Analyzing the Dropbox effect: Market for mobile file sharing and sync heats up

File synchronization across desktops and mobile devices of individual users and groups is a white-hot market. It is also a market that epitomizes the ‘consumerization of IT’ in the enterprise. Dropbox, which has had $250m in funding, has grown its user base from about four million in January 2010 to 50 million users today. To be sure, people use Dropbox to sync and share personal files, but the growth of Dropbox also comes from users mixing personal and work files on Dropbox accounts and using Dropbox to store, access and share business-related files, often from their own devices. The rise of Dropbox says a lot about how the technology we use – and the way we work – is changing.

As we shift from desktops and laptops to a world of devices, many that we procure ourselves, expectations are changing, as well. We want to make sure we can get to all our files from all our devices and share them as needed with distributed and, often, cross-boundary colleagues, clients and collaborators while maintaining version control in a way that keeps us all sane. Adoption of iPads and other devices happened faster – and often by an organization’s most senior executives – than IT was prepared for, and, in many cases, IT hasn’t been able to meet end-user requirements to make these devices truly usable for work. It is generally easier for users to get what they need by using free or low-cost services on the Web; thus, we have seen the rise of Dropbox in the workplace.

Perhaps the most intriguing element about Dropbox is that – by luck or judgment – it solved a problem that most people didn’t know they had – and one that they didn’t actually have until they found they were trying to manage files across three, four and even five separate devices. In addition, the lack of a native file and folder system within Apple’s iOS means that users trying to save files locally to an iPad need a way to store this data, which is then accessible by more than one type of mobile application.

The rapid emergence of such issues – especially as iPad adoption has skyrocketed – goes a long way to explaining why corporate IT – and the enterprise IT supplier landscape – has been slow to respond. Additionally, it’s fair to say that many IT shops (with a few exceptions) have developed ostrich-like tendencies when it comes to the whole issue of bring-your-own-IT; if anything, the emergence of Dropbox is proving that burying your head in the sand is not a viable strategy.

Concerns about privacy, data leakage, and overall data control and security are forcing IT, security and compliance officers to look at alternatives to consumer and SMB-oriented file-sharing and -sync services. These demands from CIOs, coupled with the success of Dropbox, have certainly caught the eyes of startups and established players alike, and we are now in gold-rush-like days in this emerging segment. This is a market that crosses the boundaries of storage, security, mobility and content management, but is so far being labeled by the industry as ‘Dropbox for the enterprise.’

This post was primarily written by Kathleen Reidy, Simon Robinson, Chris Hazelton and Vishal Jain with input from Andrew Hay.

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