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Thursday, Box announced a package of enhanced enterprise administration, security, and compliance tools to meet the needs of large organizations. These improvements will make it easier to manage files across multiple accounts, manage users across multiple domains, impose security constraints on mobile devices, and address regulatory compliance concerns, according to Box.
Distinguishing the product is important, because of ever-increasing competition in an already crowded market. Box also came in for criticism this week because of a service outage, although the interruption does not appear to have been widespread.
[ Who are the lightweight collaboration leaders? See Yammer, Chatter, Tibbr Ranked Top Social Activity Streams.]
While Box likes to characterize itself as a rival to SharePoint as an enterprise content management tool, it faces competition from all sides, with new-file sharing products like Google Drive continuing to enter the market. Competitor Dropbox started by focusing on simple file sync for consumers (and individuals who used it for work), only recently adding a more business focused Dropbox for Teams product.
Whitney Tidmarsh Bouck, Box's general manager of enterprise, dismisses all this activity as "a big heatup [in the] low-end file synch and share market," where products were first and foremost designed for consumers. "Adoption and user love for those products is great, but most of the products weren't built [with] enterprise scale or security," she said. Meanwhile, enterprise software vendors targeting the market for file sharing and sync have a hard time coming up with "modern technology that is loved and adopted," she said. Box thinks it has struck the right balance of usability, simplicity, and enterprise control, she said.
At the same time, Box is listening to large customers like Proctor & Gamble about needed improvements. For example, because Box follows the cloud computing convention of using email domains as a proxy for organizational units, P&G previously had to manage accounts associated with tide.com or some other brand or division separately from those at pg.com. Now, an administrator will be able to manage multiple domains from a single control panel.
"Companies like P&G really wanted a holistic, enterprise view," Tidmarsh Bouck said. Under the new scheme, a top-level administrator can still delegate administrative rights down to divisions but has the power to administer files and accounts globally, when needed, she said.
Other features Box announced include:
-- Advanced administration console and search (beta). Available as a public beta, the new console for Box Enterprise administrators makes it easier to browse or search files across multiple accounts, rather than managing the accounts individually. This makes it easier to see how files and folders are shared across the organization and adjust security controls and user access, according to Box.
-- Enhanced mobile security settings. Available for Android and coming soon for iOS, IT admins can apply passcode locks and enhanced permissions for offline file access across Box's mobile apps.
-- Archiving and eDiscovery. Box has built new archiving functionality for regulated industries like finance and healthcare. This will allow them to log Box activities like comments, tasks, and sharing files, in the same way that they archive email to support compliance and e-discovery requirements.
-- New enterprise licensing agreement. The new license offers organizations predictable pricing over the lifetime of a multi-year contract, saving businesses money and simplifying the management of account contracts, according to Box.
Tidmarsh Bouck said Box needs its own mobile data security technology, even though it also works with mobile device management (MDM) specialists like Mobile Iron, Good Technologies, and Airwatch, companies that specialize in securing smartphones and tablets. Although MDM implementations are becoming more common, they're not universal. "Six months ago, I would have said the vast majority of our customers were using our technology minus any kind of MDM. Now, among our large customers, it's probably half and half," she said. Some smaller companies would also consider these MDM solutions overkill, particularly if Box provides a basic capability that meets their needs, she said.
The new mobile features allow an administrator to require a passcode for access to Box, set minimum requirements for that passcode, and enforce a timeout after which the passcode must be entered again for continued access to the data. Offline access to data can also be permitted or denied on a per-user basis, Tidmarsh Bouck said.
The new enterprise license agreement is also significant because Box is standardizing its process for allowing organizations to purchase licenses for all their users, where previously those agreements had been negotiated "on a one-off basis," Tidmarsh Bouck said. Enterprises will be able to lock in a price for the entire organization and still only pay for the accounts that have actually been deployed, she said.
Pardon The Pause
A service outage Tuesday undermined Box's message of enterprise strength. Apparently caused by a software upgrade gone bad, the outage affected a limited number of accounts. A Box spokesperson declined to go on the record about the number or percentage of users who were unable to access their files. (I was unaware of the issue when I spoke with Tidmarsh Bouck.)
For those who were affected, the outage lasted two to three hours, long enough for one user to complain on Twitter Dear @BoxHQ and @boxsupport - why no updates on the status of your site during an long outage?.
Box responded with apologies, saying "We're very sorry for any inconvenience."
Competitors were more outspoken. Huddle put out an extensive blog post on the Box outage analyzing the likely reasons for the outage and explaining why its own approach to cloud reliability is different and better. Huddle particularly had fun Box's error message, displayed with the headline "Pardon the Pause."
"'Pardon the Pause' may be cute, but it won't resonate with global enterprises working across multiple timezones whose operations don't pause and whose workers [need] access to the information to get their job done round the clock," according to the post.
"Downtime in the cloud is frankly something that every company fears, and no one is fully immune to," Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain said in a statement. "It also happens to be why smart companies, and especially larger enterprises, are looking to hybrid cloud solutions to leverage their bets with a behind the firewall insurance policy. Cloud-only plays are really a consumer strategy, and as many of the analysts and industry luminaries have concurred (including us), hybrid cloud is the only strategy for a business that wants to keep their workers working all the time."
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