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Cloud Computing

Box CEO zones into safe sharing spaces in a scary world

“Before we get started I just want to apologise on behalf of America for Trump,” says Box CEO Aaron Levie, with characteristic humour and intuitive sense of an audience as he bounds Tigger-like to the stage in London. It’s the latest gig in his never-ending tour of the global conference circuit that is part and parcel of being the leader of an enterprise IT company. He’s a funny guy but his plan is very serious indeed and it’s showing signs of paying off. 

Levie’s speech this time is all about building a “modern content management platform” that sits in the cloud and allows companies to work smarter than was the case with the on-premises heavyweights of the past like Documentum and Open Text.

Box today has collected 57,000 customers including 59 percent of the Fortune 500 based on that premise and it would appear that macro factors are moving in the right direction for the Californian company. Levie points to data suggesting that there will be nearly two billion mobile workers by 2020 so sharing will need to be quick, multi-platform and slick. But more than anything else it will also need to be secure and this is where Box’s investments and focus might well pay off as organisations cloak themselves against the challenge of $400bn lost in cyber attacks annually.

Levie has boxed clever to place itself among one of the strongest modern software ecosystems via deals that embed his company’s document sharing layer with IT slabs from IBM, Microsoft and Salesforce.com as well as hot newcomers like Slack and DocuSign. History might one day tell us is one of the great platform plays in software history but Box’s main area of differentiation remains its security credentials and it has been busy recently adding Governance legal hold, Keysafe encryption key handling and now, announced yesterday, BoxZones – a way to store customer data in regions of their choice.

BoxZones, available from May, is a team effort with IBM and Amazon Web Services providing the datacentres that mean Box users will soon be able to choose to house their data in the US, Ireland, Germany, Japan and Singapore. More zones will follow.

“We took a step back and decided we had to re-architect to keep files stored within the region [users wanted],” Levie said. “The whole idea is being able to separate the application from where data is stored … an abstraction layer between app and datacentre.”

This is a solid and sensible response to a world of Safe Harbor changes, Edward Snowden fallout and shifting regulations mean data residency and data sovereignty have become watchwords wherever cloud computing is discussed.

How far will this “cloud balkanisation go” is unclear and in a way it’s sad that the promise of cloud, with its notion of data being sent where it’s most economical to store and the user not caring one way or the other where, appears to be disappearing thanks to a world where policies are disjointed and fragmented, and where legal systems are clearly failing to keep up with technological progress. It’s also perhaps worrying that the ultimate destination of our data appears to be moving into fewer hands with AWS, Microsoft, IBM and Google effectively making up a ‘Big Four’ of data repositories and bit factories.

But Box, despite a flaccid share price that might say more about analysts than the company, appears stronger than ever. There might in future be a case for an even closer relationship with IBM or AWS but for now Box the standalone company remains one of the most interesting newcomers of the cloud era.

 

Further reading:

Egnyte CEO bets on hybrid platform to vie with Box, Dropbox

Dropbox bets on scale, speed and UXP to sync for success

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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