why. Dropbox, which now claims 50 million users, is the sweetheart of the cloud storage,  file sharing, and synchronization world. People laud it for its ease of use, it’s cross-platform capability. That success has prompted a ton of discussion about whether the San Francisco-based company, led by CEO Drew Houston, is a disruptor or a flash in the pan given that the major platform vendors — Microsoft, Google, Apple — are doing their own cloud-based file-share-and-sync thing. VMware’s  Project Octopus and Citrix' acquisition of ShareFile are also seen as Dropbox-for-the-enterprise  moves.

But there are dozens of smaller, more nimble cloud storage providers that want to replicate the success Dropbox has had with consumers in the business world. Box is the most prominent of these contenders but the number also includes EgnyteAccellion, ownCloud, GroupLogic, SurDoc and others. And, Dropbox, itself is not standing still. It just bought Cove to help build up its infrastructure and services to webscale, as GigaOM’s Derrick Harris reported.

All of these vendors promise to let  users synchronize and share their files across all relevant desktops and devices, in a way that won’t give their company’s IT departments fits.

This trend was definitely not lost on The 451 Group analyst Kathleen Reidy who  suggests a whole new category  — mobile file sharing and sync platforms     — to reduce the confusion. In a recent blog post, Reidy wrote that this whole “Dropbox for the enterprise” theme started to crop up  last year …

… when Box started getting serious about the enterprise market and I began to get a lot of briefing requests from the likes of Accellion, Egnyte and others about their enterprise file sharing and sync offerings.  Things really started heating up later in 2011, as we saw VMWare announce its Dropbox-for-the-enterprise in August, Citrix acquire ShareFile in October; open source play ownCloud set sail in December and we recently initiated coverage on another startup, Germany-based TeamDrive.

Her argument is that the mobility bit is really what’s important — and disruptive — here. People want their stuff to be available wherever, whenever and on whatever device they have on hand. And she weighs in on classifying this as a platform as opposed to a feature since these new products will enable lots of customization and add-ons and an ecosystem of third parties that will provide all that.

One caveat: 50 million Dropbox users sounds great. Box claims 9 million users. But neither company is particularly forthcoming about how many of those users are actually paying as opposed to using the companies’ free or “freemium” services. That’s a big question for these Dropbox for the Enterprise wannabes to consider. Presumably, the beauty of an enterprise model is that companies will pay for business-grade services. But it’s difficult to get “freemium” users to move to a paid model — the conversion rate is typically thought to be 1 percent to 3 percent at the high end.

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