The cloud storage price wars are over, whether or not you want it, says Box CEO Aaron Levie in a blog post heralding the soon-public sync-and-store company's decision to give all its business users unlimited storage, effective immediately.
That means that Box's focus going forward isn't making money off of storage, Levie says, but on building a platform for collaboration -- and to underline the point, Box is also previewing integrations between its cloud storage and Microsoft Office 365.
Before we dive in, it's important to note that Box has long since offered unlimited storage to its enterprise-tier customers at the $35/user/month price point. Today's announcement takes the storage caps off for its business-tier customers, at the far lower (and far more popular) $15/user/month price point.
This announcement has obviously been in the works for a while, as Levie tweeted back in March that "just as you don't worry about database rows when using Twitter or bandwidth on Youtube, cloud storage will eventually be free and infinite."
Prices were already dipping again and again when he wrote that, and history is bearing him out. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and all has been continuing in a race to the bottom -- as cloud infrastructures get bigger, the cost of offering cloud storage races to the bottom.
Now that future is here, and those vendors that haven't yet taken the plunge into offering unlimited storage will soon be pressured into it. It's starting with paying enterprise customers across vendors, but soon enough, even consumer cloud storage services will hit zero.
"When you don't have to worry about how much you can store, you can worry about getting the job done," says Box Senior Director of Platform Engineering Heidi Williams.
In other words, first you get a swimming pool of storage, then you dive in it. It's a similar story to the one told by Google, which exploded the cloud storage market when it was the first to offer a bottomless buffet of cloud storage with Google Drive for Work, a $10/user/month offering that comes with full licenses for Gmail and Google Drive.
And just as Google Drive for Work came with the news that QuickOffice integration was going to add support for cloud-powered collaboration and storage in Microsoft Office, Box's forthcoming free extensions (available for desktop Office apps in beta later this year, with support for the browser-based version of Office coming later) for Microsoft Office 365 aim to give its customers a seamless way to open, share, and save Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files.
Similarly, Box for Microsoft Exchange puts up a prompt when you've exceeded an attachment share limit and offers to shunt it up to the cloud for you, auto-generating a Box link that's pasted in the body of the message. Simple and straightforward.
It's tempting to see the combination of unlimited storage and Microsoft Office 365 as a play to conquer Microsoft Sharepoint, but Box is holding firm on the precept that the two can co-exist: Microsoft is betting big that if partners can help customers be more productive, everybody wins, and Box wants in on that opportunity. Take a look at Toyota, where Box and Sharepoint live in harmony.
No, Box's real competition is going to be from the other cloud storage vendors. Amazon Web Services, the 500 pound gorilla of the cloud services space, took a shot across Box's bow last week with the launch of Amazon Zocalo, which layers a document collaboration and sharing layer on top of Amazon S3 cloud storage for $5/user/month with a relatively paltry 200GB of storage per user.
(A brief tangent: What an age of wonders we live in, where 200GB of magical cloud storage is considered "paltry.")
Ither vendors have their own strategies: While Dropbox has yet to take the plunge on unlimited storage (Update: See below for comment from Dropbox), it's working on building its own walled garden of an collaboration ecosystem. Meanwhile, Google Drive for Work has a price advantage, especially considering its bundling of Google Apps with the storage.
But where enterprise collaboration has largely been a sideline business for Amazon, Dropbox, and Google, Box has been focusing almost exclusively on this market for a while, aggressively building its developer ecosystem and enterprise controls. This announcement may look like a "me-too" in light of Google's big market shakeup, but it's a logical next step for any enterprise-focused cloud storage vendor.
Update: A spokesperson from Dropbox confirms that although its enterprise offerings start with 1TB for 5 users, the storage offering scales up "without limit, as teams need it." So it's not quite the same bottomless pit of storage as Google or Box, since you need to contact them for storage increases, but it's unlimited just the same.