Dropbox for Business grows more security, IT admin muscles

The workplace version of the popular cloud storage service competes against offerings from Google, Microsoft, Box and others

Dropbox will continue beefing up the business version of its cloud storage and file sharing service, adding security features to shared links, full-text search capabilities and new tools for enterprise developers.

For Dropbox content shared via links, it will now be possible for users to require a password for access to the content and set an expiration date for the link. This feature can be turned on by Dropbox admins now for their end users.

In the coming months, Dropbox for Business will also gain a full-text search engine, an upgrade over the current search feature which is limited to querying file names.

Dropbox is also extending its improved Microsoft Office document preview capabilities to its Android application, so that users can check out a file without necessarily downloading it, the company plans to announce on Wednesday.

For developers, Dropbox is releasing two new APIs (application programming interfaces). The Shared Folder API makes the core functions of shared folders available to third-party apps and tools. Meanwhile, the Document Preview API lets developers embed this feature into their applications.

Dropbox recently announced that users of its business edition will be able to share folders with colleagues in read-only mode, whereas before all collaborators got edit rights to the content. This feature can also be turned on today by Dropbox admins.

Dropbox, which has about 300 million end users, is immensely popular among consumers, but it's trying to elbow its way into the fiercely competitive enterprise market for cloud storage and file sync and sharing services.

"We're taking the simplicity and ease of use of our core product and marrying it with IT admin controls in Dropbox for Business," said Ilya Fushman , head of product for Dropbox for Business.

About 80,000 businesses pay for Dropbox for Business, which costs US$15 per user/month, for a minimum of 5 users, and features unlimited storage capacity. It came out of its beta testing period in April. The company declines to say how many people use Dropbox for Business.

Dropbox in its different editions is used to varying degrees in about 4 million businesses, according to the company. The Basic edition is free and includes 2GB of storage, while the Pro edition ranges from $9.99 per month for 100GB to 500GB for $49.99 per user/month.

Other Dropbox for Business IT administration controls include the ability to remotely wipe Dropbox files from employee devices, to track how and with whom users share files via audit logs, and to transfer control of employee accounts.

IT administrators also can control whether employees can share files with external users and delegate to end users the decision of whether a particular file or folder can be shared externally or not.

The company also allows people to have a Dropbox for Business account and a personal Dropbox account, and to be logged into both at the same time on the devices they use.

In a recent report on enterprise file sync and sharing products, Gartner rated and ranked a number of vendors, and called Dropbox "a viable offering for organizations that aim to enable modern collaboration in their workplaces, worrying less about IT control and data protection, and concentrating, instead, on user satisfaction."

Among the Dropbox strengths, Gartner listed its "best-in-class ease of use," people's familiarity with it, its "fast and reliable synchronization" and its vast platform ecosystem, with more than 300,000 third-party apps.

However, Gartner cautioned that Dropbox lacks a number of advanced security features, such as content-aware data loss prevention (DLP) and built-in digital rights management (DRM) encryption, and that its IT admin tools are "relatively basic."

Gartner also pointed out that Dropbox hasn't secured yet some certifications for compliance with certain government regulations for data protection and privacy, such as the ones spelled out in HIPAA, the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Dropbox's main competitors are Microsoft and Google, which offer their respective cloud storage and file share services -- along with suites of productivity and collaboration apps -- to both consumers and businesses, and Box, which focuses on the workplace market.

All three are locked in a manic race to lower prices and increase storage capacity.

Microsoft recently announced its plan to more than double to 15GB the storage capacity in the free, stand-alone OneDrive service for consumers, while also slashing the cost of additional storage. An extra 100GB will now cost $1.99 per user/month, down from $7.49, and 200GB will cost $3.99 per user/month, down from $11.49. For customers of the Office 365 Home, Office 365 University and Office 365 Personal productivity app suites, Microsoft is sending OneDrive storage to the stratosphere, from 20GB to 1TB per user.

Meanwhile, with a free Google account, people get 15GB of storage for files in Drive, Gmail messages and Google+ photos, and can purchase 100GB of additional storage for $1.99 per month. A free Google account also includes Docs, a set of office productivity apps.

In the enterprise market, Microsoft announced in April an increase in per-user storage of OneDrive for Business from 25GB to 1TB. OneDrive for Business is the workplace version of OneDrive, designed for employees to store, share and sync their personal work files.

The increase applied to the stand-alone version of OneDrive for Business, which costs $5 per month with the free Office Online, and to OneDrive for Business bundled with the workplace versions of Office 365.

Meanwhile, Google has a new version of its Apps for Business cloud email and collaboration suite called Drive for Work which includes, among other things, unlimited storage for all users. It costs $10 per user/month.

For its part, Box this month said it would offer unlimited storage to customers of its Business edition, which costs $15 per user/month and previously was capped at 1TB of capacity that all users in the account had to share. Box already offered unlimited capacity in its Enterprise plan, which costs $35 per user/month.

Dropbox's Fushman declined to comment when asked if Dropbox planned to respond with its own price adjustments to Dropbox and Dropbox for Business.

Other Dropbox rivals in the enterprise space include IBM, YouSendIt, Citrix, Accellion, Egnyte and WatchDox.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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