When Dropbox announced this week that it has 100 million customers, it signified that the company is on its way to becoming the de facto storage service for businesses and consumers -- – despite the protestations of many IT people.
Much like other products and services that made it in through the back door, Dropbox is here to stay.
Even in enterprises where IT people are banning Dropbox, some workers are using their own cellular routers to get around IT roadblocks in order to use the service, said Dave Linthicum, founder of Blue Mountain Labs, a cloud consulting company.
“I think Dropbox will probably lead the way ultimately in providing infrastructure for enterprises,” he said. “We’ll see large SLAs and enterprise license agreements for Dropbox with major companies.”
He said the path Dropbox is following is analogous to the adoption of Salesforce. Initially many companies were wary of Salesforce, which was a leader with the software-as-a-service concept. But workers started using it anyway. Over time, Salesforce began adding the features that enterprises required and now it’s “a standard in enterprises,” Linthicum said.
Dropbox is a bit different, though, as it appealed to consumers first. In that sense, its path is similar to that of iPhones and iPads that made it into businesses because people insisted on using them despite IT policies.
Dropbox has many competitors, like Box, SugarSync, and EMC’s Syncplicity, that were designed specifically for business users. In a recent interview, Jeff Schultz, chief marketing officer at Syncplicity, said: “From the start we wanted to build a solution that we thought would be better suited for the enterprise.”
But Dropbox has advantages of its own, including network effects -- so many people are already on it, it's often easier to invite a new user to a shared Dropbox folder than it is to get them onto a new service. Dropbox also has proven its scalability.
It’s also easier to use than some of the other services, Linthicum said. “It’s the path of least resistance so it’s gaining share,” he said.
Adding features that appeal to business users like better levels of encryption isn’t a huge technical challenge for Dropbox to tackle, he said.
Dropbox already is upping its game for business users. Last year it launched Dropbox for Teams, a service that offers some administrative controls, centralized billing, and phone support for teams of users. It also started a blog it calls Dropbox at Work around the Teams product.
Still, so far Dropbox hasn’t made much headway winning over IT departments. The vast majority of customers are individual users, either in businesses where security is not a big concernm or rogue users in an enterprise, Linthicum said. Most Dropbox customers are using the free version and many may also use other file sync offerings.
In its blog post announcing that it has 100 million customers, Dropbox cited only consumer users, including a high school football coach and his players, a fourth grade class and a man in Quebec using Dropbox to track his family’s history. It will have to start making business users a priority to fend off competitors and to start appealing to IT departments.