22 Jun

Dropbox For Business: Right For You?

Dropbox’s success among consumers is clear; aside from Apple’s iCloud, which benefits from the legions entrenched in its iOS ecosystem, Dropbox is the most widely used cloud platform, besting such formidable competitors as Google, Amazon and Microsoft. It’s also become an asset within the enterprise, with the company claiming that its customers include more than two million businesses and 95% of the Fortune500.

Dropbox is clearly keen to develop its corporate role, an intention the company made clear Wednesday when it not only rebranded its Dropbox for Teams product, originally launched in fall 2011, as Dropbox for Business but also added a key perk to its Active Directory integration: single sign-on (SSO). Many large enterprises are still skeptical of the cloud, and often for good reason; there are risks, after all, in storing sensitive content on someone else’s servers.

Nevertheless, Dropbox is more than a storage repository. It’s also a collaboration vehicle that’s suited to modern business environments, which include not only employees working on traditional PCs in the office but also growing numbers of remote, mobile or work-from-home staffers. Can the increasingly business-minded Dropbox improve productivity and organization at your workplace? Here are five considerations.

1. Dropbox comes with robust security controls– and blights on its record.

Dropbox suffered a hack last summer that not only exposed customer passwords to unscrupulous parties but also revealed some sloppy practices within the company. Commentators treated Dropbox’s enterprise prospects like a punching bag for several weeks following the incident, but the brand has still managed to survive the incident with its popularity intact.

Indeed, the company promised a renewed focus on security, and though some residual damage linked to the hack surfaced earlier this year, Dropbox offers a variety of specs and features to help IT managers rest easier at night.

This list includes the option to require two-step verification before corporate data can be accessed, a feature expressly meant to address the password breach. To protect at-rest data, Dropbox applies AES-256 encryption, which is the same standard used in the financial industry. For data in transit, meanwhile, Dropbox uses secure socket layer (SSL) technology to establish a secure tunnel between the data center and an employee endpoint, a process broadly similar to what leading mobile device management (MDM) products use to stream SharePoint files and other corporate documents to smartphones.

The product additionally includes options for using third-party tools to apply more encryption, and because it is hosted by Amazon S3, Dropbox offers not only high reliability but also automatic data backups. For certain market segments, such as healthcare or government, these protections might not satisfy all regulations, let alone appease the skepticism harbored by cautious CIOs. In many cases, though, a business would have to host its own cloud in order to provide an environment that’s significantly more fortified than Dropbox’s.

2. Dropbox offers granular controls for IT admins.

Though industry regulations might disallow some companies from using Dropbox and similar services, other businesses shy away from the cloud because employees often use it without IT supervision. A worker might upload corporate files to the cloud, for example, because he or she intends to work with the documents later by synching them to a device at home. Such a worker’s desire to be productive is arguably laudable, but few CIOs are willing to accept that productivity has to involve the posting of internal data to outside storage resources.

Dropbox seeks to appease such CIO anxieties with numerous user controls. These controls include not only Active Directory, which enables user-based access to given files, but also offer tools to monitor how corporate documents are accessed in the cloud. Administrators can review a given worker’s recent Dropbox activity, for example, or which devices and third-party applications the worker has been using. Admins can also create reports based on this data.

3. Dropbox isn’t just for storage; it’s also a collaboration platform.

Though individual users often rely on Dropbox for simple, on-the-go access to files, the cloud can be much more than an online storage locker. Dropbox for Business also features shared folders, which enable IT admins to give a team of collaborators shared access to important files, even if those collaborators are scattered around the world. Given that documents can be synched back to the cloud as soon as they are modified, the folders facilitate pseudo-continuous interactions.

At the same time, Dropbox allows users to easily roll back to an earlier version of a file, virtually eliminating the chance that an important document will be accidently deleted or inadvertently overwritten. Dropbox also includes a few features to help get the collaborative process rolling, such as online document previews that are accessible immediately after a user logs in, before files have to be downloaded to a local device.

4. Dropbox is flexible.

In today’s bring-your-own-device (BYOD) landscape, many IT departments need to enable document access for a variety of devices and operating systems. Dropbox is well-equipped for such challenges, as it offers apps for Linux, OS X, Windows, Android, iOS and BlackBerry.

Dropbox for Business can also be set up to provide cost flexibility. A handful of paid accounts might be responsible for maintaining shared folders, for example, but collaborators with free accounts can still be given access to these folders and their contents. As a result, businesses can spread Dropbox’s full benefits throughout the workplace without paying for each and every user’s access.

5. Dropbox will be a better deal for some than others.

Dropbox for Business is priced at $795 annually for up to five users, plus an additional $125 per year for each additional user. For this price, customers receive all the storage space they need, and have the ability to synch, transfer and store particularly large files. This pricing structure has been praised by some but, depending on one’s needs, competitors such as Box, Google Drive or Microsoft’s SkyDrive might offer a better deal. Google Drive, for instance, offers not only prices that are generally cheaper, but also a variety of plans.

Thank you to Network Computing for this article