Box to offer usage-based pricing, file conversion service

The cloud-based storage and collaboration company is looking beyond its roots

As it heads toward an estimated US$250 million initial public offering, cloud storage and collaboration provider Box is thinking outside, well, itself.

The nine-year-old company introduced an alternative to its traditional per-user pricing on Wednesday, as well as its first service that doesn't rely on customers storing their data with Box.

Box has built its business on giving enterprises a place to store files for easy access and sharing by employees, partners and customers. It claims 25 million users. They can tap into the platform through Box's own software or integrate it with desktop and mobile applications using APIs (application programming interfaces). There are more than 35,000 developers building services on the Box platform, the company says.

The growth of cloud-fed mobile computing is a big part of the promise for Box's future, co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie said in a keynote address at the company's developer conference in San Francisco.

"We go from a world where our addressable market was 650 million information workers around the world ... to a world now, because of mobile computing, where we're going to have 1.3 billion information workers by next year," Levie said.

Box is sticking with its cloud story as it prepares for an upcoming IPO for which the company filed paperwork on Monday. But it's also exploring different ways to make money from its existing business and to expand beyond that foundation.

On Wednesday, the company introduced platform pricing, in which enterprises can pay a set price for Box's technology, infrastructure and services regardless how many users may take advantage of what they put together. Until now, the only defined way to pay has been per seat.

"We look at the number of users that our customers have and then we project out the price for that company based on the number of users," said Chris Yeh, senior vice president for product and platform. "This is not working for a lot of our customers, who want to consume Box on more of a usage basis."

For example, customer Encore Capital Group, which buys debt and collects on it, loads millions of documents into Box and then shares them with a wide range of outside entities, Yeh said in an interview. Encore doesn't have a defined number of clients accessing its Box files, so per-user pricing doesn't make sense, he said.

Box has set up platform pricing for some customers case by case, but now it has actual plans for companies to choose. The Build plan for customers who are just starting out with Box provides free access to the Box Content API and as many as 25,000 API actions per month. The Scale plan, for customers who want to build deeper hooks into Box's platform, costs $500 for every additional 25,000 API actions per month. The Transform plan is for the largest enterprise customers with unique needs. Its pricing is available upon request, Box said.

Also on Wednesday, the company introduced Box View, the first service that's independent of its cloud storage platform. Box View converts Microsoft Office documents and PDFs to HTML5 for easy embedding in a website. The documents don't have to be stored with Box in order to be converted, Yeh said, so any developer can take advantage of the service.

Once a file is converted, Box's work is done and the HTML5 version can be delivered over the Web. Box View can deliver that document either in a standard Box-branded viewer or in raw HTML5, which users can put into customized views. To create those views, they can use Viewer.js, which Box is providing as a free and open-source tool. Viewer.js offers tricks such as letting users flip through the pages of a document as if in a virtual book. Developers can create their own views and share those as open source.

Box View is based on technology from Crocodoc, a startup that Box acquired last year. It launched the service mostly to engage developers and is charging heavy users mostly just to cover its costs, Yeh said. Ultimately, an enterprise that uses Box View to display some documents may be more open to buying the Box cloud service in the future, he said.

Box View is available in a free plan with up to 1,000 document conversions per month. The Box View Custom plan, for enterprises that use a custom viewer, costs $250 per month for up to 2,500 conversions. Another plan for large enterprise users allows for more than 10,000 conversions per month. Pricing for that is provided on request, Box said.

At the developer conference, the company also announced the ability to add metadata to files in Box. For example, doctors could attach a patient's name and birth date to an X-ray image, making it easier to find among other images. Certain metadata, such as expiration dates for contracts, could also be used to trigger notifications or other actions, Yeh said. Metadata was announced as a private beta last year and is now generally available.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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